The thrills are alive — still — for Christopher Plummer

Roger Moore
The Orlando Sentinel (MCT)

We've seen so much of Christopher Plummer in recent years, playing Dickensian villains, Spike Lee schemers and menacing political operators, it's as if Hollywood suddenly discovered the man's secret.

"Villains, pirates, cheats, that's the real me, you see," he says with a hearty laugh. "Captain Von Trapp may be my most famous role, but he's a goody-two-shoes side of me that no one, friends, wives, has been able to find. No matter how hard they look."

Plummer is 50 years and some 150 films and TV shows into a screen career that's a decade younger than an even more storied one on the stage. But only now has he truly escaped from the role that defined him for so long, his place in that beloved musical that he half-jokingly nicknamed "S & M": "The Sound of Music." And only now has he "mellowed" about playing the handsome but prickly Capt. Von Trapp in the 1965 film.

"I've never disliked the movie," he says from his home in Connecticut. "I just found my own role in it rather boring and disappointing. I resented, very much, being remembered for that and not all of the other more worthwhile things that I did before.

"But that's life. You can't fight city hall. Or Rodgers & Hammerstein. Still, even at my darkest 'S & M' moments, I am grateful to it for putting bodies in the seats for whatever I do in the theater. "

Plummer, who turns 79 Saturday, still has stories to tell, and not just on stage and screen. His new backstage memoir, "In Spite of Myself" (Alfred A. Knopf), is winning great praise for its candor and wit, "a rich, ribald, old-fashioned name-dropper," Entertainment Weekly called it. The actor recalls being fired by the great stage actress Katherine Cornell, being overweight and prone to tantrums ("pampered" and "arrogant") while filming "The Sound of Music," the funny debacle of filming "Waterloo" with Russians, the challenge of "The Man Who Would Be King" with Connery, Caine and John Huston.

"I've spent my life remembering lines, and that memory training helps a great deal. As I went back and recalled say, Kate Reid, for example, a great actress who became a great friend of mine, I'd think of Kate and about 20 other stories would pop into my head. The anecdotes snowball ...

"My family trained me to love poetry, to appreciate its cadence and rhythm. I learned Shakespeare that way, so by the time it came to playing the roles, I was ahead. I could go back to any Shakespeare role I've played and it wouldn't take long at all to recall the lines, even now."

He just finished a triumphant "Caesar and Cleoptra" in Stratford, Ontario, with hopes of taking that to Broadway. And before that, he'd finished two films, "the latest of them about the Tolstoys, with Helen Mirren as the Missus and me as Leo in the last years of their rather stormy marriage. A good script we shot in Germany, and I found it fascinating, because while we know 'War and Peace' and 'Anna Karenina,' there's so little about Tolstoy the man that people know, even less that's been about him on the screen. I was keen on putting on that long beard, which took hours. I'm hoping that film has a future."

As for him, the future couldn't be brighter. Finally landing the right smattering of Hollywood movies and roles in indie films, Plummer is now most concerned with imparting some sense of the vanished world he came up in, a world of greasepaint "now all but gone."

"I'm terribly lucky to have grown up in that era, of touring shows and summer stock, rubbing shoulders with legends," Plummer says. "If you want to get into acting, you might want to know what it once was. I thought I'd write about that world, because personalities like that just don't come along anymore."

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.