Magazine article Newsweek

Christopher Plummer on "Boundaries," Replacing Kevin Spacey and Retirement: "I'm Going to Drop Dead on Stage, I Hope"; He Couldn't Wait to Become a Character Actor, Leaving 'The Sound of Music' Far Behind. "So Boring, Being a Leading Actor," Says the Now 88-Year-Old Academy Award Winner

Magazine article Newsweek

Christopher Plummer on "Boundaries," Replacing Kevin Spacey and Retirement: "I'm Going to Drop Dead on Stage, I Hope"; He Couldn't Wait to Become a Character Actor, Leaving 'The Sound of Music' Far Behind. "So Boring, Being a Leading Actor," Says the Now 88-Year-Old Academy Award Winner

Article excerpt

Byline: Zach Schonfeld

Christopher Plummer is talking about playing Iago, and I am becoming distracted by a monkey.

Forgive me: There is a magnificent painting in Plummer's living room, an 18th-century portrait of a mischievous monkey raiding a fruit platter, and it's on a wall just over his shoulder. The 88-year-old actor must be used to the distraction of his guests, because my wandering gaze produces a benevolent chuckle.

In fact, Plummer's house--a sprawling, century-old former barn hidden in the rolling woods of southwestern Connecticut--resembles a shrine to the animal kingdom, with monkeys, birds and other creatures painted on walls, embroidered on cushions and set within frames. Dogs, however, win: There's a painting of a pooch, and photos of Plummer's own now-deceased dogs. He's crazy for them. "I really like them better than people," Plummer confesses. "Also, I love to be loved. I need to be loved. And dogs can give you that in two seconds."

Humans might not give it up quite so fast, but there's plenty of adoration going around thanks to a late-career renaissance that makes Plummer's Sound of Music stardom seem like a distant prelude from another century (which it was, come to think of it).

Dogs, it turns out, are also abundant in his latest film, the dysfunctional-family comedy Boundaries, co-starring Vera Farmiga. She plays a struggling single mom who can't stop rescuing strays dogs off the streets; he is her pot-dealing father who was never around when she needed him. When dad is kicked out of his nursing home, the pair is forced to road-trip cross-country with her troubled son. This trigenerational plot is a bit reminiscent of Sidney Lumet's 1989 movie Family Business (in which Sean Connery plays the lawbreaking grandfather of Matthew Broderick), which is a neat coincidence since Plummer made his film debut in another Lumet movie, 1958's Stage Struck, and starred alongside Connery in the 1975 gem The Man Who Would Be King.

It seems no coincidence that Plummer often plays charismatic, quick-witted, larger-than-life (and devilishly handsome) characters: This is simply the energy he radiates. When he comes out of his house to greet me, he looks unfailingly dapper in gray slacks and a plaid blazer. The actor has lived here with his third wife, the British actress Elaine Taylor, since the early 1980s. (He has a daughter, the actress Amanda Plummer, from his first marriage to the late Tammy Grimes.) In his 2008 memoir, he says he moved to Connecticut when Hollywood became too lush, too tiresome: "Everything in life there seems to use the same plastic surgeon."

Plummer's character in Boundaries is based on writer-director Shana Feste's own father, a drug-dealing cardsharp. "He had a real taste for breaking the law," Feste says. "My college was paid for in envelopes of cash." When a casting director suggested Plummer for the part, she thought, No way: "Christopher is a master of Shakespeare and so refined, and my father was, you know, in and out of prison and covered in tattoos and smoked weed all my life."

But Plummer was intrigued by the screenplay--"I thought, I'd love to play this dreadful old man who never can find a bed to lie down on"--and brings an irresistibly naughty elegance to the part. "Some of the most talented actors in the world you can look away from on screen," says Feste, "and you can't look away from Christopher--even when he's doing absolutely nothing."

Plummer found inspiration in his own debauched past, back when he was a 1950s Broadway actor with a taste for booze and women. "There used to be a rule," he tells me, "that you weren't a man till you could go through a matinee of Hamlet pissed and hungover. Which we did!"

At the time, the Toronto-born actor was a master of the classics--Henry V, Hamlet, Cyrano de Bergerac, Macbeth--and his bar buddy was Jason Robards. "I understand you were a bit of a drinker," I say in polite understatement. …

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