Why Crown chose an American for the role of Churchill, the star finally explained


John Lithgow finally explains why The Crown chose him, an American actor, for the role of the famous British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Created and written mainly by Peter Morgan of Frost and Nixon, the popular Netflix historical drama, which premiered in 2016, quickly gained popularity with viewers due to the dramatization of the inner life of the royal family. Now there are four seasons of “The Crown” on Netflix, and the fifth is on the way.

In the first season of The Crown, Claire Foy from First Man became the first actress to play Elizabeth Windsor in a historical drama, starting with her marriage to Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in 1947 and ending with her ascension to the throne as Queen Elizabeth II. At the beginning of her reign, there were many personal meetings with the beloved British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who at that time was dealing with the Great Smog in London. For the important role of Churchill, The Crown chose John Lithgow from Dexter, which was a curious choice, given that he was one of the few Americans in the sea of British actors.

During a recent appearance on the recurring GQ series, in which actors take apart their most iconic characters, John Lithgow finally explained why he was chosen to play Winston Churchill in The Crown. Lithgow says that the creators of the show wanted Churchill to be played by a non-British actor because of his close ties with America. They eventually went with Lithgow, who is “as English as an American actor can understand.” Read his full explanation below:

I went to drama school in London many years ago. Here is such an English theme. I am as English as an American actor can get to a pure claim. You know, when you think of Churchill, he’s as different from any other Englishman as any American. He’s an eccentric. They just liked the idea. They said we saw all the sirs playing Churchill. We’ve seen Burton do it. And Albert Finney does it. And there were plenty of them that year. And they are all English. Firstly, Churchill’s mother was an American. That’s the first thing Stephen said to me when I asked him why you chose me? And he had this affinity for America. I may be afraid to play this role, but they think it’s a great idea, and I’ll go along with it.

Prior to Lithgow, Churchill was almost exclusively played on screen by British actors, including Richard Burton in the 1974 film The Impending Storm and Albert Finney in the 2002 film of the same name. In recent years, many images of Churchill have appeared in films, and all of them are British. There was Brian Cox from “Continuity” in “Churchill,” Timothy Spall from “Harry Potter” and Brendan Gleeson in “The King’s Speech” and “Into the Storm,” respectively, and most recently — Simon Russell Beale in “Operation Mincemeat” from Netflix. Perhaps the most memorable of them was Gary Oldman in Dark Times, who won an Academy Award for his excellent portrayal of Churchill.

Although choosing an American for the role seems like an inappropriate choice, executive producer Stephen Daldry had two good reasons for such a decision: Churchill’s American background and Lithgow’s roots in English theater. No matter how curious or controversial he was, Lithgow’s casting paid off with a vengeance, as he received numerous awards for his performance in the first season, including an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor in a drama series. Although Churchill, played by Lithgow, no longer appears regularly in The Crown series, the Netflix show is wrapping up its most famous season and is currently preparing for the premiere of the fifth season in November 2022.