CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER: RELISHING THE ACTOR’S LIFE
FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
EWAN McGREGOR was having a hard time keeping up with CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER.
At the suggestion of director MIKE MILLS, EWAN had brought his costar to BARNEY’S in Los Angeles to pick up a scarf for CHRISTOPHER’S gay character in their film BEGINNERS.
But Mr. Plummer had other designs.
“Christopher only wanted to get skinny black jeans,” recalled EWAN.
“That was his main goal in life. When we got there, he asked where the jeans department was…and off he went to find skinny jeans.”
That one of the finest living interpreters of SHAKESPEARE and one of the few remaining greats of classical acting was hell bent on procuring a hipster staple might seem odd. But then again, CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER has seldom acceded to stereotypes.
“I’m glad (my ambition) is still there,” CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER stated in a recent interview.
“If it faded, what’s there to live for? It makes you appreciate other things if you keep working at your job and you love your job. Too many people in the world are unhappy with their lot. And then they retire and they become vegetables. I think retirement in any profession is death, so I’m determined to keep crackin’.”
The actor’s remarkable late period began with his acclaimed performance as MIKE WALLACE in MICHAEL MANN’S 1999 film THE INSIDER, continued in films such as 2009′s THE LAST STATION (his performance as a fiery yet deteriorating TOLSTOY was nominated for an OSCAR) and arguably culminated with his staggering KING LEAR at LINCOLN CENTER in 2004.
In BEGINNINGS, which opens in theatres Friday, CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER gives yet another career capping performance. He plays HAL, a 75 year old who comes out of the closet after his longtime wife dies and shortly before terminal cancer sets in. EWAN McGREGOR stars as his son in a film largely based on MIKE MILLS’ own family.
The role suits CHRISTOPHER particularly well because HAL, like Mr. Plummer, is randy, funny and undimmed.
“The wonderful thing about Hal is that he has such a ball at the end of his life. It was a charming script, I thought…and so lacking in sentimentality and self pity. There was none of that nonsense. Usually, when scripts like that come along, you have to work so hard to play against them because they’re just so saccharine. And the writers and producers will tell you that’s what the public wants.”
“Blow it out your bum!”
CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER laboured long in less dynamic roles, none more than his most famous part: CAPTAIN VON TRAPP in THE SOUND OF MUSIC. In his rollicking 2008 memoir IN SPITE OF MYSELF, he surveys a life begun amidst Montreal privilege, carried through boozy 50s New York and swinging 60s London, and ultimately spent in reverence of, as he says, “the thee-ah-tah.” He also refers to THE SOUND OF MUSIC as S&M and laments the “humourless and one dimensional” Von Trapp.
“We tried so hard to put humour into it. It was almost impossible. It was just agony to try to make that guy not a cardboard figure.”
The role catapulted him to stardom, but he never took to leading men parts.
“I hated playing them. They were so innocuously and badly written and cardboard figures, most of them. In my 40s, I began to suddenly enjoy making movies because the character parts are so much more interesting. I started having a ball and working with much better directors — John Huston, for example and Anatole Litvak from the old school. After Michael Mann’s The Insider, then the scripts improved. I was upgraded! Since then, they’ve been first class scripts. Not all successful, but worth doing.”
All the while, though, he would “go back for my medicine” on the stage. The Canadian born actor has performed most all of the major SHAKESPEARE roles (among them HAMLET, MACBETH, HENRY V and IAGO), often at the STRATFORD SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL in Canada.
He lives with ELAINE TAYLOR, his wife of 41 years, in Weston, Connecticut and played PROSPERO in THE TEMPEST at STRATFORD last year.
“I’ve become simpler and simpler with playing Shakespeare. I’m not as extravagant as I used to be. I don’t listen to my voice so much any more. All the pitfalls of playing the classics — you can fall in love with yourself.”
“I’m determined to finish playing all the great parts. I think I have, actually.”
Actors who have recently worked with CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER spoke of his unceasing joy in his work and his commitment to still growing as an actor.
“That was the surprising thing about Christopher, just how contemporary he is as an actor, how modern it feels when you’re working with him,” EWAN McGREGOR commented.
“Acting was very different and it’s evolved. But what’s very clear is that so has Christopher’s acting. He gives an amazing performance in this film, but it never ever felt like he was when we were acting it. We were never aware of his performance. It just felt like I was in a scene with my dad.”
MIKE MILLS, whose only previous feature was 2005′s THUMBSUCKER, called CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER “a bit of a rascal, in the best sense of the word.”
“It’s really contagious being around a 79 year old man (during filming two years ago) that loves what he’s doing and isn’t taking it for granted. There’s something really magical and special about that. Ewan and I both talked about that a lot, like, ‘Wow, I want to be like that.”’
CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER has been working at a pace of about three films and a play every year. He appears in the highly anticipated THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, due out later this year – and is currently prepping roles in two films and one play (though he declines to name them).
He said that he relishes finding “new ways of simplifying things” and is enjoying acting more than ever.
“It’s cliché, but you know that you have to. You appreciate life much more because there’s so little of it left. I must say there’s a sort of panic, too, that takes over when you hit 80. Am I going to be able to do all the things that I want to do…starting now? Rather like Hal, in that respect, that he starts his life when it’s too late. But never too late because even five minutes is glorious.”