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Opinion: Christopher Plummer’s awesome power

Following the sound, the captain reaches the door of a room, inside which his seven children are standing, dripping wet (they had fallen out of rowboat earlier) and singing. Caught off guard, the captain watches them for a few seconds, before stepping inside to join in. Nervous, the children stop to listen, before they all finish the song together.

The captain then hugs them all, while Maria watches from outside, spellbound. As she turns to leave, the captain rushes out to stop her. Within about two minutes, Plummer captures rage, surprise, tenderness, warmth, humor, and then contrition. Also, he’s wearing a pale gray suit. If by some accident you’ve never seen the film before, approach this scene with caution: it has awesome power.

Christopher Plummer’s portrayal of Captain von Trapp was so impeccable, and “The Sound Of Music” so wildly successful, that had he halted his acting career in 1965 immediately after the film’s release, his legacy would already have been secure. Instead, the beloved Canadian actor, who died this past week aged 91, threw himself into a diverse and challenging career on both stage and screen, distinguishing himself as among the greatest actors of his generation, but also as one who palpably enjoyed every minute of his work.
Though Plummer had reservations about the role as the captain, even kicking up a fuss until there was a little more “edge” injected into the character, his sense of fun was evident on the set of “The Sound Of Music.” He and Julie Andrews were so unable to stop laughing during the shooting of the romantic gazebo scene that they inspired director Robert Wise’s decision to shoot it in silhouette, to better mask the actors’ giggles.
Unsure of his dancing abilities, Plummer showed up to rehearse for the ballroom scene wearing tights – looking as he put it, “like one of those Albanian vampires.” He credited Andrews with “carrying him through” the dance, joking in an interview for the film’s 40th anniversary: “I’d already fallen in love with myself in my tights earlier, but I forgot about that when you came on.”
While off-set, Plummer caught rehearsals for performances at Mozart’s house, entertained the cast with piano recitals (Julie Andrews remembers him being able to perform Rachmaninoff by ear), and, in his words, got “soused.” This appears to have been a theme during his career – asked by Conan O’Brien in 2015 how he’d managed to stay in such great shape, Plummer credited a “long life of hard drinking,” and admitted it had been a “very relaxed” life. His ease under pressure was perhaps one of his great gifts as a stage actor – he won a Tony award in 1973 for the title role in the musical “Cyrano,” and another in 1997 for the title role in “Barrymore,” about the Shakespearean actor John Barrymore.
Later on, character parts in films like “Return of the Pink Panther,” released in 1975, were an outlet for Plummer’s wonderful sense of humor, while roles like that of Rudyard Kipling in “The Man Who Would be King,” which came out in the same year, underscored his ability to hold his own against bankable stars like Michael Caine and Sean Connery.
In 2010, he received his first Oscar nomination for “The Last Station,” in which he played Leo Tolstoy opposite Helen Mirren. Two years later, at the age of 82, he took home the gong for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Mike Mills’ “Beginners,” playing a father who finally comes out as gay following the death of his wife. He was – and remains – the oldest winner of an Academy Award for acting.
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In 2018, Plummer received another nomination for “All The Money In The World” – an especially impressive feat given that he had shot all his scenes in nine days, having replaced Kevin Spacey in the role of J. Paul Getty (who Plummer had met at a “couple parties” decades before). So eager was Plummer to work with director Ridley Scott that he abandoned a holiday to take the part – and so secure was he in his ability to master the role that he declined…

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