Christopher Plummer

SBIFF Modern Master Award recipient Christopher Plummer.

Even at 82, the man still has it. His career is at its peak. Starring as a gay man in Beginners (with an Oscar nomination), a win would be his first Oscar. He also stars as the theater great in Barrymore, in addition to parts in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Priest.

The stage was made for him. Relaxed and humorous, Christopher Plummer received SBIFF’s highest accolade, the Modern Master. He had us at hello. With six decades of acting and over 100 films under his belt, he is a master of storytelling.

Probably best known for portraying Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music, Plummer doesn’t like talking about it. “I only did it because I needed practice singing for a role in Cyrano de Bergerac. I had never sung before, not even in the toilet room! It turned out to be wonderful and I made such good friends with Julie [Andrews].”

Plummer said that the children got on his nerves. “Just as you were about to do a scene, the kids needed something. Gretl [Kym Karath] was one of the most obnoxious little things. Years later, after a Broadway performance, someone came backstage. This knockout blonde said, ‘Hello, I’m Gretl.’” In a deep voice he replied, “How wonderful you were!”

Growing up in Montréal, his mom exposed him to theater, opera, and the ballet. “And in those days, nightclubs were prolific. There was one for every day of the year. I spent most of my time as a kid nursing a beer at the bar and watching extraordinary artists like a young Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Edith Piaf, and Maurice Chevalier. These greats would get up and sing in front of a bunch of drunks!”

As a great-great grandson of the first Prime Minister of Canada, “I was taught in sort of semi-Edwardian times, that you do not show your emotions and there was no reason to go into acting. It was a tough transition. But, I crossed the border and moved to New York to be rejected.” His first play closed after the first night.

Little did he know that he would play the gamut, including royalty, presidents, priests, and even a broadcaster in The Man Who Would Be King, The Insider, Star Trek VI, Oedipus the King, A Marriage: Georgia O’Keefe and Alfred Stieglitz, The Thorn Birds, Return of the Pink Panther, and Winchell.

Plummer gave praise to Warner Bros. “The first day, a prop man said, ‘What do you drink, sir?’ I said, ‘Scotch.’ It was only 10 a.m.! They said it was a tradition on the first day. What style!” A fond Warner memory was working with Natalie Wood on Inside Daisy Clover. “She was a real Hollywood star. I do remember she feared the water. When we went on the boat with RJ, she wouldn’t go near it: how ironic about her death.

“Also in the film: a young Robert Redford. I thought that man was very promising!”

The actor recounted two hours of magical Hollywood stories. We were so mesmerized we would have stayed all night if we could.

Sue Facter owns a news agency that specializes in the luxury brand. Her work has appeared in USA Today, Women’s Day Australia, and People, as well as on broadcasts and the web.

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