Eye on the Oscars: The Actor

While much is being made about the award season’s ingenues, the senior class is doing quite well for itself.

There are 82-year-old Max von Sydow (“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”), 81-year-old Christopher Plummer (“Beginners”), 70-year-old Nick Nolte (“Warrior”) and 68-year-old Ben Kingsley (“Hugo”), who are just a handful of the veterans reaping the fruits of their years in the business with roles that mix tangible craft and intangible experience.

“It’s a great profession if you take it both lightly and seriously,” says Plummer.

Since his Oscar nomination for “The Insider” over a decade ago, Plummer says the quality of scripts he receives has been routinely higher than before. “Suddenly people wake up and realize you’re still alive and doing good stuff,” Plummer says. “Indeed, I’m working harder now than when I was younger.”

“Extremely Loud” director Stephen Daldry takes the vintner’s view of these actors’ work.”If the wine is good, the wine will only get better as it gets older,” Daldry says.

The director senses a loosening up, as well, in actors of a certain age, a thrill in doing new things.

“There’s a lightness of touch they find as they get older,” says Daldry, who noticed how energized von Sydow was by the comedic elements in his “Extremely Loud” role of a grandfather trying to reconnect with his family. “You see all the great attributes that you know and love of these fantastic actors when they were younger, but they relax and enjoy themselves in a way that one really hasn’t seen before.”

Nolte agrees. It’s something he’s noticed in Dustin Hoffman, his septuagenarian co-star in the upcoming HBO series “Luck.” “He’s a happy camper,” Nolte says. “The seriousness is gone, and when the seriousness gets out of there, then the vanity gets out, and everything becomes easier.”

Ned Beatty, 74, who appears this year in the drama “Rampart” as a mysterious mentor to Woody Harrelson’s corrupt cop, says elder statesman status on the set is OK for a while.

“Mostly, there’s something about me that’s very childish still,” he says. “I could be a kid. I like fun.”

That said, the transition from playing sons and fathers to grandfathers can initially be tough.

“You try to stay middle-aged for as long as you can,” Nolte jokes. “Then you cover up the teeth falling out, the hair falling out, and then one day you have to admit it, ‘Guys,I’m a little old!’ But I love the work the same. I was taught the only thing that wouldn’t leave you in life was your work.”

Conversely, as well, recognition by one’s peers starts to look pretty good, adds Nolte.

“I used to fight against the attention. ‘I don’t act for the awards.’ You hear that almost from everybody. And then they get it and they go, ‘Oh, you gave it to me!’ Well, the attention is nothing but good.”

One of the happy ironies for Plummer about the rich stretch of roles he’s had over the past 10 years is that he can’t afford to be anything but selective. “Once you’ve hit that realm of quality, you’ve got to sort of try to stay up there,” he says. “I suppose you could cheat and do a terrible movie for money and hope to God that nobody sees it, but I don’t think my guys who work for me as agents will allow that.”

And retirement? Bah, says Plummer.

“That is so boring, a death sentence,” he says. “I can’t think of a nicer profession. I’m always finding new things to do. It’s a pot that has no bottom. I’m thrilled to be working. It keeps me young.”

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