French Stewart Improvised His Signature Squint For 3rd Rock From The Sun

On NBC's '90s sci-fi sitcom "3rd Rock from the Sun," four aliens land on Earth and assume human identities: Dick (John Lithgow), Sally (Kristen Johnson), Harry (French Stewart), and Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) pose as the Solomon family. Harry – and I'm trying my best to soften the language here — is the unintelligent one; he's literally supposed to be the stupidest person in the universe. And Stewart plays the role to perfection. He made the character even funnier by improvising one of Harry's most memorable mannerisms: his signature squint.

"3rd Rock from the Sun" was created by married writing duo Bonny and Terry Turner, who are known for penning the scripts to "The Brady Bunch Movie," "Coneheads," and "Wayne's World." Before that, they worked as staff writers on "Saturday Night Live." There, they met and developed a friendship with John Lithgow when he served as the special guest host in the '80s. Fast-forward some years later, and the Turners have developed a screwball pilot about alien adventures on Earth, and they want to plug their good buddy Lithgow in the starring role — they created Dick Solomon specifically with him in mind. 

Surprisingly, Lithgow, who vowed to never star in a sitcom, got on board. With the leading man in place, it was now time to hold auditions to fill out the rest of the cast. 

Enter French Stewart.

French Stewart first did the signature squint during his audition

According to The New York Times Special Features article from 1997 (via the Chicago Tribune), French Stewart improvised Harry's signature squint during his audition for the character. Stewart didn't elaborate on what made him decide to squint while reading his lines. Maybe it was unintentional. He could've been just high. After all, it was the '90s. Just joking.

Regardless of his reasoning, it worked and helped him get the part. The quizzical squint is a nice touch that plays up Harry's characterization as the stupidest person in the universe.

"3rd Rock from the Sun" lasted six seasons, and Harry holds the squint in essentially every scene, in every episode, for the entire run. I know it had to be exhausting for Stewart. He told The New York Times:

 "It's sort of the equivalent of your mother telling you not to make faces because they might stick that way forever. Well, I've now got a face that's stuck. But it's worth it. People respond to Harry, and the squint is probably a big part of his appeal. So, I'm just riding it for all it's worth." 

What Stewart didn't disclose during that particular interview was how he was no stranger to pain while on the set of "3rd Rock from the Sun." Playing a dumb character meant doing a lot of dumb things that led to him hitting the deck more often than he probably would have liked. Though it made for good slapstick, it also made for an outrageous chiropractor bill. I bet that was worth it, too. "3rd Rock from the Sun" seemed like a blast to work on.