Christopher Plummer may be frozen in some filmgoers’ memories as the noble-browed patriarch who made stern parenting and anti-Nazism sexy in The Sound of Music.
But Plummer and his career aren’t mired in the past. Slipping easily from one disparate recent role to another, he’s created Leo Tolstoy in The Last Station, the haunted magnate in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and a man experiencing a late-in-life gay awakening in Beginners, which earned him an Oscar last year at age 82.
That made him the oldest acting honoree ever, and he’s not stopping. He plays a U.S. Supreme Court justice in HBO’s Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight, debuting 8 p.m. Saturday, a history-textured film that puts the boxer’s quest to be recognized as a conscientious objector against Vietnam War service and the high court in the ring.
“I don’t think retirement exists in our profession,” Plummer said in a recent interview with the Associated Press. “If you retire, something’s gone very wrong with your career is my theory. Also, why would you want to retire? It’s fun to be in this weird, old, ancient, ancient profession.”
The elegantly coiffed Canadian heads the Stephen Frears directed HBO film as John Harlan II, who was among the justices who decided in 1971 whether Ali’s conviction for refusing to be drafted because of his Muslim-based objections should be upheld or overturned.
The story resonated with Plummer because of Ali’s anti-war stance — “As [Ali] says, ‘Why should I fight [the Vietnamese]? No one over there has called me [the N-word].’”
Although Plummer is part of an exclusive club whose members each have won Oscar, Emmy and Tony awards, he declines to pick his most satisfying performance.
“None of them,” he responds. “I always feel I can be a hundred times better.”
Even in an Oscar-winning role? “Yes, of course, God, yes,” Plummer said. “I can go on forever talking about other people’s films. But not necessarily mine.”