“Working with Julie Andrews is like getting hit over the head with a valentine.”Christopher Plummer
In 2017, Christopher Plummer was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for the role in which he replaced a disgraced Kevin Spacey. The then-87-years-old Academy Award winner played 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 was both the world’s newest and oldest special effect. Scott was able to reshoot the Spacey scenes sometimes superimposing Plummer’s performance over Spacey’s already-filmed sequences. 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. He has worked on stage and screen for more than 70 years, and 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.
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).
Did you know that Plummer was Canadian? Maybe you did. But, did you also know that he had been working on stage 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 Captain von Trapp, Plummer 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); F. Lee Bailey in American Tragedy (2004), 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 was a real “actor’s actor”, 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.
He returned to the Stratford 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 plays a shady priest in the film spoof parody of Dragnet (1997) and a shady corporate lawyer in Syriana (2005).
In his highly-readable memoir In Spite Of Myself (2008) he wrote 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 wrote that he 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.”
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 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 was 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 features hand-drawn animation in the style of The New Yorker cartoons. It is clinical and lyrical, like Ackerley’s writing. It also features lovely 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 played 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 was married three times. He lived with his third wife, former Bond girl Elaine Taylor in Connecticut. They have been together for 53 years before he took his final bow today, February 5, 2021. He was 91.
I am quite fond of his performance as Harry Reikle in The Silent Partner (1979), not only one of 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. Besides the Oscar, Plummer won a Golden Globe and BAFTA Award for Beginners.
“Acting is never boring. We all pooh-pooh it from time to time, because it can often be hard work, but it’s never boring. Never.“