The Book Review

John Lithgow on “Drama” and Maggie O'Farrell on “Hamnet”

Episode Summary

The Emmy Award-winning actor John Lithgow discusses his memoir “Drama” and an actor’s education, and the British writer Maggie O’Farrell talks about her novel “Hamnet.”

Episode Notes

For the next few months, we’re sharing some of our favorite conversations from the podcast’s archives. This week’s segments first appeared in 2011 and 2021, respectively.

The actor John Lithgow has been nominated for 13 Emmy Awards and has won six times, for roles as varied as the British prime minister Winston Churchill (on “The Crown”) and the extraterrestrial high commander Dick Solomon (on “3rd Rock From the Sun”). In 2011 he talked to Sam Tanenhaus, the Book Review’s editor at the time, about his memoir “Drama” and his education as an actor. “The more that an actor can accommodate himself to the truth that he will eventually be forgotten, the better off he is,” he says.

Also this week, the writer Maggie O’Farrell discusses her acclaimed novel “Hamnet,” which imagines the life of William Shakespeare, his wife, Anne (or Agnes) Hathaway, and the couple’s son Hamnet, who died at 11 years old in 1596. In her 2021 podcast appearance, O’Farrell told the host Pamela Paul that she hoped to capture a sense of the young boy at its center. “I think he’s been consigned to a literary footnote,” she says. “And I believe, quite strongly, that without him — without his tragically short life — we wouldn’t have the play ‘Hamlet.’ We probably wouldn’t have ‘Twelfth Night.’ As an audience, we are enormously in debt to him.”