Christopher Plummer. My Favorite Actor

I wanted to be an actor when I was a kid though I quickly realized that whatever my talents, I wasn’t lucky or crazy enough to try to make it in that business. But my love of performing is why I became a broadcast journalist, and it’s why I continued to admire good acting in movies and in plays. My favorite actor was Christopher Plummer, who died last month when he was 91 years old.

I surfed youtube to see what TV obits had made of his career. I was disappointed, of course, to see that every “look back” showed him as Captain Von Trapp in the Sound of Music, a movie he came to hate for being sentimental nonsense. Though I’ve seen him in many movies, I am lucky to be a person who remembers him on stage.

I saw him twice on stage in Minneapolis. The second time I went with my wife to see his touring production of Barrymore, in which he played the Actor John Barrymore in what felt like a one-man show. There was another actor in it, but he was no more than an off-stage voice. Plummer was the only one you saw.

He won a Tony award for Barrymore so it’s funny that I was less impressed by that performance than by the one he did in the first play I saw him in. That was Othello, in which he played Iago to James Earl Jones’ Othello. Mind you, Iago is a scene-stealing role, but I still remark at how Plummer played it so well he swept all other actors off the stage, Jones included.

I remember how, alone on the stage, he spoke the line, “I hate the moor!” He turned toward the audience as he said it in a cold measured tone, which made it so very clear how that hatred had consumed his thoughts, his actions and his very soul. I have never felt a more powerful moment in a theater.

He chose good movies to be in, though some were better than others, and he was always, I mean always good. Being born a Canadian he could convincingly play an American or a Brit. He grew up in Quebec and therefore spoke fluent French. I wonder if he ever was in a French play or film…

His last movie was a good film comedy (those are rare, incidentally) called Knives Out. At the age of 89 he played an old man, in that movie, who died in the end. Death would come for him in real life, shortly thereafter.

I have grown up as Christopher Plummer’s acting career has taken shape. I was 5 years old when he was Captain Von Trapp in the Sound of Music. I’m biased, I’m sure, but I think he was the greatest living actor before he went off to that great proscenium in the sky. And I got to share some space with him, as he reached out beyond the lights to an audience like few actors ever have.

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