John Lithgow has more awards in his closet than Tom Brady has Super Bowl rings, but the decorated actor knows his fame and good fortune are only temporary.
While “The Crown” star doesn’t dwell on whether his legacy as an actor will stand the tests of time, he does find solace in the fact that his work with Harvard University’s Arts First Festival, which returns this weekend, will continue to impact young creative minds for decades to come.
“All the actors of 50 years ago, who we thought were so gigantic in our culture, you ask a 20-year-old kid, and they’ve never heard of any of them,” Lithgow says. “The more you can make peace with that the better, but Arts First will go on forever and that’s a wonderful feeling.”
Lithgow, who graduated from Harvard in 1967, helped create the annual event in 1992 while serving on the Board of Overseers. The festival has grown in size since then, and now features four days of art, music and community engagement.
This year’s festival will be particularly special for Lithgow, as he’s the recipient of the 2017 Harvard Arts Medal.
“I come back every single spring. This time they’re giving me the award I created 25 years ago,” Lithgow says. “I’ve been saying no all these years, they finally prevailed.”
Lithgow’s time in Cambridge proved to be a formative experience for the veteran actor. The Emmy, Tony and Golden Globe winner recalls putting on impromptu shows with his theater and music friends, often enlisting dancers and singers from the New England Conservatory and Boston Conservatory to perform pieces such as Igor Stravinsky “The Soldier’s Tale.”
“It was experimenting with everything,” Lithgow says. “We didn’t even want to be counseled or guided. We didn’t want mentors. We were too arrogant.”
“That’s kind of what I wanted to celebrate among Harvard students,” he adds. “I think that’s more typical than not of young Harvard artists.”
Expect to see him around
In addition to the festival, Lithgow is spending a lot of time in Massachusetts this year, having recently signed on to co-star in “Daddy’s Home 2,” with Will Ferrell and Bay State natives Mark Wahlberg and John Cena. Working on the comedy sequel has been a blast for Lithgow, who’s finally getting a chance to explore the city.
“It’s been great spending spring in Boston. I’m always here in Cambridge for Arts First weekend, but Cambridge and Boston are almost different nations,” Lithgow says. “I know Cambridge so well, but I didn’t really know Boston that well until this job. It’s been a lot of fun.”