CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER LOVES PLAYING JOHN BARRYMORE

FROM THE CANADIAN PRESS

CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER never met legendary actor JOHN BARRYMORE, but said he has always felt a kinship with the stage and screen great.

“I felt I knew him…because I knew his daughter Diana very well,”
he said at a recent rehearsal for BARRYMORE at The Elgin Theatre.

“Through her, I got a whole feeling of not only (John) but Ethel and Lionel and everybody in the family. I didn’t have a clue I was going to do Barrymore then — I was 16 years old — but she furnished me with such a lot of material that when it came to doing it, I sort of felt I’d done my homework all ready.”

CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER won a TONY AWARD for starring in BARRYMORE on Broadway 15 years ago. The latest incarnation of the show opens Thursday night.

Written by William Luce, BARRYMORE is set in 1942 and depicts one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of all time in the final year of his life.

The setting is the stage of a Broadway theatre, where JOHN BARRYMORE is struggling with the title role of SHAKESPEARE’S RICHARD III.

CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER, who earned his first OSCAR nomination last year for playing Russian novelist LEO TOLSTOY in THE LAST STATION is the only actor on stage throughout the play. A second actor, JOHN PLUMPIS, is heard off stage, playing a prompter helping JOHN BARRYMORE with his RICHARD III lines.

“I’ve played a lot more (Shakespeare roles) than Jack Barrymore has, but his were special, I think,” said the elegant actor, looking fit in a black zip up sweater and an unbuttoned black blazer.

“He worked so hard on his voice and it was a really quite beautiful voice. And his looks — he was astoundingly handsome and the most romantic of all the Hamlets, I would think, ever.”

The Toronto born performer, who has homes in Florida and Connecticut, first starred in BARRYMORE at THE STRATFORD SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL and toured with it in several American cities before opening on Broadway in 1997.

For the current revival of the show, he’s had to juggle rehearsals with filming in Sweden and Los Angeles for THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, in which he plays the patriarch.

He said the globetrotting has been worth it as he gets to reunite with the original BARRYMORE creative team, including three time TONY AWARD winning director GENE SAKS.

“He’s wicked,” CHRISTOPHER said with a hearty chuckle in reference to Mr. Saks, who was behind eight NEIL SIMON hits.

“He comes up with some wonderful crusty old criticisms and I’m used to that and I love it. And he’s usually instinctively right. It’s terrific.”

JOHN BARRYMORE starred in more than 60 films, including GRAND HOTEL and TWENTIETH CENTURY.

He also hailed from a star studded family dynasty: His parents were performers MAURICE BARRYMORE and GEORGINA DREW BARRYMORE and his siblings were actors LIONEL BARRYMORE and ETHEL BARRYMORE.

JOHN BARRYMORE is also the paternal grandfather of film star DREW BARRYMORE.

CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER, who also has prominent lineage (his great grandfather was Prime Minister John Abbott), said that when he was young, JOHN BARRYMORE “was the ideal actor to emulate.”

“He was on top of the world for a while in the 20s. There was nobody who could touch him, classically — amazing because he only played three parts: Hamlet, Richard and Mercutio (in Romeo & Juliet) where he was mostly drunk throughout the whole thing. And I think he did a Sir Toby Belch somewhere. But that’s it.”

“He didn’t go on doing this wonderful work, which is sad.”

Indeed, the latter half of JOHN BARRYMORE’S life was tragic, with alcoholism leading to a decline in his health and career.

In BARRYMORE, he ruminates on his life while practising for his big comeback, at one point lashing out at his prompter Frank when he thinks he’s disrespected him.

“Who the hell do you think you’re talking to?” CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER (as JOHN BARRYMORE) shouted on stage during a recent rehearsal for members of the media.

“You, you miserable old ham!” Frank shouted back.

JOHN BARRYMORE then softened when Frank reminded him that he was great in RICHARD III and HAMLET, remarking: “Yeah? Well what happened to me?”

“I don’t think he liked himself very much,” said CHRISTOPHER.

“I think he sort of put all that on in a grand manner. But underneath he was a pussycat, you could push him anywhere and I think that’s another reason he drank so much.”

“He didn’t think he was terribly good.”

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