Christopher Plummer’s new first
Regal and commanding even in his youth, Christopher Plummer has turned into an even mightier force in old age.
The 88-year-old Plummer earlier this year became the oldest actor ever nominated for an Oscar (for his J. Paul Getty in All the Money in the World), six years after setting the mark for eldest acting winner (for his coming-out 75-year-old in Beginners).
The King Lear phase of Plummer’s career has been colorfully crowded with aged men too roiled by appetite to resemble any standard portraits of the elderly.
In his latest film, Shana Feste’s Boundaries, Plummer plays the estranged, weed-dealing father of a single mother (Vera Fermiga). The film, which opened June 22 is showing at the Charles Theatre in Baltimore through July 19. It is Feste’s semi-autobiographical road trip about her own comically flawed family.
“I loved playing that old geezer,” Plummer said with characteristic relish for a meaty role. In a recent interview at a Manhattan hotel, Plummer discussed his own connections to the part, his last-minute substitution for the disgraced Kevin Spacey on All the Money in the World and his undying thirst for acting.
AP: When we spoke six years ago, you said the onset of your 80s made you feeling panicked at having enough time to accomplish what you wanted. Do you still feel that way?
Plummer: No, I don’t. There isn’t as much panic because now I’ve been through my 80s. That kind of panic does not exist anymore. I’m enjoying myself very much.
And in my 80s, I had another career. I’m very happy about that. It’s gone better than most other decades have.
AP: Why is that?
Plummer: The parts. I played everything in the theater. I still would like to do something else in the theater, of course. But I’ve played all the great parts. And not too shabbily. Now I want the same great parts, if I can, on the screen. And so far, yes. I’ve played marvelous characters.
AP: In your memoir In Spite of Myself, you romantically recounted your heavy-drinking days. Do you have any marijuana experience, like your character in Boundaries?
Plummer: No, I’ve tried little attempts at marijuana and a couple of others. It never did any good to me at all. I just fell asleep. I just disappeared into myself.
No, I prefer the gregariousness of booze: you can make friends with people. If you’re drugged out of your skull, you don’t know who you’re talking to.
AP: Did you connect personally to the film’s father-daughter relationship? You weren’t much a part of the life of your daughter, the actress Amanda Plummer, from your first marriage.
Plummer: I suppose unconsciously. Particularly the stuff about taking each other for granted. There’s a little bit of that in the film. There’s a bit of I-owe-you and you-owe-me parent banter. That also exists in real life.
AP: The experience coming in to replace Kevin Spacey in All the Money in the World must have been head-spinning. You were nominated for a Golden Globe even before…
Plummer: …it was finished! Just for remembering my lines I get an award? I also had fun, believe it or not. Ridley [Scott], I always wanted to work with him. So I thought it was a terrific opportunity. I said yes, and he made it so comfortable for me.
[The cast] all came back and had to do the whole thing over again. The cameras were ready at 6 a.m. They flew us everywhere private, thank God.
AP: Did you have any doubt that you could work so quickly?
Plummer: No, I was just hopeful that at my age, my memory would serve me. Because I had to learn my lines very quickly, and I thought, “Oh, Christ, am I going to be able to hold on to this?”
But that’s because of years in theater. You’re trained to be in an emergency like that. The whole theatrical experience is an emergency.
AP: Since then, whenever scandal befalls another performer, it’s become a regular joke that you should substitute in.
Plummer: It’s terribly funny. (Chuckling.) I think it’s hilarious. The latest one [suggested] was “Roseanne.” I thought that was a bit far-reaching. But it tickled me pink.
AP: Are you encouraged by what the #MeToo movement has done for women in the movie business?
Plummer: It’s going to take time, because there’s still so many, hundreds and hundreds, of the old-school tie, the old-club men that still, even now in modern times, have inherited this bigotry, this superiority, this “my little woman.”
It’s great, though, that the fight is on. Long before this happened, my wife and I both thought there should be a woman president. And it doesn’t have anything to do with Hillary Clinton. Because it’s time for a woman.
We’ve seen what happens. Men go hysterical. Women are far stronger and would be able to run a country with less temperament.
AP: You came up at time when the actor, onstage and on screen, was supreme. What do you think digital-effects-heavy blockbusters have done to acting?
Plummer: This whole new wave of young studs who look great against the green screen, they’re at the mercy of all that…at the mercy of phony crocodiles and dragons.
Technically, it’s simply wonderful what goes on now. I’m in love with the dragon lady (Emilia Clarke on “Game of Thrones”), for example. I think she’s great. And the other night I replayed Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. Those are directorial triumphs, and the actors are along for the trip.
On stage, it’s a different thing. But that doesn’t exist anymore. Somebody [asked me], “Are you going to the Tonys?” I said no, because the Tonys are a funny thing now. It’s all musicals, and not particularly terrific musicals. But that’s it.
What’s happened to the legitimate theater, the writing? Where’s all that now?