Rob Lowe Recalls Origin of 'Literally' Catchphrase, Working With Sons and More (Exclusive)

Rob Lowe joined ET to open up the vault and look back on some of his biggest career moments.

Rob Lowe has come a long way since he rocketed to fame in 1983's The Outsiders

The 59-year-old star sat down with ET for a rETrospective, where he reflected on some of his most iconic career moments, from his fresh-faced beginnings 40 years ago to his latest project, Liberty or Death: Boston Tea Party, a four-part retelling of the Boston Tea Party in honor of the 250th anniversary. 

Looking back on his first big movie role on The Outsiders alongside Patrick Swayze and Tom Cruise, Lowe mostly recalls it being "among the coldest and wettest I've ever been."

"We didn't have places to get warm, we just had a bonfire," he shares, watching an old clip. "So we would just huddle there with our soup for like five straight nights, and it was freezing. We're all best friends but also really competitive, so everybody had their own fight they'd choreographed with their stuntman [and] everybody wanted to outfight everybody else. And I just remember that being super-secret, like, 'My fight's this, oh what's he gonna do with his stuntman?' It was like a big deal."

Lowe's role in 1985's St. Elmo's Fire quickly established him as a heartthrob.

"If you stumble into being an 'It Person,' it's a very odd, fun, confusing, ridiculous [experience]," Lowe quips, looking back at an old interview of him. "I enjoyed it."

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With a slew of big screen projects already under his belt -- including St. Elmo's Fire and Wayne's World -- it was a starring role on The West Wing in 1999 that marked a new beginning for Lowe, kicking off a run that would see him on a TV show (and sometimes more than one) every year since. The streak is still going strong, with Lowe currently starring on Fox's 9-1-1: Lone Star and Netflix's Unstable -- a collaborative project with his son, John Owen Lowe.

Last year marked the 30th anniversary of Wayne's World and the 20th anniversary of Austin Powers in Goldmember, films that Lowe gleefully looks back on.

"That's one of my favorite scenes that I got to do in Wayne's World," Lowe says, watching the old clip. "A lot of people don't realize that Lorne Michaels, the great producer of Saturday Night Live, sort of ghost-wrote all of my dialogue. And so, when I look back on Wayne's World today, I go, 'Oh yeah, that sounds a little bit like Lorne.'"

"I also remember I had to postpone my honeymoon with my wife -- we got down to Cabo, and my deal to do the movie closed, and we had to turn right around and come home," he shares, laughing.

Lowe also shares how he joined the cast of 1999's Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. The actor plays a younger version of Number Two, the character originated by Robert Wagner, whom Lowe calls an "old family friend."

"I remember playing golf with Mike Meyers, who was writing the movie, and he was telling me Robert Wagner was going to be in the movie and I started imitating RJ," he recalls. "He liked the impersonation so much that he wrote me as a younger version of him into the film, but it's just -- every time I go to the 18th hole of Sam Pepper Golf Course, I remember exactly where I was standing when I did the impression that ended up with me doing the Austin Powers movies."

One of Lowe's most memorable roles is more recent, his time as Chris Traeger on NBC's Parks and Recreation. The character began on the show as an Indiana State Auditor who visits the fictional city of Pawnee to help solve their crippling budget problems, and eventually becomes Pawnee's acting City Manager. 

"What a lovefest that show is and was. I don't know how the 'literally' thing happened," Lowe jokes, referring to the character's constant declaration of things to be "literally" the best thing he's ever seen or done. "I mean, clearly, I lean into that word and I think I just leaned in maybe a little too hard one day."

Fans have clamored for a Parks and Recreation reunion since the series ended in 2015, after 125 episodes over seven seasons. In 2020, the cast reunited for a special episode amid the COVID-19 pandemic, centered on Pawnee's most dedicated civil servant, Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), who remains determined to stay connected to her friends in a time of social distancing.


Lowe, Poehler, Chris Pratt, Nick Offerman, Adam Scott, Rashida Jones, Aubrey Plaza, Aziz Ansari, Retta and Jim O'Heir all returned for the scripted half-hour event, which benefited Feeding America's COVID-19 response.

When asked about the potential for another reunion, Lowe shares, "We're all still in a group text. I mean, everybody on that show is super special to me and everybody's so talented, so funny. I mean, it just goes on and on and on. We would all jump at the chance to be in the same room no matter what we were doing."

Although Lowe has enjoyed an enviable career by any standards, it isn't his work onscreen that he's most proud of, it's his work as a dad.

Watching an interview of his sons, John and Matthew, Lowe reflects on raising his boys while building his career. "It's funny. I try to set the right balance with them where, you know, I moved them out of L.A. so they wouldn't grow up in a show business world, but it also felt super inauthentic and phony to pretend that this isn't my job and that this isn't my life. So I would try to judiciously pick moments to bring them into my world," he tells ET. "I think that was one of the many years The Office was nominated, and they were huge Office fans. They'd be like, 'Steve Carell is here,' and I could go introduce them, and it was really fun."

From taking the world by storm as part of the Brat Pack with his St. Elmo co-stars to playing larger-than-life characters and countless roles in between, Lowe confesses that he enjoyed looking back at his career thus far, although some parts were a bit "mortifying."

"I'm both, like, kinda proud of that and then, 'Oh wow, that's really mortifying.' It's a little bit of both," the actor muses. "It is amazing how long ET has been in my life. It's amazing. I think that first interview might've been my first filmed interview. Wow. To many, many more decades!"


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