The death of Canadian acting icon Christopher Plummer on Friday sparked an outpouring of tributes from members of the theatre and film community who called him a consummate performer.
Known for his timeless portrayal of Capt. Von Trapp in the “Sound of Music,” and recurring appearances at Stratford’s Shakespeare Festival, Plummer died at age 91. His acting career spanned several decades, including critically acclaimed work that earned him accolades in film, television, and theatre. He holds the record for being the oldest actor to win an Oscar at age 82 for the film “Beginners” in 2012.
“We can be sad about it but also just rejoice that we had this giant in our midst. He was so Canadian. He really loved this country deeply,” said Canadian stage and film director Atom Egoyan on CTV News Channel Friday.
“He’s Canada’s greatest actor bar none. We should all just honour him.”
Egoyan, who directed Plummer in two films, "Ararat" in 2002 and "Remember" in 2015, said the actor was a “consummate craftsperson.”
“It was just a thrill to watch him work all the time,” said Egoyan, recalling a time during the filming of "Remember" when an 85-year-old Plummer insisted on performing his own stunts. “He was never afraid of making a fool of himself. He just wanted to try and experiment. He was very youthful, very vigorous.”
Plummer was a “dazzling screen presence” known for his acting prowess as well as his dashing looks, said Norm Wilner, senior film writer with Now Magazine.
“He used his image against itself frequently,” he said. Plummer played several villainous, or quasi-villainous characters, over the years, including the iconic von Trapp role, an eye-patched Klingon in "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country," and a cruel bird hunter in Pixar’s "Up."
“He was always fun as a villain because he was willing to do terrible things,” said Wilner. But Plummer had limits too. In the 1978 film "The Silent Partner," Plummer apparently refused to film a violent murder sequence in which his character killed a woman as a show of bravado, so a stunt double took his place.
“We’ve lost one of the giants,” said Montreal film critic Chris Bumbray on CTV News Channel Friday, who described Plummer as “probably the single-most popular actor to ever have emerged from Canada.”
“It’s hard to overemphasize the cultural impact that he’s had,” Bumbray said. “What’s remarkable about Christopher Plummer is, despite being in his nineties, was still very active.”
Bumbray said Plummer’s talent and professionalism was highlighted recently when he stepped into the 2017 movie “All the Money in the World,” which originally cast disgraced actor Kevin Spacey, and “reshot all of his scenes in like a week.”
“He was so good there was a lot of talk that he was going to be nominated for an Oscar,” Bumbray said of Plummer’s takeover of the role.
“I don’t think anybody but a real pro like Christopher Plummer could have pulled that one off.”
That sentiment was echoed by CTV’s host of “Pop Life” and film critic Richard Crouse on News Channel Friday.
“This is a man who had a 78-year career,” Crouse said. “This is something that is almost unparalleled these days, and when you see a legend like Christopher Plummer pass, you can’t help but think he is a national treasure in every sense of the word.”
Crouse said Plummer was someone who was “always proud to be Canadian.”
“I interviewed him many times, and he was always so gracious and always so interesting to talk to,” Crouse said. “There was nothing off limits with him, if you were going to sit down and talk about a role with him…he would tell you exactly how he transformed.”
Plummer, a classically trained actor who won two Tony Awards, often remarked a disappointment about how younger thespians were sometimes not as well trained as they were in his early years, said theatre critic Lynn Slotkin. But he was no generational crank. Instead, he cared greatly for his fellow actors and often offered guidance during production.
“He led by example,” said Slotkin on CTV News Channel on Friday.
And his example was powerful.
“He was the person you would always focus on when he was on stage,” she said. “It was just a certain magnetism, a certain power. He wasn’t a tall man, but he certainly was a giant in his profession.”