Christopher Plummer: A Strong Third Act

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A full and respected career, Christopher Plummer has reemerged in some powerful and memorable film roles. At age 80, Plummer began a string of films that won him awards, gave his starring roles and clarified that he’s more than a movie star. While film provided him steady employment, the stage provided meaningful and acclaimed roles as he appeared on Broadway many times and winning a Tony Award for Cyrano de Bergerac (1987) and for Barrymore (1997).

Captain Von Trapp will always be his signature role, while it made him a household name, he rarely had a major role in a significant film going forward. He crossed over into television, scoring a role in Jesus of Nazareth (1977) and The Thorn Birds (1983), as he worked on both the large and small screen. He was very employable but the roles and project were usually very memorable. Late in his career he often he was hired to play historical and well-known people (Franklin Roosevelt, Mike Wallace, Rudyard Kipling, F. Lee Bailey, John Barrymore). He also secured a profitable career as a narrator and voice-work, taking advantage of his dignified and recognized voice.

In 2001, Plummer and Julie Andrews appeared in a live television performance of On Golden Pond. Live television, now that is hard work. Considering it was live and a one-off performance, it gave viewers a chance to see a different side to Plummer, the stage actor, and to appreciate the challenge of a well-known character (Henry Fonda won his only Academy Award for the role) in a live performance. While not a classic production or performance, it was an impressive one. For me, this was the beginning of Plummer’s third act. While many actors at that age are just pleased to be working, or taking a mild victory lap in undemanding roles, Plummer buckled down and went to work. His 1999 role as Mike Wallace in The Insider might have been his strongest film role in many years, but I found his role lost in the drama of the real life story involving the tobacco industry and 60 Minutes.

At age 80, Plummer portrayed Leo Tolstoy in The Last Station and received his first Academy Award nomination. In 2011, he made Beginners, a film that gave his career a big spin, as he garnered the best notices of his film career and took home an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. From this success, he appeared in numerous high profile films and became one of the most in-demand actors of any age.

Two films of note.

remember

Remember (2015). A starring role and maybe his best film performance. A thriller that keeps you as off-balance as the Plummer character, and just as you think you understand, the story goes in a different direction. A Holocaust survivor in the grip of dementia, Plummer’s character is sent on a mission to find an elderly Nazi war criminal. Much of Plummer’s acting come from his l

the exception

apses of memory while traveling country as an escapee of his care center as a hitman in pursuit of a man responsible for his family’s murder.

The Exception (2016). The film is a fictional account of the last few days in the life of exiled Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. Plummer plays Kaiser Wilhelm, a man of dignity and strength, although he barely rules his own house. In exile and given protection by the Nazis, he is really under house arrest. In the film, there is a search for a foreign assassin, who turns out to be a messenger from Winston Churchill. There are subplots and a love story, but the focus of the story is on the Kaiser’s realization that the Nazis are worse than he believes and intend to use him as a trap by offering him an opportunity to return to the throne. It is a fine performance by Plummer, restrained but charming, as he shares the screen with many other fine actors. While the story is fictional, the enjoyment is genuine.

kaiser wilhelm

If you look at Plummer’s list of credits on imdb.com you’ll see that he has a handful of films completed for future release. The man shows no signs of slowing down as he edges toward his 90th birthday. Here’s a man who began his career on the stage where he achieved success and then was catapulted into fame in The Sound of Music, a film experience he does not fondly remember. “I would have changed me altogether and gotten somebody else,” said Plummer in an interview with Vanity Fair.

It is true that some things get better with age: fish stories, wine, some cheeses, and a few actors like Judi Dench, Michael Caine, Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer.

 


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