EXCLUSIVE: After winning his first Oscar three years ago at age 82 for Beginners, another major Hollywood honor is coming Christopher Plummer’s way when he gets a hand and footprint ceremony at the TCL Chinese Theatre on March 27th in an event sponsored as part of the TCM Classic Movie Festival. The network is announcing details of the event today.
When I talked to Plummer last week on the phone from sunny Florida — where he was escaping the harsh weather at his Connecticut home — he said most people think he already had been immortalized in cement at the famous movie landmark. “That’s the problem with awards,” he said. “They think, ‘Oh well, you must’ve gotten that ages ago so we won’t give it to him.’ You could lose a wonderful sort of flotilla of awards if you’re not careful. I think in this case that somebody said ‘Hey, wait a minute.’ And I’m thrilled. I’m really thrilled about getting this.”
As for practicing how to place himself in cement, he joked he’s going to call up all his “gangster friends.” Plummer also will be a big part of the opening night for TCM’s annual fest on March 26, when the 50th anniversary restoration of his 1965 musical classic The Sound Of Music kicks off the sixth edition of Turner Classic Movies’ live tribute to the greats of the screen. The four-day event has become a must-stop for fans of classic movies who come in from all over the world. Plummer and his co-star Julie Andrews will be joining host Robert Osborne for a Q&A before the unveiling of the newly restored version of perhaps the most popular movie musical of all time.
This year’s Oscar telecast also did a tribute to the film, with Lady Gaga singing a medley of songs from the score before Andrews herself walked onstage to a huge standing ovation. Plummer couldn’t make the show, but more importantly felt it was a moment reserved for Andrews. “I didn’t go to the Oscars because first of all I couldn’t, and the second thing, it was a tribute to her. I would’ve looked stupid being there and not doing anything. And it worked perfectly because Lady Gaga was, I thought she was just wonderful. She sang it so well in the style of the piece and she didn’t add any modern rock sounds. She did it straight and she has a lovely voice.”
For years Plummer, one of the most accomplished actors of stage, screen and television, tried to avoid the stigma of being the ultimate Captain Von Trapp in the uber-successful film. In fact, when I hosted his Santa Barbara Film Festival tribute the same year he won his Oscar, I was warned it might be dangerous even to bring up the subject of Sound Of Music. But of course I did or I would have been lynched by the audience. And it wasn’t true, because he was totally open to talking about it — and now he clearly embraces it and is looking forward to the TCM restoration (courtesy of 20th Century Fox). “It is kind of marvelous, isn’t it? Because there is a new group of youngsters every year who their parents tell them to go see The Sound Of Music. So it’s always fresh in some miraculous way because it’s a real family picture and I guess they don’t make them like that anymore. It’s something to hold onto. And it practically saved the studio, didn’t it from bankruptcy way back when?” he said.
Plummer said the script had been hanging around in offices at 20th for eight years. “It was at the bottom of some drawer underneath horror movies and the like. I thought, ‘Oh God, I’d like to be in a musical. And Julie Andrews is great. I love her, so why not do it?’ But neither of us had any inkling that the success would be so unanimous and astounding. Oh God, no,” he said before explaining that a lot of people were mistaken when they intimated over the years that he actually disliked the movie.
“They always got it wrong and it looked like I hated the movie which is not true at all. I wasn’t particularly happy in the role because I didn’t think it was, well, the most exciting role I’d played,” he said. “I mean, it doesn’t quite measure up to Hamlet and Lear, and so I was slightly snobbish about it at the time and I was observed a little bit. If you’re on a set with about 24 nuns every day, you too will become jaded. No, I’m respectably, terrifically and particularly proud now that I’ve grown up. But I just didn’t like the way people talked only of The Sound Of Music when they spoke to me. As you know, I have made 120 other movies.”
And indeed he has. It’s a long list that he has squeezed in between frequent returns to the stage. Plummer is the winner of Emmys, Tonys and an Oscar for a career that began on screen at least six decades ago. And it continues even stronger today, particularly since that Academy Award. On March 20th his latest opens, Danny Collins, in which he plays the acerbic manager of an aging rock star played by Al Pacino. The pairing is magic and Plummer is terrific again in the role. He gives much credit to writer-director Dan Fogelman and to Pacino, with whom he also appeared in The Insider. In April he appears opposite John Travolta in the thriller The Forger. And he also recently completed a new film by director Atom Egoyan in his native Canada.
He actually gives credit to the film The Last Station, for which he won his first Oscar nomination in 2009 playing Tolstoy. “It started then,” he said. “Just being nominated helped to start the roles, and then the Oscar (for Beginners), and the roles just kept on going. I didn’t notice a huge difference between then and then, but from the nomination of the Tolstoy story on I’ve been receiving interesting and fairly good scripts, and in much more sort of distinguished projects than I’ve been in before, so I’m thrilled. Really, I’ve got to keep busy. You’ve got to keep young.” He added that he is also considering bringing his one-man stage show, A Word Or Two, for a limited run to New York. It has already played Canada and Los Angeles.
Plummer is proof positive of the power of always keeping active in a career. He’s never stopped, but is he sorry it took so long to get the kind of recognition from Hollywood, whether at the Oscars or having his hand and footprints in cement, that he is getting now in his eighties? Or is it just kismet?
“Oh I think so. I haven’t ever pushed myself. I’m not a pushy fellow and so it had to come to me,” he said. I remember my mother saying, when I was at a rep company, I was very young indeed like 19, she came and saw me and she said, ‘You know, I think you’re going to be successful in this profession and I think you’re going to be all right. But don’t get impatient because it’s not going to happen until you’re nice and old.’ ” And she was absolutely right. I mean, I had a certain amount of respect from the critics and stuff, but didn’t get the sort of easy fame that awards bring you until I was quite older. She was absolutely dead right.”
In addtion to Plummer, Andrews and The Sound Of Music, this year’s TCM Classic Movie Festival, running through March 29, will also showcase Sophia Loren, Shirley MacLaine, Ann-Margret and Dustin Hoffman among many others, and many other films. It’s a feast.