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HomeEntertainmentJohn Lithgow takes on the role of the new kid in school...

John Lithgow takes on the role of the new kid in school for a PBS special celebrating arts education

At 78, John Lithgow’s acting career is not slowing down. He appeared in the best picture nominee “Killers of the Flower Moon” and starred with Jeff Bridges in the FX series “The Old Man.” Recently, the two-time Academy Award nominee and multiple Emmy, Tony and Golden Globes-winning actor played the new kid in school. He learned dance, ceramics, silk-screen printing and vocal jazz ensemble with Los Angeles-area high school students. It was filmed for “Art Happens Here,” airing Friday on PBS with the goal of promoting arts education.

Lithgow, who has an undergraduate degree from Harvard and was a Fulbright Scholar at the London School of the Arts, spoke with The Associated Press about going back to school.

Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.

LITHGOW: You’ve got to get kids excited about learning and eager to get to school. If there is something at school which is entirely theirs, something that is a creative project where they are really and truly expressing themselves…they’re going to want to get to school. I think arts education is a huge part of that. I also think sports is a big part of that.

LITHGOW: Creating a show like this is to try to persuade people just to wake up. I mean, you’ve got to think about the children, especially after the children have endured two years of a pandemic. Two years of pandemic has been hard on all of this, all of us, but they’ve been catastrophic for kids. Kids are not used to going to school. They lost two years, and two years in the life of a child is an eternity.

LITHGOW: I wanted it to be things that I’m not good at or had very little experience with, if any. I didn’t want to do any theater. I wanted to do things that were technically difficult. I wanted to insert myself into a situation where I still had a lot to learn or a lot to remember. I wanted to be with a bunch of bright kids who were having a lot of fun with the new kid in class and trying to bring him up to speed.

LITHGOW: They weren’t particularly dazzled by my presence. Not a lot of them, to my dismay, really knew who I was, until somebody mentioned “Shrek,” you know? And that was only my voice. But they were very game, and they were such superb kids. Look, these were kids who had decided to go to ceramics class. They had decided to go to dance class. They had decided to go to the LA County High School of the Arts to study voice. They were serious about what they did, and they knew this was well-intentioned.

LITHGOW: It was incredible fun. It was very hard work because these were rigorous things. It’s not easy showing up to do a documentary every morning for two months, but it’s fun. It’s a very good thing that we captured my own insecurity. I knew it was important for me to look like the fool and for the kids to look like the experts and…watch me fail and fail until I had a tiny measure of success — and to try to capture that joy. Because joy is what it was all about.

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