Christopher Plummer burning bright

By Mark Kennedy

Hard working actor says theatre recordings were pulled off well.

Christopher Plummer portraying John Barrymore in 'Barrymore.' Photo / Supplied
Christopher Plummer portraying John Barrymore in 'Barrymore.' Photo / Supplied

Nearing his 83rd birthday hasn't meant Christopher Plummer is slowing down. In fact, he seems to be putting the pedal to the metal.

"I've never worked as hard as I have in my life at the present time and I think it's wonderful," the oldest Oscar winner says. "It keeps me on my toes. It keeps me young. It keeps my memory going."

Plummer has enjoyed a late-career push that has included his first two Oscar nominations in the past three years. He won this year for his role in Beginners as Hal Fields, a museum director who becomes openly gay after his wife of 44 years dies.

Now two of his stage roles have hit the movie screens - The Tempest, which was recorded live over two days in 2010 by Des McAnuff, the artistic director of the Stratford Festival in Ontario, and his Barrymore, a two-person play exploring the life of actor John Barrymore that earned Plummer his second Tony in 1997.

"He is a force of nature. He is the tempest itself," says McAnuff, who is still stunned by Plummer's energy and skill.

Right after winning the Oscar, McAnuff called to congratulate Plummer, but all he wanted to do was talk about his one-man show.

"He's got an insatiable appetite for hard work and for creativity."

Plummer has always been reluctant to allow his stage performances to be captured on film.

"I don't like it because it's always so cold. There's a barrier between you and the audience, which the screen always puts up, and so it loses a lot of its immediacy generally. So I don't approve really of just filming a play just straight on as it is."

The Tempest and Barrymore are more than just point-a-camera-at-the-stage recordings. In Shakespeare's play, the cameras swoop about the stage, creating close-ups and long shots.

In Barrymore, which was filmed over seven days in and around the Elgin Theatre in Toronto, director and adapter Erik Canuel used an empty theatre for some scenes and filmed others in alleyways. Plummer says the piece got more laughs in front of a live audience, but becomes more emotional on screen.

"I think film does the play justice in both cases. Barrymore is more filmic, but some of the magic does come through very well in The Tempest."

As for his own magic, Plummer hopes it keeps flowing. He laughs at all the accolades he's lately accepting.

"I think that's because I'm getting old. They're sort of saying, 'Oh, we better give it to him now otherwise he'll drop dead."

Who: Christopher Plummer
What: Barrymore
When: At cinemas now

- AAP

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