While Christopher Plummer’s screen time in “Beginners” is limited, his character influences every scene.
From that standpoint, it’s a supporting role the veteran actor likens to his work in “The Insider,” the 1999 Michael Mann thriller about the tobacco industry that re-energized Plummer’s already impressive career.
In “Beginners,” Plummer is a retired museum director, Hal, who waits until the death of his wife of 45 years to announce that he’s gay — something he’s known ever since he was a teenager. The revelation unlocks a new side of Hal’s personality, as he finds a younger boyfriend and then hits the dance clubs.
Hal’s bemused adult son, Oliver (Ewan McGregor), watches as his father embraces this new life, and even a diagnosis of terminal cancer doesn’t seem to diminish Hal’s newfound spirit.
“This was a real natural man who was secure in himself and was so happy to find that he could be honest about himself at the end of his life,” Plummer says. “This was far different from sort of the urbane creatures that I’ve played before.”
That was a major attraction for the 81-year-old iconic thesp, who has more than 180 film and TV roles to his credit and an Oscar nom for supporting actor in “The Last Station.”
“To me, that’s what an actor is about,” he says. “What we call movie stars are people who usually are the same persona and the public gets to know them. But a screen actor in my category — a character actor — is freer to show different facets of his own personality. That’s fun and exciting.”
“Beginners” was written and directed by Mike Mills, and much of his screenplay mirrors experiences he had with his own father. Mills solicited Plummer for the part, and the actor was delighted when he learned that he could bring his own interpretation to such a personal character.
Plummer is reluctant to rank his performances, but he does evaluate each one in several areas including whether it was a positive experience and if he appears relaxed before the cameras.
Plummer’s main take-away from “Beginners”?
“It’s one of my favorite screen roles, and I had such fun doing it.”