Monday, July 21, 2008

Caesar Should go to New York: Chris Plummer

An interview with Christopher Plummer from Gary Smith at the Hamilton Spectator:

"'I don't feel old at all, you know.'

"Christopher Plummer leans back in a comfy leather chair and smiles.

"And there it is, up close and personal, that chiselled face, those liquid blue eyes, that handsome frame.

"Surely this is a real Canadian matinee idol. 'I'm not you know.' But when you tell him that at 78 he still looks like a million bucks, he turns pink, then he grins.

"A blue turtleneck hugs his neck and a white sweater dangles carelessly over broad shoulders giving him a tennis pro look.

"Playing with the yellow band of his designer watch he talks about life, love, booze and the pursuit of art.

"'I love my work,' he says, nodding. 'I'm not going to do anything stupid like retire. I promise you that. I'm going to drop dead on the stage.'

"'It's scary you know. These days you can almost live forever. And I don't really know what it means to feel 78. I walk, I exercise, I play tennis. And I have loads of energy. I feel fit. I credit my wife Elaine with much of that.'

"Married for 37 years, Plummer calls his wife his saving grace.

"'You could say she saved my life. I don't drink like I did -- and I was a big boozer. And I eat right. Elaine is a cordon bleu cook, only she knows how to limit the sauces and doo-dahs that clog up the arteries.'

"Born in Montreal, Plummer came to Toronto as a young lad. 'It was dull as horse muck,' he shrugs. 'I couldn't wait to get back to Montreal.'

"Referring to pals Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole and Richard Harris, he says: 'I'd like to think I was one of the bad boys.'

""Hard drinkers, they loved to laugh.'

"'In those days I was ashamed to be Canadian.' He shrugs. 'There was such a lack of love for the arts here then. And the life here initiated a sense of rebellion in me. You just wanted to break the rules, be rebellious, break out and take risks.

"'In some quarters it's still that way. There's this feeling, or attitude, you can't be Canadian and be any good. You certainly can't be a star. We're all too suspicious of that. I made my exit as fast as I could. I got the hell out.'

"In New York City, Plummer found his theatrical way. He also knew every bar on 9th Avenue as well as the Upper West Side.

"'In those days a real man had to drink a lot and still be able to go on word perfect as Hamlet.'

"'But I guess like all the others, I gave up drink with advancing years. It's hard to be 40, out of shape and still give a performance eight times a week. Know what I mean?'

"'I was never drunk on stage, you know. I always worked like a fiend in the theatre. I did my boozing after hours. In the 1970s, everyone was sobering up, or taking drugs. It wasn't politically correct to drink.'

"Always a risk taker, Plummer remains so in his career. He might have given in after The Sound Of Music, played leading men and slowly atrophied.

"'Oh I just couldn't bear that,' he says, scowling. 'Contrary to what people think, I don't hate The Sound Of Music. It's just it's such a goody-goody movie, that's all. Maybe I said things against it out of my own rebellious instinct. I mean, face it, I've done well over a hundred movies. Some of them very good. Others? Well, they made money.'

"'And those von Trapps,' he shrugs, 'They weren't exactly loved in Austria you know. The people had them up to here.

"'But the Austrians shouldn't complain, they brought millions of tourist dollars into the country, precisely because of The Sound Of Music.'

"Now it's time to talk turkey. Plummer gets down to the reasons he's back at Stratford after several years hiatus.

"'I've always wanted to do Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra... It's a very sexy play for that old tease Shaw to have written. I mean I don't think he knew anything about sex, but this play comes pretty close.'

"Plummer has no secrets about the way he'll play the part.

"'I'm not thinking of him as Napoleon or anything. I'm just going to do the play as truthfully and as amusingly as I can. And I'm hoping my Cleopatra is going to be very sexy, dressed in something revealing, very revealing. It's just that kind of play.'

"Plummer's at Stratford because he loves the place and the years he spent here starring with actors like Tony van Bridge, William Needles and Douglas Campbell.

"'I miss those old boys,' he says. 'There used to be this middle-age range of actors here. Now they're all so young. It's scary. But you know the place is in good hands. I am so in favour of this regime. Des McAnuff is the right man for this place. He has an international reputation and he can get good directors to work here.'

"Plummer hopes his Caesar will go on to London or New York after Stratford is through. 'Things shouldn't end here.'

"Plummer also has a couple of films coming out -- The Last Station with Helen Mirren and Doctor Parnassus with the late Heath Ledger.

"'That was just awful,' Plummer says of Ledger's death. 'I didn't get to know him well, but he was a happy young man. I think the journalists were appalling suggesting he took his own life. It was an accident -- that's all.'

"These days in Stratford, Plummer rents a big house close to the theatre.

"'At West Over Inn in St. Marys, where I used to stay, they have a plaque on the penthouse door that says Christopher Plummer Suite. Well, the damn thing is, I can't even get in there anymore. It's always booked. So much for being a star.'"

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