John Lithgow was going to pass on the chance to play serial killer vs. serial killer on Showtime’s “Dexter,” with an Italian vacation, cruise and his son’s wedding awaiting him.
He made it to the ceremony, but postponed the trip. Lithgow credits his very understanding wife of 28 years, university professor Mary Yeager Lithgow.
“She’s the one who said, ‘No, you’ve got to take the role,’ ” he recalls.
Lithgow guest stars as Arthur Mitchell, the Trinity Killer whose victims come in threes and who both repels and attracts Michael C. Hall’s Dexter Morgan.
Tempted to learn how the Trinity Killer has evaded capture, Dexter begins to make mistakes as he deviates from his protective “code,” leading to a plot twist in tonight’s episode, “Slack Tide.”
Lithgow, who has a nearly courtly manner and is deemed a sweetheart by colleagues, enjoys bringing the death-obsessed Mitchell to life.
“A serial killer by definition is a man who presents himself in a very different way to the world,” he says. “So it’s an actor’s field day figuring out what you reveal and what you don’t.”
While “3rd Rock from the Sun” viewers fondly remember Lithgow as the egotistical alien leader passing as an Earthling, he’s played more than his share of bad guys in movies, including “Blow Out,” “Obsession” and “Cliffhanger,” in which he adopted a British accent and particularly chilling demeanor.
Lithgow’s last TV series was the short-lived comedy “20 Good Years,” about two men trying to make the most of the time left them.
“I had a fabulous time with Jeffrey Tambor, one of my favorite character actors,” he says. “But it was a show for middle-aged old folks in a young world, so it made us feel kind of autumnal and melancholy.”
Theater has been his main focus since “3rd Rock” ended nearly a decade ago, including “Stories by Heart,” an autobiographical one-man show Lithgow developed and performed at Lincoln Center for two seasons and will bring to England’s National Theatre post-“Dexter.”
“It’s kind of a meditation on the whole nature of performance and why we performers do it,” he says, “and why anybody would want to watch.”
The birthday bunch
Actor Norman Lloyd (“St. Elsewhere”) is 95. Singer Patti Page is 82. Newsman Morley Safer is 78. Singer Bonnie Raitt is 60. “Entertainment Tonight” host Mary Hart is 59. Actress Alfre Woodard is 57. Singer-songwriter Rickie Lee Jones is 55. Singer-actor Leif Garrett is 48. Actress Courtney Thorne-Smith is 42. Actress Parker Posey is 41. Actress Gretchen Mol is 36. Actor Matthew Rhys (“Brothers and Sisters”) is 35. Actress Tara Reid (“American Pie”) is 34. Singer Bucky Covington (“American Idol”) is 32. TV personality Jack Osbourne (“The Osbournes”) is 24.