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posted: 6/17/2012 8:08 AM

Christopher Plummer going strong after 82 years, 1 Oscar

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  • Actor Christopher Plummer in New York on May 24, 2011. Plummer, who helped present at the Tony Awards on Sunday and who thrilled Nina Arianda by handing her a best actress award, is preparing for his stage performance in "The Tempest" to be shown in hundreds of movie theaters on Thursday. Later this fall, his "Barrymore" will hit movie screens across the world.

      Actor Christopher Plummer in New York on May 24, 2011. Plummer, who helped present at the Tony Awards on Sunday and who thrilled Nina Arianda by handing her a best actress award, is preparing for his stage performance in "The Tempest" to be shown in hundreds of movie theaters on Thursday. Later this fall, his "Barrymore" will hit movie screens across the world.
    Associated Press File photo

 
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Hitting 82 hasn't meant Christopher Plummer is slowing down. In fact, he seems to be hitting the gas.

"I've never worked as hard as I have in my life at the present time and I think it's wonderful," the oldest Oscar-winning actor said. "It keeps me on my toes. It keeps me young. It keeps my memory going."

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Plummer, who helped present at the Tony Awards on Sunday and who thrilled Nina Arianda by handing her a best actress award, is preparing for his stage performance in "The Tempest" to be shown in hundreds of movie theaters Thursday. Later this fall, his "Barrymore" will hit movie screens across the world.

And in between, he's spilling his guts: Plummer will this month present "A World or Two," an autobiographical one-man show about his favorite writers at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, Canada.

"It's a celebration of language, is really what I call it, and how it influenced me from the time I was very young right through my life," Plummer said. "Each decade there are poets and prose writers who have influenced me."

Plummer lists some of them: Stephen Leacock and A.A. Milne to Ben Jonson and Ogden Nash and Rudyard Kipling. The show, which Plummer has previously performed for charity functions, has been sharpened under the direction of Des McAnuff, the artistic director of the Stratford Festival.

"It sort of rides right through my life, from the love interests to middle age and to death and then back again so that the cycle is complete," Plummer said. "It's really quite personal now. I'm a little bit scared that it's too personal. But it never can be."

Plummer has enjoyed a vibrant late-career push that has included his first two Oscar nominations in the past three years. He won this year for his role in "Beginners" as Hal Fields, a museum director who becomes openly gay after his wife of 44 years dies.

Now two of his stage roles are hitting movie screens -- "The Tempest," which was recorded live over two days in the summer of 2010 by McAnuff at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, and his "Barrymore," a two-person play exploring the life of actor John Barrymore that earned Plummer his second Tony in 1997.

"He is a force of nature. He is the tempest itself," McAnuff said. The two have been friends and collaborators for years, and McAnuff is still stunned by the energy and skill Plummer delivers. Right after winning the Oscar, McAnuff called Plummer to congratulate him, but all Plummer wanted to do was talk about his one-man show. "He's got an insatiable appetite for hard work and for creativity."

The irony is that Plummer has always been reluctant to allow his stage performances to be captured on film other than archival footage.

"I don't like it because it's always so cold. There's a barrier between you and the audience, which the screen always puts up, and so it loses a lot of its immediacy generally. So I don't approve really of just filming a play just straight on as it is."

Instead, both "The Tempest" and "Barrymore" are more than just point-a-camera-at-the-stage recordings. In Shakespeare's play, which Plummer calls the Bard's most cinematic, the cameras swoop about the stage, creating close-ups and long shots.

In "Barrymore," which was filmed over seven days in and around the Elgin Theater in Toronto, director and adapter Erik Canuel used an empty theater for some scenes and filmed others in alleyways. Plummer said the piece got more laughs in front of a live audience but becomes more emotional on screen.

For both, the actor is pleased, even if he wishes he had more time on each. "I think film does the play justice in both cases. 'Barrymore' is more filmic, but some of the magic does come through very well in 'The Tempest."'

As for his own magic, Plummer hopes it keeps flowing. He laughs at all the celebrations and accolades he's lately accepting.

"I think that's because I'm getting old. They're sort of saying, 'Oh, we better give it to him now otherwise he'll drop dead.' There's a sort of guilt thing, I think."

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