John Lithgow's secret to convincingly play Winston Churchill on 'The Crown'

Despite being an American, John Lithgow makes a pretty convincing Winston Churchill.

So much so, that he took home a Screen Actors Guild Award for best TV drama actor in January for his turn as the former British Prime Minister in Netflix's The Crown (now streaming). But it took a hefty dose of onscreen magic to make the lean, 6-foot-4 actor look and sound like the aging, overweight Churchill.

For starters: the voice. To capture the sickly diplomat's nasally timbre, Lithgow stuffed cotton in his nostrils before shooting. "It was rather repulsive watching me pluck cotton out of my nose after every scene, but they just had to put up with it," he tells USA TODAY.

To further exaggerate his speech, at the first script read-through in London, Lithgow put apples in his mouth, which were eventually replaced by cheek "plumpers" on set.

Using a lemon peeler, "I carved out two apple balls and stuck them in my teeth, and everybody thought that was a good idea," Lithgow says. "But as I spoke, my mouth filled up with apple juice, so that was not going to work."

Then there was the fat suit, which Lithgow compares to "putting on a lady's one-piece bathing suit. It immediately put 80 pounds on your abdomen. The costumes were all designed to have very high waists, so I just looked shorter."

The look, as a whole, "was like solving an extremely complicated crossword puzzle, getting all those things in place," he continues. "But from that moment on, it was heaven."

USA Today


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