Christopher Plummer: Busier than ever at 82
Years after "The Sound of Music" in 1965, actor Christopher Plummer is still on the screen . . . in roles as different from THAT one as you can imagine. Anthony Mason has our Sunday Profile:
In the new film of the blockbuster novel, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," Christopher Plummer is Henrik Vanger, the patriarch of a wealthy Swedish family, who hires a journalist, played by Daniel Craig, to investigate the disappearance of his grand niece:
"Someone in the family murdered Harriet, and for the past 40 years has been trying to drive me insane."
When asked how he got the part in "Dragon Tattoo," Plummer replied, "I suppose they thought, 'Who old is left in the world of theater or film?'"
At 82, the veteran actor is in demand. In another film this year, "Beginners," Plummer plays a father who finds new life when he comes out of the closet - at age 75.
He said it was the freest he ever felt in front of the camera: "Yes, I think it was. I really think so. Because it was a real character, you know, something I've never played before."
After earning his first Oscar nomination in 2009 playing Russian writer Leo Tolstoy in "The Last Station," Plummer is now being tipped as a frontrunner for another nomination.
"In many ways it feels like you're kind of in the prime of your movie career," said Mason.
"Yes, it's extraordinary to wait this long," he said. "I work harder and more frequently now that I'm in my 80s than I ever did before."
He's appeared in more than 90 films, most famously as leading man in "The Sound of Music."
But Plummer has never quite become a movie star, in part because his heart has always been on the stage: "I always go back to the theater, and that's very hard for film people and Hollywood people to understand - Why on earth is he going - he must be dead! He's either dead or he's in the theater, which is the same thing."
Growing up in Montreal, the great-grandson of a former Canadian prime minister, he caught the acting bug in high school, and at 18 was already winning rave reviews on the Canadian stage.
His first role in America was at the Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut: "Very early '50s I came here."
It's the audience that Plummer says he feeds off of, even if he can't always see them.
"But you feel them, that's the thing. That's the ticket. And it's alive. It's a buzz."
He won a Tony Award for his portrayal of Cyrano in 1974. When he played Iago in 1982, opposite James Earl Jones' Othello, the New York Times' critic called it "quite possibly the best single Shakespearean performance ... on this continent in our time."
He earned another Tony in 1997 playing actor John Barrymore. The play is now being made into a film:
Plummer's home in Connecticut is filled with photographs of his great roles and his great co-stars, including Julie Andrews.
"For all the less-than-nice things you've said about 'Sound of Music' over the years, you've had only nice things to say about her," remarked Mason.
"Oh well, who wouldn't? I mean, what a professional," Plummer responded. "I love Julie."
But of "Sound of Music," Plummer said, "there were too many nuns in it, I thought."
As Capt. Von Trapp, father of the singing Von Trapps, he teaches his children the song "Edelweiss."
"Have you ever sung 'Edelweiss' in public after that?" Mason asked.
"Not on your Nellie!"
And he wasn't about to start now. "You mean, you were hoping for instance that I might, if things got dull here, I might sing it for you here now?" Plummer said. "It's a wrap!"
But last year, for the first time, Plummer consented to reunite with the cast on "Oprah."
"That was sweet," Plummer said. "I was dreading it. But they paid me to go."
"I love what your co-star, Charmian Carr, who played Liesl, said when she was asked if she learned anything from you: 'Yes. I learned how to drink,'" Mason recalled.
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