Christopher Plummer

Arthur Christopher Orme Plummer, actor (b at Toronto 13 Dec 1929). Christopher Plummer, a great-grandson of Prime Minister Sir John Abbott, is an international star who has worked widely on the stage, in film and on television in the US, Britain and Canada.
Arthur Christopher Orme Plummer, actor (b at Toronto 13 Dec 1929). Christopher Plummer, a great-grandson of Prime Minister Sir John Abbott, is an international star who has worked widely on the stage, in film and on television in the US, Britain and Canada.

Plummer, Christopher

Arthur Christopher Orme Plummer, actor (b at Toronto 13 Dec 1929). Christopher Plummer, a great-grandson of Prime Minister Sir John Abbott, is an international star who has worked widely on the stage, in film and on television in the US, Britain and Canada. He is Canada's most distinguished movie star in the classical mould, and has taken on innumerable larger-than-life roles. Plummer has played Cyrano de Bergerac, King Lear, Hamlet, Rudyard Kipling, John Barrymore and, of course, Baron von Trapp opposite Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965), one of the most popular films of all time.

Raised and educated in Montréal, Plummer became fluently bilingual. After watching Laurence Olivier in Henry V, he decided to pursue an acting career. He apprenticed with the Montréal Repertory Theatre along with fellow Montréaler and future Captain Kirk, William Shatner.

Christopher Plummer on Stage

Christopher Plummer made his professional debut in 1948 with Ottawa's Stage Society, performing over 100 roles with its successor, the Canadian Repertory Theatre. Performances in Bermuda led to a US tour of Nina (1953) and Broadway recognition in The Starcross Story (1954), The Lark (1955) and as Marc Antony in Julius Caesar in the American Shakespeare Festival's 1955 inaugural season.

Other notable New York City engagements included The Dark Is Light Enough (1955); the devil in J.B. (1958); Arturo Ui (1963); Pizarro in The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1965); The Good Doctor (1971); and the title roles in the musical Cyrano (1973) and the one-man play Barrymore (1996-98 and again in 2011), both of which garnered him Tony Awards. Then came Iago in Othello (1981-82) and Macbeth with Glenda Jackson (1988); Pinter's No Man's Land (1995) with Jason Robards, Jr; and King Lear (2004). In 2007 he appeared in Inherit the Wind and was nominated a seventh time for a Tony Award.

In 1961 Christopher Plummer appeared at Stratford-upon-Avon, UK, as Richard III while alternating in London as Henry II in Becket (winning the Evening Standard Award). He continued his British career at the National Theatre in revivals of Amphitryon 38 (directed by Laurence Olivier) and Danton's Death in 1971 and The Scarlet Pimpernel at Chichester in 1985. His first King Lear was directed by Sir Peter Hall in 2001.

Between 1956 and 1967 he starred at Canada's Stratford Festival playing Henry V, Hamlet, Andrew Aguecheek, Mercutio, Leontes, Macbeth, Cyrano de Bergerac and Marc Antony, as well as other roles. He returned 26 years later on 13 July 1993 to help the festival celebrate its exact 40th anniversary day with a gala one-man show entitled A Word or Two, Before You Go. Barrymore made its 1996 Canadian debut at Stratford and Plummer's King Lear was seen in 2002. He played Caesar in the Stratford Festival's Caesar and Cleopatra, which was also filmed for television in 2009 (he received a Gemini Award nomination for best performance in an arts program) and Prospero in The Tempest in 2010.

Christopher Plummer in Film

Christopher Plummer has accumulated more than 150 feature film, television movie and miniseries credits, either as a leading man or distinguished supporting player. His first was a small part in a film directed by Nicholas Ray, Wind across the Everglades, in 1958. The following year he was cast opposite Julie Harris in a US television production of Ibsen's A Doll's House. He also had a major part in the Hollywood blockbuster The Fall of the Roman Empire (1962), which led to the role of Baron von Trapp in The Sound of Music (1965). Not a trained singer, Plummer was uncomfortable in the role of the stuffy baron and was upstaged by the brilliant singing voice of his co-star, Julie Andrews. He has said publicly that he disliked the part; however, the film is enduringly popular and its success propelled Christopher Plummer into a prestigious and long-lasting film career.

Following the Sound of Music, he was cast opposite Robert Redford and Natalie Wood in Inside Daisy Clover (1966); as the lead in Oedipus the King (1967); as Field Marshall Rommel in Night of the Generals (1967); as the Duke of Wellington in Waterloo (1970); and as Rudyard Kipling in John Huston's The Man Who Would Be King (1975) with Sean Connery and Michael Caine. Plummer seemed to disappear into character parts in the 1970s and 1980s in a series of films, re-emerging in the 1990s in smaller but more refined roles that suited his patrician bearing and Shakespearean training.

After playing the villain in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), he had a small part in Spike Lee's Oscar-winning Malcolm X (1992) starring Denzel Washington, and was in Mike Nichols's Wolf (1994) with Jack Nicholson. He appeared in Dolores Claiborne (1995) with Kathy Bates, in Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys (1996) with Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis, and gave another powerful performance as broadcaster Mike Wallace in the Russell Crowe thriller The Insider (1999).

Plummer appeared in Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind in 2001 and in 2009 he was nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actor for his role as Leo Tolstoy, opposite Helen Mirren as Tolstoy's wife Sophia, in The Last Station. His performance drew nominations for best supporting actor from the Golden Globes, the Independent Spirit Awards and the Screen Actors Guild.

Christopher Plummer played a gay father who "comes out" late in life, in the romantic comedy Beginners (2011). He has a part in the American remake of the Swedish film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, based on the international bestselling thriller.

Among the most memorable of his many Canadian film roles are the psychopathic thief who terrorizes Elliott Gould and murders his girlfriend in the most gruesome manner in Daryl Duke's The Silent Partner (1978); Sherlock Holmes to James Mason's Dr. Watson in Bob Clark's Murder by Decree (1979; Genie Award for best actor); the customs official in Atom Egoyan's Ararat (2002; Genie nomination for best actor), and the lead in Terry Gilliam's Canada/UK/France co-production The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009). Christopher Plummer has received Genie nominations for The Amateur (1981; best actor), Impolite (1991; best supporting actor), the children's film Blizzard (2002; best supporting actor) and Emotional Arithmetic (2007; best actor).

Other notable film credits include Battle of Britain (1968), The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1969), The Return of the Pink Panther (1974), International Velvet (1978), Where the Heart Is (1989), The Gospel of John (2003; narrator), Cold Creek Manor (2003), National Treasure (2004), Oliver Stone's Alexander (2004; as Aristotle), Must Love Dogs (2005), Syriana (2005), Terrence Malick's New World (2005), Spike Lee's Inside Man (2006), The Lake House (2006) and Richard Attenborough's Closing the Ring (2007).

Christopher Plummer on TV

His work on British, Canadian and American television is equally extensive. He began with live American television, and appeared in anthology shows such as Studio One, Kraft Television Theatre, The Dupont Show of the Month and Hallmark Hall of Fame (1959; first Emmy Award nomination for Little Moon of Alban). He attracted attention, and his second Emmy nomination, for the BBC production of Hamlet at Elsinore, as Hamlet (1965). Then came The Sound of Music, and Plummer worked less in television.

Productions for the small screen include Arthur Hailey's The Money Changers (1976; Emmy Award for outstanding lead actor in a miniseries or movie); as Sir John A. Macdonald in George Bloomfield's Riel (1979; for the CBC); The Thorn Birds (1983; Emmy nomination for outstanding supporting actor); The Young Catherine (1991); the made-in-Canada series Counterstrike (1991-93; Gemini Award nomination for best actor); American Tragedy as the lawyer F. Lee Bailey (2000; Golden Globe nominee for best supporting actor); the miniseries Nuremberg (2000), filmed in Montréal; Charles Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby (2002; National Board of Review for best cast); and as Cardinal Bernard Law in Our Fathers, an indictment of the Catholic Church's sex scandals (Emmy Award nomination for outstanding supporting actor, and a SAG nomination for outstanding performance by an actor). He was nominated for Gemini Awards for The Summit (2008; best supporting actor) and Harrison Bergeron (1996; in the same category).

Man of Many Talents

Plummer is also a skilled narrator whose rich, modulated voice has been heard on everything from cartoons to TV series to feature films, and even the audio soundtrack for the 1994 Barnes Art Exhibit in Toronto. He has recorded several books for young people, including Alice in Wonderland and Mordecai Richler's Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang. An accomplished pianist, he has branched out musically to narrate concert versions of Henry V (with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 1992-93), Peer Gynt (1995) and Prokofiev's Ivan the Terrible (1996). Other platform presentations have included a solo evening with Stephen Leacock as well as Love and Master Will, Shakespeare's verse in tandem with actress Zoë Caldwell.

Plummer narrated 6 made-for-television movies based on the French children's books Madeline and the animated Madeline series (1993-94; Emmy Award for outstanding voice-over performance). He provided a voice for the features An American Tail (1986) and Rock-a-Doodle (1991); his was the voice of the villainous Charles Muntz in Pixar's Up (2009), which won an Academy Award for best animated film; and he narrated Frédérick Back's The Man Who Planted Trees (1987), which won an Oscar for best animated short. He was again nominated for an Emmy in 2011 for narrating The Classic Movie Channel's miniseries Moguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood.

Christopher Plummer, who became a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1968, has received many honours and awards for his work. In 1986 he was inducted into the American Theatre's Hall of Fame and in 1997 into Canada's Walk of Fame. The National Arts Club of America awarded Plummer its gold medal for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts (1999). In 2001 he was made an honorary doctor of fine arts at New York's Juilliard School and received the Canadian Governor-General's Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2002 he was the first performer to be presented with the Jason Robards Award for Excellence in the Theatre. He received the John Gielgud Award for Excellence in Dramatic Arts (2006), has been given 3 New York Drama Desk Awards, the Shakespeare Society Medal (2004) and the Edwin Booth Lifetime Achievement Award (1997). He won the 2012 Academy Award for best supporting actor for his role in Beginners, where he co-stars with Ewan McGregor.

In Canada he holds honorary doctorates from McGill University, University of Toronto, Ryerson University, the University of Western Ontario, the University of Ottawa and the University of Guelph.

The New York Times has hailed Christopher Plummer as "the finest classical actor in America." His autobiography In Spite of Myself was published in 2008 and favourably received by the critics.

His daughter, Amanda Plummer (b 23 March 1957), has also had a successful acting career with roles in films such as The Fisher King (1991) and Pulp Fiction (1994), and in The Lark (2005) at Canada's Stratford Festival.

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Further Reading

  • Christopher Plummer, In Spite of Myself (2008).

  • Christopher Plummer, In Spite of Myself (2008).