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#BornThisDay: Actor, Christopher Plummer

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“The Insider” Photo by Andrew Tepper, Focus Features

 

December 13, 1929- Arthur Christopher Orme Plummer:

”Working with Julie Andrews is like getting hit over the head with a valentine.”

Christopher Plummer has been nominated for a Golden Globe Award for the role in which he replaced a disgraced Kevin Spacey. At 87-years-old, Academy Award winner Plummer plays J. Paul Getty in Ridley Scott’s All The Money In The World about the events surrounding the 1973 kidnapping of Getty’s grandson. Plummer is both the world’s newest and oldest special effect. Scott was able to reshoot the Spacey scenes with Michelle Williams (also Golden Globe nominated) and Mark Wahlberg, sometimes superimposing Plummer’s performance over Spacey’s already-filmed sequences. The film was supposed to open on December 22. All The Money In The World now opens Christmas Day in a limited run to qualify for the Academy Award nominations. Amazing that Scott pulled this off. Plummer was reportedly Scott’s original choice to play Getty, but studio executives persuaded him to cast Spacey, who was the “bigger name”.

Plummer, like Spacey, has won an Academy Award. Plummer, who has worked on stage and screen for 70 years, won his Oscar in 2012 for playing a septuagenarian who comes out as a gay shortly before being diagnosed with terminal cancer in the lovely film Beginners. The oldest person to ever win an acting Oscar.

Plummer should have always been the choice to play Getty. He is closer to the correct age for the role. Getty was 80-years-old at the time of the kidnapping; Plummer was 87-years-old when he shot his scenes; Spacey is 58. And, dare I say it, Plummer is the more interesting actor.

I know that most all of you think of Plummer as the brooding, strapping patriarch of the Von Trapp family in the baby boomer favorite, The Sound Of Music (1965).

1965, via YouTube

 

Did you know that he’s Canadian? Maybe you did. But, did you also know that he has been working on stage in since the Eisenhower years? He made his Broadway debut in 1953, and 20 years later, he won a Tony Award for playing the title role of Cyrano: The Musical (1973). A decade later, he played Iago to James Earl Jones’s Othello on Broadway, followed by more Shakespeare on Broadway: the title role in The Scottish Play with Glenda Jackson as Lady Macbeth in 1988, and Lear in King Lear in 2004.

Besides Getty and Captain von Trapp, Plummer has played several historical figures, winning a second Tony Award for playing actor John Barrymore in the two-character play Barrymore in 1997; and on film as Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington in Waterloo (1970); Rudyard Kipling in The Man Who Would Be King (1975); American Tragedy (2000) as famed lawyer F. Lee Bailey; Kaiser Wilhelm II in The Exception (2016); newsman Mike Wallace in The Insider (1999); and Leo Tolstoy in The Last Station (2009).

I know that you still think of the song Edelweiss when you hear his name, and, by the way, it wasn’t even his voice singing in that film, it was Bill Lee.

Plummer is a real “actor’s actor”, always working in roles large and small, on stage, television, voice-overs and film. He is considered North America’s greatest interrupter of Shakespeare: At his home away from home, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, he played Henry V, Hamlet and Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night in one year, 1957. The following year, he played Leontes in The Winter’s Tale, Bardolph in Henry IV, Part 1, and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. In 1960, he played Philip in King John and Mercutio in Romeo And Juliet. In 1962, he played the title roles in both Cyrano de Bergerac and Macbeth, returning in 1967 to play Mark Antony in Antony And Cleopatra.

He returned to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in the 2008 season as Julius Caesar in George Bernard Shaw’s Caesar And Cleopatra and in 2010 as Prospero in The Tempest. In 2012, he performed his one-man show, A Word Or Two, a look at his love of literature and then in 2014, he took it to the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.

He has even dared to perform in Shakespeare in Britain at the Royal Shakespeare Company, The National Theatre, and at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Plummer is not all high-brow, he played a shady priest in the film spoof parody of Dragnet (1997) and a shady corporate lawyer in Syriana (2005);

In his memoir In Spite Of Myself (2008) he writes that in his youth, when he was a lustful lush, he had sex at a party with his leading lady while chatting up her husband.

Despite his past reputation, Plummer must have had enormous self-discipline:

”God, you had to, if you drank so much. You have to counteract it with something.”

He also writes that hated making The Sound Of Music, which he called ”S&M”:

”Because it was so awful and sentimental and gooey. You had to work terribly hard to try and infuse some minuscule bit of humor into it.”

Julie Andrews, Plummer and director Robert Wise on The Sound Of Music set, 1964. From MPTV via Youtube

2015, ABC News, via YouTube

 

He drank away his sorrows while filming in Salzburg, which caused him to gain so much weight his costumes had to be let out, and that he was drunk when filming the famous music festival sequence.

”It’s not my cup of tea, that’s all, and somebody had to be cynical. It’s a really good movie of its kind. I think it’s Julie’s best picture, she’s wonderful in it. I remember Robert Wise, the director, would say: ‘If it’s too sentimental, I always look over at Chris Plummer to see if he’s scowling, and if he is, I know it’s a little bit mawkish’.”

Beginners is not Plummer’s only gay role. He is the voice of gay British writer J.R. Ackerley in the animated adaptation of Ackerley’s classic My Dog Tulip about man and man’s best friend. Ackerley wrote it in 1956, about his 14-year-long ideal friendship with a dog named Queenie. It has a decidedly unsentimental view of canines and life in London’s gay underground during the first part of the 20th century. The film, which features hand-drawn animation in the style of The New Yorker cartoons. It is clinical and lyrical, like Ackerley’s writing. It also features Lynn Redgrave’s last performance.

Plummer was briefly married to actor Tammy Grimes (1934- 2016). He is the father of actor Amanda Plummer, but no relation of Charlie Plummer who plays his grandson in All The Money In The World.

Plummer was born into a distinguished and powerful family; his great-grandfather was Canada’s first native-born prime minister. He studied to be a classical pianist before turning to acting.

Plummer, lives with his third wife, former Bond girl Elaine Taylor in Weston, Connecticut. They have been together for 47 years.

“Silent Partner”, 1979, via YouTube

 

I am quite fond of his performance as Harry Reikle in The Silent Partner (1979), not only my favorite villains, but one of the vilest, most unnerving psychopaths in films, plus Plummer is in drag! But, my favorite Plummer role is in Beginners, a heartfelt, funny/sad film about relationships between parents and children, and men and their dogs, and memories and ghosts. Written and directed by Portland’s Mike Mills, who based this memory piece about a straight son and his dying gay father on his own life.


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