Christopher Plummer Talks Frankly About Replacing Kevin Spacey
Posted February 6, 2018 4:30 p.m. EST
To millions, Christopher Plummer will always be the dashing Captain von Trapp from the beloved 1965 classic “The Sound of Music,” even though Plummer considered the part tedious and came to resent his immutable association with the film. In recent years, the Tony-winning actor, who was brought up in Montreal, has marched into the history books thanks to a late career burst of lauded performances.
In 2012, at 82, he became the oldest actor to win an Oscar (for his supporting role in “Beginners,”) and in January, at 88, became the oldest actor to ever receive a nomination, for his performance, replacing Kevin Spacey, as J. Paul Getty in Ridley Scott’s “All the Money in the World.”
In January, he spoke with me by phone from his winter home in Florida, on topics that ranged from Spacey and the #MeToo moment to his age and his decision to work with Elia Kazan. Plummer dodged when asked about the pay discrepancy between his co-stars — Mark Wahlberg earned $1.5 million more than Michelle Williams to reshoot crucial scenes — saying he was “completely focused on the film and completely unaware of the other business matters at the time.”
Q: The publicist who connected us just referred to you as Chris. But you can’t be a Chris – you’re too august of a man to be anything but Christopher!
A: Oh come on, I’m a bore, don’t be silly.
Q: You’re now the oldest actor to have ever received an Oscar and the oldest to earn a nomination. How does it feel to be such a record breaker?
A: Oh God, this age thing, it’s just getting ridiculous. I’ve got to start lying about my age.
Q: But you can’t. The internet doesn’t forget anything.
A: There’s no privacy anymore, no mystery, it’s terrible.
Q: It’s kind of amazing that you’ve been getting all of these accolades in your 80s.
A: I’ve made over 100 motion pictures, and some of them were even good. It’s nice to be reborn every few decades, because then you can have another career. The nice part about awards and being nominated is the fact that it wakes everybody up again, and makes them realize you’re alive and kicking and available. The roles have got more interesting as I’ve got older. In theater, where I spent most of my life, I’ve played all the great classic roles in England and North America, on Broadway and in Canada. So here we go again. Now I’m playing big modern classic roles. J. Paul Getty is a classic-sized figure. I recently played (Kaiser Wilhelm II in the World War II drama “The Exception”). I love playing these really old guys. Though I can’t play King Lear anymore, I don’t think. I’ve gotten too old.
Q: Are the roles getting better, have you gotten better, or both?
A: I’ve been very lucky with my writers. Simon Burke (“The Exception”) wrote an excellent part. David Scarpa (writer of “All The Money in the World”) did a smashing job, and gave a rather colorless character a lot of character, which I jumped at immediately. I thought there must’ve somewhere been some kind of humanity in that man, and I think we found a little bit of it.
Q: Ridley Scott has said he wanted you first for the Getty part anyway.
A: He says he did, yeah. I was probably one or two. He said I was the original choice, and whether I was or not, I thought, “To hell with it, I’m doing it.”
Q: Any trepidation, taking the place of another actor who’s already completed the role?
A: No trepidation. In the theater it happens a lot. In movies it does not happen. I’ve always wanted to work with Ridley. He’s such a pro. with a marvelous sense of humor. There wasn’t time to be frightened or scared. We were laughing most of the time. There was only nine days of shooting. And my memory didn’t fail me.
Q: Did you have any contact with Kevin Spacey after Ridley approached you for the role?
A: No, no, no. I really didn’t want to know about all those negotiations and stuff, and first of all I didn’t have any time.
Q: What do you think about people disclosing sexual harassment they’ve endured?
A: It’s great that the ladies can now come forward and speak out. I think that’s terrific, and it should go on. I hope it relaxes one day — it’s beginning to get frenzied. Although it’s terribly important that it is happening, I hope it settles down and that the women can bask in their victory. Q: I’ve read that you hated being in the “The Sound of Music,” that you once called it “The Sound of Mucus.”
A: I never said it wasn’t a terrific film. I was just bored sick with my own role. I didn’t think it was exciting. I didn’t think I was very good. I loved Julie (Andrews) and Robert Wise, he’s a smashing director. I also call it an albatross. It follows you.
Q: Well, your job really was to just stand there and be handsome, which you did very well.
A: Gosh, I hope I did more than that.
Q: You did! I’m kidding. Going back, the play “J.B.” earned you your first Tony nomination. You worked on it with Elia Kazan around the time he testified for the House Un-American Activities Committee. Was that a hard decision to make then and has your perspective on it changed over the years?
A: That wasn’t happening while we were doing “J.B.” That was sort of happening a little during and after. One of the great moments of my life was getting to work with Elia Kazan. His talent was overwhelming. He changed the face of theater, promoting the new wave, with Brando, Montgomery Clift. He really changed the face of acting. So there’s a lot of wonderful things I remember about Gadge, which is what we called him. But — that other thing. I don’t know. You see he was an immigrant, and really I think maybe he was scared. A lot of people did that because they were afraid, so they named names. So as hard as it is, it might seem pitiable in a way that someone with such authority and courage in the theater could be timid and scared about his position in the United States.
Q: That’s a very compassionate reading of it.
A: If you knew Gadge, you couldn’t help but think the same way.