Actor John Lithgow played the role of Charles Rodman in the 2011 movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Lithgow was born in Rochester, New York, to Sarah Jane (née Price), a retired actress, and Arthur Lithgow, a theatrical producer and director. Because of his father's job, the family moved frequently throughout the midwest of the United States during Lithgow's childhood. When he was 16, the family settled down in Princeton, New Jersey, where he graduated from Princeton High School. He attended Harvard University (living in the same residence as Al Gore and Tommy Lee Jones), where he graduated in 1967 with a BA in history and literature. He then won a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

In 1973, Lithgow debuted on Broadway in David Storey's The Changing Room, for which he received a Tony Award, and starred opposite Lynn Redgrave in My Fat Friend (1974) and opposite Meryl Streep in Arthur Miller's A Memory of Two Mondays (1976). In 1979, Lithgow appeared in Bob Fosse's movie All That Jazz, and he received Academy Award Best Supporting Actor nominations for The World According to Garp (1982) and Terms of Endearment (1983). Lithgow recreated the role made famous by William Shatner in the "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" episode of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone in Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), claiming that it was his most difficult performance because he had to portray fear of the monster without really seeing it. In 1984, he featured in the cult classic The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, played the anti-dancing pastor in Footloose and played a space engineer in 2010, the sequel to science fiction classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. In 1987, he starred in the Bigfoot-themed family comedy Harry and the Hendersons (for which Rick Baker won an Academy Award for ape-like make-up), and he featured in Ricochet (1991), Raising Cain (1992) and the Sylvester Stallone movie Cliffhanger (1993). On stage, Lithgow was nominated for Best Actor Tonys for Requiem for a Heavyweight (1985, written by Rod Serling), M. Butterfly (1988, directed by John Dexter) and the stage musical of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (2005), and won for the musical adaptation of the 1957 film Sweet Smell of Success (2002). He played 'Malvolio' in Twelfth Night at the Royal Shakespeare Company Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England (2007), Joe Keller in a Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's All My Sons (2008-09) and starred in Douglas Carter Beane's comedy Mr & Mrs Fitch Off-Broadway (2010).

Lithgow's television credits have included an Emmy Award-nominated Supporting Actor role in The Day After (1983), a Guest Performer Emmy Award for "The Doll" episode of the Amazing Stories anthology series (1986), two Lead Actor Emmy Awards for Resting Place (1986) and My Brother's Keeper (1995), and the NBC sitcom Twenty Good Years, but he is probably most recognizable for his starring role as Dick Solomon in the hugely successful 1996–2001 NBC sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun, for which he won three Lead Actor Emmy Awards out of six nominations. His son Ian Lithgow was a regular guest star on the show. In 2009, Lithgow made a cameo on NBC's 30 Rock, with several references to his role in Harry and the Hendersons, and joined the cast of Dexter as a serial killer, for which he won Golden Globe and Emmy awards. He has also guest starred on comedy series How I Met Your Mother. Lithgow voiced the character of 'Yoda' in the National Public Radio adaptations of Star Wars movies The Empire Strikes Back (1983) and Return of the Jedi (1996). Lithgow is also a musician and author, and has recorded music and written poetry and ten books geared towards children, including the albums Singin' in the Bathtub (1999), Farkle and Friends (2002) and The Sunny Side of the Street (2006).

John Lithgow's more recent movie roles have included voicing the evil Lord Farquaad in the Shrek movie franchise, portraying the moralistic, rigid father of Alfred Kinsey in biopic Kinsey (2004) and Dreamgirls (2006), before the science fiction reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011).

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