Until the 2009 Academy Awards were announced, it could be said about Christopher Plummer that he was the finest actor of the post-World War II period to fail to get an Academy Award. In that, he was following in the footsteps of the late great John Barrymore, whom Plummer so memorably portrayed on Broadway in a one-man show that brought him his second Tony Award.
In 2010, Plummer finally got an Oscar nod for his portrayal of another legend, Leo Tolstoy in The Last Station (2009). Two years later, the first paragraph of his obituary was written when the 82-year-old Plummer became the oldest person in Academy history to win an Oscar. He won for playing a senior citizen who comes out as gay after the death of his wife in the movie Beginners (2010). As he clutched his statuette, the debonaire thespian addressed it thusly: "You're only two years older than me darling, where have you been all of my life?"
Plummer then told the audience that at birth, "I was already rehearsing my Academy acceptance speech, but it was so long ago mercifully for you I've forgotten it."
The Academy Award was a long time in coming and richly deserved.
Aside from the youngest member of the Barrymore siblings (which counted Oscar-winners Ethel Barrymore and 'Lionel Barrymore' in their number), Christopher Plummer is the premier Shakespearean actor to come out of North America in the 20th century. He was particularly memorable as Hamlet, Iago and Lear, though his Macbeth opposite Glenda Jackson was -- and this was no surprise to him due to the famous curse attached to the "Scottish Play" -- a failure.
Plummer also has given many fine portrayals on film, particularly as he grew older and settled down into a comfortable marriage with his third wife Elaine. He thanked her from the stage during the 2012 Oscar telecast, quipping that she "deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for coming to my rescue every day of my life."
Like another great stage actor, Richard Burton, the younger Plummer failed to connect with the screen in a way that would make him a star. Dynamic on stage, the charisma failed to transfer through the lens onto celluloid. Burton's early film career, when he was a contract player at 20th Century-Fox, failed to ignite despite his garnering two Oscar nominations early on. He did not become a superstar until the mid-1960s, after hooking up with Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Cleopatra (1963). It was Liz who he credited with teaching him how to act on film.
Christopher Plummer never made it as a leading man in films. He did not become a star, lacking that je ne sais quoi that someone like a Gary Cooper or a Paul Newman had naturally. Perhaps if he had been born earlier (he made his debut in Toronto in 1929) into the studio system of Hollywood's golden age, he could have been carefully groomed for stardom. As it was, he shared the English stage actors' disdain -- and he was equally at home in London as he was on the boards of Broadway or on-stage in his native Canada -- for the movies, which did not help him in that medium, as he has confessed. As he aged, Plummer excelled at character parts. He was always a good villain, this man who garnered kudos playing Lucifer on Broadway in Archibald Macleish's Pulitzer Prize-winning "J.B.".
Though he likely always be remembered as "Captain Von Trapp" in the atomic bomb-strength blockbuster The Sound of Music (1965) (a film he publicly despised until softening his stance in his 2008 autobiography "In Spite of Me"), his later film work includes such outstanding performances as the best cinema Sherlock Holmes--other than Basil Rathbone -- in Murder by Decree (1979), the chilling villain in The Silent Partner (1978), his iconoclastic Mike Wallace in The Insider (1999), the empathetic psychiatrist in A Beautiful Mind (2001), and as Leo Tolstoy in The Last Station (2009). It was this last role that finally brought him recognition from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, when he was nominated as Best Actor in a supporting role.
Plummer remains one of the most respected and honored actors performing in the English language. He's won two Emmy Awards out of six nominations stretching 46 years from 1959 and 2005, and one Genie Award in five nominations from 1980 to 2004. For his stage work, Plummer has racked up two Tony Awards on six nominations, the first in 1974 as Best Actor (Musical) for the title role in "Cyrano" and the second in 1997, as Best Actor (Play), in "Barrymore".
Surprisingly, he did not win (though he was nominated) for his masterful 2004 performance of "King Lear", which he originated at the Stratford Festival in Ontario and brought down to Broadway for a sold-out run. His other Tony nominations show the wide range of his talent, from a 1959 nod for the Elia Kazan-directed production of Macleish's "J.B." to recognition in 1994 for Harold Pinter's "No Man's Land", with a 1982 Best Actor (Play) nomination for his "Iago" in William Shakespeare's "Othello".
He continues to be a very in-demand character actor in prestigious motion pictures. If he were English rather than Canadian (he is the great-grandson of Sir John Abbott, the third Prime Minister of Canada) he'd have been knighted long ago. (In 1968, he was awarded Companion of the Order of Canada, the country's highest civilian honor and one which required the approval of the sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II.) If he lived in the company town of Los Angeles rather than in Connecticut, he likely would have several more Oscar nominations before winning his first for "The Last Station".
As it is, as attested to in his witty and well-written autobiography, Christopher Plummer has been amply rewarded in life. In 1970, Plummer - a self-confessed 43-year-old "bottle baby" - married his third wife, dancer Elaine Taylor, who helped wean him off his dependency on alcohol. They live happily with their dogs on a 30-acre estate in Weston, Connecticut. Although he spends the majority of his time in the United States, he remains a Canadian citizen.
|Elaine Taylor||(2 October 1970 - present)|
|Patricia Lewis||(4 May 1962 - 10 January 1967) (divorced)|
|Tammy Grimes||(19 August 1956 - 2 September 1960) (divorced) 1 child|
Rich smooth voice
Awarded the Edwin Booth Lifetime Achievement Award by The Players in 1997.
He was awarded the CC (Companion of the Order of Canada) in the 1968 Queen's Honours List for his services to drama.
Grew up in the village of Senneville, Québec, Canada.
Is the great-grandson of former Canadian Prime Minister Sir John Abbott.
His first paying part was in "Machina Infernale" (The Infernal Machine) by Jean Cocteau, in which he worked with another young Montreal actor, William Shatner. The two were reunited years later when they both appeared in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991).
He received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Western Ontario on June 8, 2004.
Schoolmate of jazz piano master Oscar Peterson.
Has won two Tony Awards: in 1974, as Best Actor (Musical), playing the title role in "Cyrano", and in 1997, as Best Actor (Play), playing the title role of John Barrymore in "Barrymore". He has also been nominated for the Tony four other times: as Best Actor (Dramatic), in 1959 for "J.B.", and as Best Actor (Play), in 1982 for Shakespeare's "Othello", in 1994 for "No Man's Land", and in 2004 for Shakespeare's "King Lear".
He and his daughter Amanda Plummer both received Emmy nominations in 2005. She won, he didn't.
Trained to become a concert pianist before turning his attention to acting.
Was actually born on December 13, 1929, although most publications usually state his birthday as December 13, 1927.
One of 115 people invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) in 2007.
Turned down the role of Gandalf in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and admits to regretting that decision.
Played Christian in a television production of "Cyrano de Bergerac", opposite José Ferrer, and later played Cyrano himself. In the former role, he performed the translation by Brian Hooker. In the latter, he performed the translation by Anthony Burgess, which he personally selected Burgess to write.
Is the only actor from The Sound of Music (1965) to meet the real Maria Von Trapp in Vermont as a child.
Inducted to Canada's Walk of Fame in 1998 (charter member).
Played the title role in Hamlet at Elsinore (1964) (TV), appearing with Michael Caine, who played Hamlet's closest friend Horatio. Caine later said that he had never truly understood Hamlet until he saw Plummer playing the part.
At age 82, he is the oldest person to win an Academy Award.
One of four consecutive Oscar winners in the Best Supporting Actor category whose name begins with Chris, the other actors being Christian Bale and Christoph Waltz (who won twice).
Is one of 9 actors to have won the Triple Crown of Acting (an Oscar, Emmy and Tony); the others in chronological order are Thomas Mitchell, Melvyn Douglas, Paul Scofield, Jack Albertson, Jason Robards, Jeremy Irons, Al Pacino and Geoffrey Rush.
In 2012, he became the 21st performer to have received the Triple Crown of Acting: the 1974 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical ("Cyrano") and the 1997 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play ("Barrymore"), the 1977 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series ("Arthur Hailey's the Moneychangers" (1976)) and the 1994 Emmy Award for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance ("Madeline" (1991)), and the 2012 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (Beginners (2010)).
[why he prefers playing evil characters] The devil is more interesting than God.
Unless you can surround yourself with as many beautiful things as you can afford, I don't think life has very much meaning.
I'm bored with questions about acting.
[on Julie Andrews] Working with her is like being hit over the head with a Valentine's card.
[of Franchot Tone, who starred onstage with him in "The Petrified Forest"] His sense of humor, as one might guess, was seemingly self-deprecating, drawn always from this inexplicable inner torment. These vulnerable qualities were to make his Chekovian performances (Uncle Vanya and A Moon for the Misbegotten), both of whom I later saw, so memorable - a rare combination of lightness and poignancy... I saw in him someone I could perhaps one day aspire to; not the hidden sad, pained man that was part of Franchot but the part he couldn't conceal, no matter how hard he tried, the part that was refined, noble and infinitely kind.
[on working with Michael Langham] Hamlet can sound self-pitying. He's always whining, something being rotten in Denmark and the world so awful. To get over that, Michael suggested that because Hamlet himself had a large intellect, that he turned those complaining moments into a kind of wonderment and would analyze everything as a fresh discovery. It was a superb way of getting rid of the danger of self-pity, and an astounding piece of direction because it was valuable throughout the play.
[on working with Michael Langham] When I did Henry V, he changed my life. Really owe my career to Michael.
[on being asked whether he had made his peace with his most famous film The Sound of Music (1965)]: Oh, God no.
[on the enduring appeal of The Sound of Music (1965)]: Yeah, it drives me nuts. It has nothing to do with the movie, it's just a relentless pursuing of this film that goes on and on and I've gone on and on, far above and beyond it and then to be reminded of it, God almighty what is the matter with people?
Too many people in the world are unhappy with their lot. And then they retire and they become vegetables. I think retirement in any profession is death, so I'm determined to keep crackin'.
[A revised opinion on The Sound of Music (1965) (2011)] People were unnaturally sentimental about the film. So I always gave it a tough time. But a few years ago, I went to an Easter party and had to watch the damn thing with these kids. I was a prisoner! And then I thought, it's got everything - the lovely songs, the Nazis and the nuns and the kids. It's timeless and I'm grateful for it.
[on receiving a Screen Actors Guild award for Beginners (2010)] I just can't tell you what fun I've had being a member of the world's second oldest profession. When they honor you, it's like being lit by the holy grail.
[on the ability to convey a sense of pathos] Very few people have it naturally - Chaplin, Brando. It's a gift. But you can learn how to fake it.
Ewan (McGregor) doesn't act, he inhabits a role. And, of course, he makes you not act and inhabit the role, like it's a competition. I owe that to him.
As T.S. Eliot measures his life with coffee spoons, so I measure mine by the plays I've been in. I'm too vague to measure any other way.
The theatre is not for sissies. It separates the men from the boys.
[to his Oscar statuette at the 2012 Academy Awards] You're only two years older than me, darling. Where have you been all my life?
[on cell-phones ringing during a live performance] The only thing to do is to say something like "I'll get it". The audience gives you applause because they hate it too.
(December 2002) Headlining "Royal Christmas" Tour in Midwest/East Coast US and Ontario with Sound of Music co-star Julie Andrews, Charlotte Church; The Royal Philharmonic; Kiev, London and Bolshoi Ballets; and the Westminster Bell Choir and Westminster Concert Choir from Westminster Choir College, Princeton, New Jersey.
(March 2004) Playing title character in Shakespeare's "King Lear" in the Lincoln Center Production. Through April 2004
(May 2007) Longtime resident of Fairfield County's Weston, Connecticut.
(June 2008) Acting at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, Canada. Playing the role of Caesar in "Caesar and Cleopatra" a George Bernard Shaw play. From August 7 to Novemeber 9.
(August 2010) Stratford Shakespeare Festival - as Prospero in "The Tempest".
(September 2011) New York, USA: Performing excerpts from Shakespeare's "Henry V" accompanied by NY Philharmonic.
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