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Christopher Plummer

by Kathryn Boughton

From the Austrian Alps to the Berkshire foothills, Christopher Plummer’s six-decade career on stage and before the camera has spanned the globe, bringing with it a virtual shower of awards.

The venerable actor will travel from his Weston CT home to make his next appearance at the Berkshire International Film Festival where he is to receive the 2017 Achievement in Film Award. Plummer will receive the honor and appear in conversation with David Edelstein at 6:30PM on Saturday, June 3, the third day of the four-day festival.

He laughed self-deprecatingly when asked about the accolades he has received in the past two decades and said the honors probably reflect his age. “I think they say, ‘We had better give it to him before he dies,’” said the 84-year-old actor, who received the 2012 Academy Award for best supporting actor.

He is poised to add to his count of Emmys, Golden Globes, SAG and BAFTA awards with his most recent turn as Kaiser Wilhelm in the film, The Exception, to be screened following his appearance.

“It’s really touching that people from as far away as Vietnam call and want me to come to their festivals, but I jumped at the Berkshire award because I spent a lot of time in the Berkshires when I was young.” he said. He explained that Leonard Bernstein wrote the score for a 1955 New York play in which he appeared, and the two became friends. “I used to come up to hear his concerts,” he said.

A Canadian by birth, Plummer made his film debut in 1958 and has enjoyed a wide-ranging career on stage, screen and television. He has had roles in films such as The Battle of Britain, The Return of the Pink Panther, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, A Beautiful Mind, Inside Man, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. But perhaps his most remembered performance is the one he liked least, as the very Germanic Georg Von Trapp in 1965’s Sound of Music opposite Julie Andrews. He found his one-dimensional character uninteresting and famously termed the film The Sound of Mucus.

“The press jumped at that,” he said, “but I was a spoiled, arrogant young man at that time. I had already played Shakespeare— Henry V, Lear and it was ‘Oh, this trivia.’ But now I realize that it is an extremely well-made movie and one of the few Broadway-emanating musicals that works on film.”

So, if Sound of Music was a low-point, what is his favorite role? He paused to survey the rich array of his career. “That’s hard,” he said. “There really isn’t an absolute favorite; there are favorites with an ‘s’.’’

“I’ve played so many great roles, but I guess it would be Shakespeare because who else can write like that? He touched greatness because his writing is so simple. How can you miss the simplicity of a line like (Hamlet’s dying words) ‘The rest is silence.’ He always brings them down.”

As for more modern fare, he loved playing Mike Wallace in The Insider. “When I played Wallace, I made sure I imitated him absolutely with the inflection of his voice on TV. When he was off TV and I was using dialogue, then I could be more adventurous.”

He enjoys doing historical characters and had fun taking “artistic license” with Kaiser Wilhelm in the World War II romantic drama The Exception.

Acknowledging that Wilhelm was an autocratic, unpleasant man, he nevertheless transformed him into an avuncular figure. “I think I did lose my temper twice in the movie,” he said, “so you see flashes of the old Wilhelm. There are no recordings of any decency of his real voice. I found one, where he is miles in the distance, but I couldn’t get the quality of his voice. So I decided he should be given some different colors—it would have been very boring to keep playing him as an autocrat.”

Plummer feels lucky to be offered so many juicy roles at his age. “I am very lucky. I have four movies coming out, which is rather greedy,” he quipped, adding that he is currently “gainfully unemployed—which makes me very angry, indeed. Working keeps you going.”

Plummer’s tribute at the festival, is just one highlight in the four-day event, according to Kelley Vickery, founder and executive director. “We have eighty films, more than ever before,” she said.

“And we’ve started Tea Talks, which have to do with the films—Karen Allen (Indiana Jones’ love interest) will be here Saturday afternoon to talk about A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud and Sheila Nevins, president of HBO Documentary Films, is coming for a talk and book signing June 2nd. Sunday, New York Times Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman and Alan Chartok, president of WAMC, will talk about All the President’s Men. It’s a really good series. We have good parties, good films, and lots of special events.”

For the BIFF schedule, tickets and information click on the link below.