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He builds characters

Christopher Plummer, who will receive a lifetime achievement award, is on Broadway and has a new film due.

March 28, 2007|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

Christopher Plummer is receiving the Method Fest Independent Film Festival's 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award Saturday for his "outstanding contribution" to cinema during a career that spans half a century.

"Nobody has a greater body of work than Christopher Plummer," says Don Franken, executive director of the festival, which puts emphasis on the actor. The festival runs Thursday through April 5 in Woodland Hills and Calabasas. "He was a natural choice. We should have recognized him years ago."

But the Tony- and Emmy Award-winning actor, 77, won't be on hand to accept the award at the Motion Picture and Television Fund's Louis B. Mayer Theatre in Calabasas: Plummer is currently appearing on Broadway with Brian Dennehy in the revival of "Inherit the Wind," the classic fictionalization of the Scopes monkey trial of the 1920s.

Plummer ("The Sound of Music," "The Insider," "A Beautiful Mind") recently taped an acceptance speech in New York. On hand to accept the award in person for Plummer is Robert Wagner, who appears with the actor in the new film "The Man in the Chair."

The independent film, written and directed by Michael Schroeder, will screen after the award's presentation Saturday evening, as well as on April 3.

In "Man in the Chair" Plummer sheds his debonair personae as Flash Madden, a loud, obnoxious retired gaffer who is the only surviving crew member on Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane."

Though he lives at the Motion Picture and Television Fund home, the former New Yorker spends his days going to revival movie theaters where he drinks booze and yells at the screen.

And it's at a screening of Welles' "Touch of Evil," where Flash meets 17-year-old Cameron (Michael Angarano), a rebellious kid at odds with his mother and unrelenting stepfather. Cameron's solace are movies and holding on to his dream of becoming a filmmaker.

Cameron gets the opportunity to show his inner-Spielberg when he enters a student film competition that offers the winner a scholarship at a film school.

Cameron enlists the help of Flash, as well as fellow retired actors and filmmakers at the home. Flash also contacts a long-forgotten screenwriter (M. Emmet Walsh) who is living in a run-down, rat-infested old-age home to write the script.

"I've played bums before but this was such a wonderfully rich character," says Plummer on the phone between rehearsals of "Inherit."

"I jumped at it. It was such a marvelous part. It has all of these added themes of homelessness, which don't hit you over the head. They just happen. I love the full dimension of the character. He wasn't just a wisecracking old bum. He had a soul."

Schroeder says Plummer was always on a short list of actors he wanted to play Flash. "What he did with that guy I'll never forget," he says.

"He brought the character totally to life. He added the hump [on his back] to give him that little walk he had."

Schroeder was amazed at how quickly he could transform into Flash

When I would say 'action,' he would just turn into Flash. He would walk and stumble. Then I would say 'cut' and he would turn to me and say, 'How was that dear boy?' And walk perfectly straight up to me. He just transforms in front of you."

"Man in the Chair," which has yet to receive distribution, was shot in and around Los Angeles in 25 days -- four of those were at the Motion Picture and Television Fund center.

Plummer came to fame on Broadway in the 1950s when the Method acting style popularized by Marlon Brando, James Dean, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen was at its height.

"We had the Method and every kind of style of acting," he says, laughing.

He took a Method class from director Martin Ritt and a classical acting course from famed actress Eva Le Gallienne.

"But those were the only two," he says. "Most of the time I was busy being in front of the audience, which is the best teacher in the world. No school can compete with an audience."

And his enthusiasm for his craft has never waned.

"If you didn't love this profession, you shouldn't be in it," Plummer says.

"I know an awful lot of people in it who love to sort of suffer. I don't. I have enormous fun playing tragedy and enormous fun playing comedy. It's a glorious profession...."

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