A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
When he hopped on the phone with me from his East Coast home yesterday, I told Christopher Plummer that just three months ago, when he wasn’t even cast in his latest Oscar-nominated role for All the Money in the World, it would have been unimaginable we would be having this conversation. But we were, and at 88 years old, he has now set another Oscar record, surpassing Titanic’s Gloria Stuart as the oldest acting nominee after this week’s Supporting Actor nomination for playing J. Paul Getty in Ridley Scott’s kidnapping thriller.
He already owned the record for oldest acting winner when he took the Best Supporting Actor prize six years ago at age 82 for Beginners. I also informed him he isn’t even the oldest nominee this year, or even second oldest. Those distinctions go to Faces Places director Agnes Varda and Call Me by Your Name screenwriter James Ivory, who are both 89 and separated just eight days by birth (with Varda the senior), proving you are never too old to do anything in this business.
“Well, isn’t that nice? I didn’t know that. Was that on the list in the newspapers?” Plummer asked me during his first interview since receiving his third Oscar nomination in just eight years — all achieved in his 80s, clearly another stat for the Oscar record books. “Well, I’m a babe, I’m a mere child. That’s grand,” he laughed.
A star of stage, screen, and TV over the course of six decades with the Oscar, Emmys and Tonys to prove it, Plummer has no plans in ever giving any of this up. I reminded him that after winning the Oscar for Beginners, he predicted it would give him another good 10 years’ worth of roles. He’s proving himself right. For some, the Oscar is the pinnacle; for Plummer, it really was just the beginning of a new phase of his career.
“I enjoy it. I’ve told you this often: I love my job and I’m passionate about the theatre and the good part of the movie industry,” he said. “I love it, and I have enormous fun, so why would I want to retire? That isn’t even a word I use. I want to go on and on and I want to drop dead on stage. So I keep going and if one gets a bauble like the Oscar, or even a nomination, that helps the fun.” He’s also pleased that the last-minute casting in Scott’s film about the kidnapping of Getty’s grandson in 1973 has earned him a nomination for another BAFTA award as well.
Even getting a swollen arm after taking a tumble on the usual “fast, wonderful, brisk walk” he does every day isn’t slowing him down this week. But then, why would it? This is an actor who, after the Kevin Spacey sexual assault charges threatened to torpedo Scott’s virtually completed film, was able to jump right in and take on the part when Scott flew from London, told him he was originally his first choice anyway, and pitched the wild idea that Plummer could replace Spacey and shoot the entire role (which accounts for about half the film) in just nine days in November to meet the film’s Christmas Day opening. And now he’s suddenly going to the Oscars again.
“It’s extraordinary. Everything happened so quickly that I’m quite stunned by all this,” he said. “I mean, it was just do it the best I could and remember my words and do it, finish it. And that was all that was on my mind. But to get all these nice little perks, my God. That was totally unexpected.” He added that his extensive work in the theatre helped him jump right in and memorize the part. He also liked the fact it had to be done in a hurry so that there was no waiting around on the set like there normally is in making movies. “It’s a wonderful role, and that’s why I jumped at it, and I thought what a wonderful opportunity to do this. He was a real man and I love doing real people, and it’s of classic proportions, the role.”
I loved seeing him play another role of “classic proportions,” the obviously fictional Ebenezer Scrooge in last November’s holiday release The Man Who Invented Christmas, a delightful biopic of Charles Dickens’ attempts to write “A Christmas Carol.” But here, as the very real billionaire Getty, he was playing a man who put a pay phone in the middle of his mansion, wouldn’t pay his own grandson’s ransom, and was so miserly he almost puts Scrooge to shame. “Yes, he’s meaner than ever, but actually, in a funny way, he was right. It was just so cold the way he sort of thought of it, but if he had had given them the ransom money, he would have put his 14 other grandchildren in danger.”
Plummer made Getty three-dimensional in every way, even with no time to do much preparation and research. As for the second controversy the film stirred up after its release, when it was revealed Mark Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million for the reshoots while co-star Michelle Williams got only $1,000 per diem, he said he knew nothing about any of that. But he had great sympathy for Williams, since he did know she was willing to give up her salary in order to help the movie. Wahlberg has since donated the $1.5 million to the Time’s Up movement.
Plummer has much praise for Williams and was sorry she didn’t also get an Oscar nomination, and also Scott, who Plummer thought did a brilliant job on what he thinks is a very good film. “Michelle made it as unsentimental and as tough as she could, and she played against any kind of sentiment, and I thought that was very brave and a very good performance, indeed. She’s a lovely actress,” he said. That lead actress category this year is just so crowded there wasn’t enough room, but then, so is the supporting actor category Plummer suddenly finds himself a part of. He’s seen the other movies and performances and is impressed. “My competition is huge. I won’t be winning this thing at all,” he said. Then again, three months ago, he couldn’t have predicted he would even be in the movie. You never know the twists and turns that life can take, but Plummer is happy to be on the ride.
“I’m not sure if I’m being nominated because I’m old, or because I’m even good or respectable. I don’t know and I don’t care. It’s lovely, and it certainly helps remind everybody that I’m still alive and kicking, and I’m available,” he laughed.
PRODUCERS HANG ON TO THEIR FORTUNE COOKIES
At last weekend’s lively Producers Guild Awards, the whole motif was Chinese, from decor to the food. And how appropriate was that for a producers dinner, since so much money seems to be pouring into Hollywood from China in terms of box office receipts and backing. The idea to turn the Beverly Hilton into Chinatown came from PGA show producers Amy Pascal and Donald De Line, who took the gamble that everyone might like fried rice and eggrolls for a change, rather than the Hilton’s usual bland chicken that is served up at these awards banquets nearly every night of the week. “It wasn’t easy to pull it off, either,” Pascal told me, but it was clearly a big hit and gave the evening — in which The Shape of Water was the big winner — the shape of Beijing as well. Immeasurably adding to the inventiveness were specially designed fortune cookies brought to each table with special “fortunes,” written, as it turns out, by none other than Bruce Vilanch. Among the best? “La La Land may win tonight”; “Warren Beatty has the wrong fortune cookie”; “Be nice to that kid in day care. He’ll be running Warners next week”; “Isn’t this more fun than a sneak preview in Pasadena?”; “Don’t remake Citizen Kane. Just don’t”; “Don’t worry. He will lose 50 pounds before the start date”; and “Shirley Temple is not where you’re going for Hanukkah.”
OSCARS DETERMINED TO REMIND US OF LAST YEAR’S DEBACLE
Now, with the nominations finally in and Phase 2 of the race just starting, attention is being paid to what sort of show producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd are coming up with for the Academy Awards’ 90th anniversary. If ABC’s promos are any indication, they are going to liberally remind us of last year’s Best Picture debacle, when Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty got the wrong envelope and named La La Land Best Picture over the real winner, Moonlight — a still raw and upsetting way to announce a major Oscar upset.
This week’s network promo with Jimmy Kimmel tortured by memories of that moment is inspired stuff, even including a cameo by none other than Beatty himself. It goes hand in hand with the new Oscar poster that asks the question: “What could possibly go wrong?” Capitalizing on one of, if not the biggest screw-up in Oscar history, is not how I might have imagined the Academy and ABC would be promoting their new show. But it’s bold and funny. If anything it will help ratings in this year when there were no Best Picture nominated blockbusters like Wonder Woman, Beauty and the Beast or the latest Star Wars, it would have to be teasing more live TV disasters to come on the Dolby stage. Stay tuned.
MARISA TOMEI REALLY DID WIN THAT OSCAR!
And finally, speaking of Envelopegate, My Cousin Vinny Academy Award winner Marisa Tomei’s victory has been the subject of cruel, ridiculous and endless Oscar conspiracy theories ever since the 1993 show when presenter Jack Palance opened the envelope and seemed confused, leading some to speculate he really meant to say another name rather than Tomei, who was considered the longest of shots in the category otherwise dominated by a killer list of distinguished British (and one Australian) actresses that year. So when last year’s envelope debacle happened, Tomei’s name was brought up again in press accounts trying to infer that it had happened before, or at least questioning whether it actually did. No less than the Washington Post ran a full story after last year’s snafu, saying, “the stunning error and chaotic scene that followed also did something else: In a roundabout way it appears to have vindicated a long-ago Oscar winner – Marisa Tomei.”
I ran into Tomei recently at an ICM awards party and couldn’t resist bringing it up, explaining that I had actually won some money off her victory that year because I
had forecast her upset win based on conversations with about 20 Academy members who all predicted someone else would win supporting actress, but told me — to a person — that they personally had voted for Tomei. It was one of my best calls ever, a 100-to-1 shot that came through. I told Tomei that based on my unscientific survey at the time, she not only won, but won in a landslide, something she was delighted to hear. “Well, thank god, because I have worn that thing around my neck for about 25 years, and just when it died down it all comes up again last year!” she said, laughing. I pointed out that if indeed Palance had read the wrong name it would have been caught because, as everyone and their grandmother now knows, there are two sets of identical envelopes, just as there were in 1993. And with that, Tomei made a quick exit to another room, apparently not wanting to relive the experience for one more minute. She won it, and she deserved it. End of story.