Portraying a genius is never easy.
So when Christopher Plummer began thinking about how to play Russian writer Leo Tolstoy for Michael Hoffman’s ‘The Last Station,’ the actor recalled the advice of one of his earliest directors.
“I was lucky enough, as a youth of 18, to work with a great Russian director who ran the Imperial Theater of Moscow as well as the Old Vic in London,” Plummer recalls. “We were doing a production of Shakespeare’s ‘Cymbeline,’ and I remember him telling the actor playing the king, ‘When you walk on, just walk on as you. Everyone else onstage will make the audience know that you’re the king. You just walk on and they’ll do the rest.’ It’s the same thing for any great personage — you don’t have to push it.”
Plummer’s modest approach to portraying Tolstoy takes the character off the pedestal on which he is placed by those around him, allowing the film to focus on the stormy relationship between the writer and his wife of 45 years, Sofya (Helen Mirren).
“It’s at the end of their relationship, and it’s a desperate love,” he says. “It’s a love/hate, which I think at this point in their lives is more hate than love. Both of them have lost total patience.”
Though he certainly enjoyed playing the “flare-ups,” as he calls them, what makes Plummer and Mirren’s performances engaging is the obvious passion that remains in their relationship.
“We both felt the passion of their earlier days should show through,” he says. “If it’s been a passionate relationship from the beginning, then that always remains and it can turn into anything. A passion can turn into temper and impatience and disappointment and all sorts of things. But it’s always driven by passion.”