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Christopher Plummer

(b. December 13, 1929 Toronto, Ontario)

Hailed by the New York Times as “the finest classical actor in North America” and as “a natural successor to [Sir Laurence] Olivier” by the London Observer, Christopher Plummer is Canada’s most internationally renowned actor. He belongs to that rare species of elegant, classically trained performers who can, as critic John Simon put it, “embody equally both devils and angels.” On stage or screen, in roles ranging from Shakespeare’s Hamlet to journalist Mike Wallace in the Academy Award®-nominated The Insider (1999) to the complex and legendary John Barrymore, Plummer radiates versatility, discipline, confidence, grace and intensity. He has performed most of the great roles in the classic repertoire on both sides of the Atlantic and was a leading actor for three of the world’s most revered theatre companies: the United Kingdom’s National Theatre under Olivier, the Royal Shakespeare Company under Sir Peter Hall, and the Stratford Festival in its formative years under Sir Tyrone Guthrie and Michael Langham.


Though Plummer was born in Toronto, his parents separated when he was an infant and his mother – whose grandfather, Sir John Abbott, had been mayor of Montreal and became Canada’s first Canadian-born prime minister – returned with Christopher to her hometown. He was brought up in a very cultured Montreal household that had previously been one of great wealth and privilege (former Governor General Lord Elgin was also a relative) but whose fortunes had been stretched thin by the time of his youth. He attended Jennings Private School and was raised by his mother and a group of well-educated and well-read aunts who exposed him to theatre, literature and the arts at a young age. At one point he studied to be a concert pianist, but he discovered a passion for acting after working as a lighting designer for a high-school play.


His performance as Darcy in a high-school production of Pride and Prejudice attracted the attention of Montreal Gazette drama critic Herbert Whittaker, who gave the youngster a glowing review; he was particularly struck by the ability of such a young actor to work the stage with such arrogance and assurance. Plummer began acting professionally immediately after graduating from high school; he made his debut on stage and radio in both French and English and then at age seventeen played Posthumus in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline under the direction of the Moscow Imperial Theatre’s Fyodor Komisarjevsky. He apprenticed with the Montreal Repertory Theatre – where he often worked under the direction of Whittaker – before joining the Canadian Repertory Theatre in Ottawa in 1950, where he played some seventy-five roles in two years. His first paying part was in a production of Jean Cocteau’s The Infernal Machine in 1951; his understudy was another young Montreal actor, William Shatner, with whom he also worked in radio.


Plummer’s first foray into television came with a CBC production of Othello in 1951. He was then hired by a theatre company in Bermuda, where he played both leading and featured roles in a wide variety of plays. Impressed with his work, the American actor Edward Everett Norton invited him to join Norton’s American touring company in a part that had originally been played by David Niven. Plummer jumped at the chance and began working in the United States in 1953. He then auditioned for the first season of Ontario’s Stratford Festival, but was turned away by Festival director Tyrone Guthrie, not for want of on-stage abilities, but rather due to his by then legendary and well-earned reputation as a reckless, carousing bon vivant. “That was actually so much more important than getting into Stratford,” Plummer has said. “To be known as a rake at twenty-two or twenty-three was so much more satisfying than any career move.”


Of that time in his career, Plummer has said, “There were a lot of divorces, a lot of love affairs. A lot of shenanigans went on, far more than now. There was a sense of danger. We were doing Shakespeare in a tent, for God’s sake: it felt impermanent, risky. There was a feeling you weren’t going to last forever.” After touring the United States with Norton’s company, Plummer landed on Broadway. He made his debut in 1954 in The Star Cross Story (which closed after one night) and continued with many other performances that received much attention; New York Times theatre critic Brooks Atkinson, one of the most influential critics of the time, hailed Plummer as “a Shakespearean actor of the first rank.” He appeared in Shakespeare festivals in Paris and Stratford, Connecticut, and was finally accepted into the Stratford Festival in 1956, where he made a memorable debut as Henry V. From 1956 to 1959, he played the lead in many of Shakespeare’s most notable plays – Twelfth Night, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, A Winter’s Tale – as well as other classic works like Cyrano de Bergerac.


He made his big-screen debut opposite Henry Fonda in Sidney Lumet’s Stage Struck (1958), but would focus more on television before returning to film. He made his American live television debut in 1953 on the “Studio One” episode of The Gathering Night, and has since appeared in more than one hundred shows. A career milestone came in 1964 when he delivered a stunning performance as Hamlet in a BBC production (filmed on location at Elsinore Castle) honouring Shakespeare’s four hundreth birthday. The play was subsequently broadcast in thirty countries and Plummer was widely hailed by critics. The portrayal was a key factor in his being cast as Baron von Trapp in Robert Wise’s Academy Award®-winning musical The Sound of Music (1965), one of the most popular films of all time. (Plummer has insisted that he has fond memories of the production and kind feelings for the film, despite having referred to it for years as “The Sound of Mucus.”)


In 1968, he was named a Companion of the Order of Canada and in 1969 he married his third wife, the actor Elaine Taylor, who, by Plummer’s admission, was instrumental in helping him curb his rather legendary alcohol abuse. In the ensuing years, he starred in many celebrated productions on Broadway and London’s West End, including Elia Kazan’s production of Archibald MacLeish’s J.B. and Mike Nichols’s staging of Edgar Doctorow’s Drinks Before Dinner. He won his first of two Tony Awards in 1974 for his portrayal of Cyrano de Bergerac on Broadway and received his first of two Emmy Awards in 1977 for “Arthur Hailey’s The Moneychangers.”

He also launched himself into a film career that would see him appear in more than eighty movies, including Guy Hamilton’s Battle of Britain (1969), Sergei Bondarchuk’s Waterloo (1970), John Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King (1975), Blake Edwards’s The Return of the Pink Panther (1975), Nicholas Meyer’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) – in which he played a Shakespeare-spouting villain opposite his former understudy’s James T. Kirk – Spike Lee’s Malcolm X (1992), Taylor Hackford’s Dolores Claiborne (1995), Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys (1995), Michael Mann’s The Insider (1999) – for which he received a Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor – and Ron Howard’s Academy Award-winning A Beautiful Mind (2001). The most memorable of his many Canadian film roles are the psychopathic thief who terrorizes Elliot Gould in Daryl Duke’s The Silent Partner (1978), Sherlock Holmes to James Mason’s Dr. Watson in Bob Clark’s Murder by Decree (1979) – for which he won a Best Leading Actor Genie – and the sceptical customs officer intrigued by Armenian history in Atom Egoyan’s Ararat (2002).

He received rave reviews for his portrayal of Iago to James Earl Jones’s Othello in the 1981 Broadway production, and more recently won his second Tony for his performance as the legendary actor John Barrymore in the one-man play Barrymore in 1997 (which began at Stratford and moved to Broadway). He also won wide acclaim for his titular role in the 2002 Stratford production of King Lear, which he reprised at the Lincoln Centre in New York City in 2004. Also in recent years, he has co-written and performed two one-man shows for television – on humorists Stephen Leacock and Vladimir Nabokov – and has written and directed for theatre and the concert hall. An accomplished singer, he created, with conductor Michael Lankester, new concert versions of Greig’s Peer Gynt, Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Prokofiev’s Ivan the Terrible. The most recent of his many recordings include Ivan the Terrible with the London Symphony Orchestra, while he counts among his extensive literary recordings Robertson Davies’s Ghost Stories, Edgar Allen Poe’s The Narrative of J. Gordon Pym and Mordecai Richler’s Jacob Two-Two and the Hooded Fang. His one-man show, A Word or Two Before You Go, raised money for World Literacy, The Shakespearean Theatre in Washington, D.C., the Roundabout Theatre in New York City, the Stratford Festival and the Atlantic Theatre Festival in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

Plummer was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 1998 and received a Governor General’s Award in 2001. His other, innumerable awards include: the United Kingdom’s Evening Standard Award; three New York Drama Desk Awards; the Theatre World Award; the New York Drama League Award; Austria’s Golden Badge of Honour and Salzburg’s Chalice of Honour; an induction into the United States Theatre Hall of Fame; the Maple Leaf Award for Arts and Letters in New York; a Commonwealth Award; and the Edwin Booth Lifetime Achievement Award. He has also received honorary doctorates from The Juilliard School in New York City and from Ryerson University in Toronto. He is on the Board of Directors for London’s Globe Theatre in both Canada and the United States and for the Roundabout Theatre Company in New York City. He was recently appointed to the Stratford Festival’s Board of Governors and is a Friend and Supporter of the Atlantic Theatre Festival in Nova Scotia.

Plummer currently resides in Connecticut with his wife Elaine and continues to divide his time among film, stage and television. He is the father, with his first wife Tammy Grimes, of the actress Amanda Plummer.

Film and video work includes

Othello, 1951 (actor; TV)
Dark Victory, Broadway Television Theatre series, 1953 (actor; TV)
The Gathering Night, Summer Studio One series, 1953 (actor; TV)
The Riddle of Mayerling, Suspense series, 1953 (actor; TV)
The Dashing White Sergeant, Kraft Television Theatre series, 1954 (actor; TV)
Sheep's Clothing, The Web series, 1954 (actor; TV)
Cyrano de Bergerac, Producers' Showcase series, 1955 (actor; TV)
The King's Bounty, Kraft Television Theatre series, 1955 (actor; TV)
Robert Carr, Kraft Television Theatre series, 1955 (actor; TV)
Even the Weariest River, The Alcoa Hour series, 1956 (actor; TV)
A Letter From the Queen, General Electric Theatre series, 1956 (actor; TV)
A Thief There Was, Appointment with Adventure series, 1956 (actor; TV)
Oedipus, the King, Omnibus series, 1957 (actor; TV)
The Prince and the Pauper, DuPont Show of the Month series, 1957 (actor; TV)
Johnny Belinda, Hallmark Hall of Fame series, 1958 (actor; TV)
The Lady's not for Burning, Omnibus, series, 1958 (actor; TV)
Little Moon of Alban, Hallmark Hall of Fame series, 1958 (actor; TV)
Stage Struck, 1958 (actor)
Wind Across the Everglades, 1958 (actor)
A Doll's House, Hallmark Hall of Fame series, 1959 (actor; TV)
The Orestia, Omnibus series, 1959 (actor; TV)
The Philadelphia Story, DuPont Show of the Month series, 1959 (actor; TV)
Prince Ore Test, Omnibus series, 1959 (actor; TV)
After Hours, Sunday Showcase series, 1960 (actor; TV)
Autocrat and Son, Our American Heritage series, 1960 (actor; TV)
Captain Brassbound's Conversion, Hallmark Hall of Fame, 1960 (actor; TV)
Playdate series, 1961-1962 (host)
The Prisoner of Zenda, DuPont Show of the Month series, 1961 (actor; TV)
Time Remembered, Hallmark Hall of Fame series, 1961 (actor; TV)
Cyrano de Bergerac, Hallmark Hall of Fame series, 1962 (actor; TV)
Macbeth, 1962 (actor; TV)
Trans-Canada Journey, 1962 (narrator)
30 Minutes, Mr Plummer, 1963 (appears as himself)
A Doll's House, 1964 (actor; TV)
The Fall of the Roman Empire, 1964 (actor)
Hamlet, a.k.a. Hamlet at Elsinore, 1964 (actor; TV)
Prince and the Pauper, 1964 (actor; TV)
Prisoner of Zenda, 1964 (actor; TV)
Inside Daisy Clover, 1965 (actor)
The Sound of Music, 1965, re-released as Sing-a-long Sound of Music, 1990 (actor)
The Night of the Generals, 1967 (actor)
Oedipus the King, 1967 (actor)
Triple Cross, a.k.a. Terence Young's Triple Cross, 1967 (actor)
Nobody Runs Forever, a.k.a. The High Commissioner, 1968 (actor)
Battle of Britain, 1969 (actor)
Lock Up Your Daughters!, 1969 (actor)
The Royal Hunt of the Sun, 1969 (actor)
Waterloo, 1970 (actor)
Don Juan in Hell, a.k.a. Play of the Month: Dona Juan in Hell, 1971 (actor; TV)
Impromptu, 1971 (actor)
Impromptu Balear, 1971 (appears as himself)
The Pyx, a.k.a. The Hooker Cult Murders, 1973 (actor)
After the Fall, 1974 (actor; TV)
The Happy Prince, 1974 (voice)
Witness to Yesterday, 1974 (actor; TV)
Atentat u Sarajevu, 1975 (actor)
Conduct Unbecoming, 1975 (actor)
The Man Who Would be King, a.k.a. Rudyard Kipling's The Man Who Would be King, 1975 (actor)
The Return of the Pink Panther, 1975 (actor)
The Spiral Staircase, 1975 (actor)
Sarajevski atentat, a.k.a. Assassination in Sarajevo; The Day that Shook the World;
Aces High, 1976 (actor)
Arthur Hailey's the Moneychangers series, a.k.a. The Moneychangers, 1976 (actor)
The Disappearance, 1977 (actor)
Jesus of Nazareth series, 1977 (actor)
Silver Blaze, 1977 (actor; TV)
Uppdraget, a.k.a. The Assignment, 1977 (actor)
International Velvet, 1978 (actor)
Arthur Miller on Home Ground, 1979 (himself; TV)
Hanover Street, 1979 (actor)
Highpoint, 1979 (actor)
Martha Graham Dance Company: Clytemnestra, Great Performances: Dance in America series, 1979 (narrator; TV)
Riel, 1979 (actor; TV)
Scontri stellari oltre la terza dimensione, a.k.a. Starcrash, The Adventures of Stella Starr; Stella Starr; Female Space Invaders, 1979 (actor)
Desperate Voyage, 1980 (actor; TV)
The Shadow Box, 1980 (actor; TV)
Somewhere in Time, 1980 (actor)
The Amateur, 1981 (actor)
Being Different, 1981 (narrator)
Dial M for Murder, 1981 (actor; TV)
Eyewitness, a.k.a. The Janitor, 1981 (actor)
When the Circus Came to Town, 1981 (actor; TV)
Classic Fairy Tales, 1982 voice; TV)
Little Gloria�€� Happy at Last series, 1982 (actor; TV)
Prototype, 1983 (actor; TV)
The Scarlet and the Black, a.k.a. The Vatican Pimpernel, 1983 (actor; TV)
The Thorn Birds series, 1983 (actor; TV)
Dreamscape, 1984 (actor)
Ordeal by Innocence, a.k.a. Agatha Christie's Ordeal by Innocence, 1984 (actor)
David the Gnome series, 1985 (narrator)
J.W. Morrice, 1985 (narrator)
Lily in Love, a.k.a. Playing for Keeps, 1985 (actor)
The Velveteen Rabbit, 1985 (voice; TV)
An American Tail, 1986 (voice)
The Boss' Wife, 1986 (actor)
The Boy in Blue, 1986 (actor)
Crossings series, 1986 (actor; TV)
Jerusalem: Within These Walls, 1986 (narrator; TV)
Reader's Digest: Children's Classics, 1986 (voice; TV)
Rumplestilskin, 1986 (voice; TV)
Spearfield's Daughter series, 1986 (actor; TV)
The Tin Soldier, 1986 (voice; TV)
The Cosby Show series, 1987 (actor; TV, one episode)
Dragnet, 1987 (actor)
The Gnomes' Great Adventure, a.k.a. David the Gnome; The World of David the Gnome: Volume 1; The World of David the Gnome: Young Doctor Gnome, 1987 (narrator)
A Hazard of Hearts, 1987 (actor; TV)
L'Homme qui plantait des arbres, 1987 (narrator)
I Love N.Y., 1987 (actor)
Light Years, a.k.a. Gandahar, 1987 (voice)
The Music Box Ballerina, 1987 (voice; TV)
Making of a Legend: Gone with the Wind, 1988 (narrator; TV)
Nosferatu a Venezia, a.k.a. Nosferatu in Venice; Vampire in Venice, 1988 (actor)
Shadow Dancing, 1988 (actor)
Souvenir, 1988 (actor)
Stage Fright, 1988 (actor)
The Boy Who Planted Trees, 1989 (narrator; TV)
The First Emperor of China, 1989 (narrator; TV)
Kingsgate, 1989 (actor)
Mindfield, a.k.a. Flashback, 1989 (actor)
Nabokov on Kafka, a.k.a. Understanding the Metamorphosis, 1989 (host; TV)
Souvenir, 1989 (actor; TV)
Counterstrike series, 1990 (actor; TV)
A Ghost in Monte Carlo, 1990 (actor; TV)
Madeline's Christmas, 1990 (narrator; TV)
Madeline: The Musical, a.k.a. Madeline, 1990 (narrator; TV)
Red-Blooded American Girl, a.k.a. Life Reach, 1990 (actor)
Where the Heart Is, 1990 (actor)
A Marriage: Georgia Okeeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, 1991 (actor; TV)
Berlin Lady series, 1991 (actor; TV)
Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead, 1991 (actor)
Firehead, 1991 (actor)
The First Circle, 1991 (actor; TV)
Madeline and the Bad Hat, 1991 (narrator; TV)
Madeline and the Gypsies, 1991 (narrator; TV)
Madeline in London, 1991 (narrator; TV)
Madeline's Rescue, 1991 (narrator; TV)
Money, 1991 (actor)
Rock-a-Doodle, 1991 (voice)
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, 1991 (actor)
Young Catherine, 1991 (actor; TV)
Impolite, 1992 (actor, uncredited)
Liar's Edge, 1992 (actor; TV)
Malcolm X, a.k.a. X, 1992 (actor)
Secrets, a.k.a. Danielle Steel's Secrets, 1992 (actor; TV)
The Year of the Generals, 1992 (narrator; TV)
Ben Hur: The Making of an Epic, 1993 (narrator)
The Little Crooked Christmas Tree, 1993, (voice; TV)
A Stranger in the Mirror, a.k.a. Sidney Sheldon's A Stranger in the Mirror, 1993 (actor; TV)
Crackerjack, 1994 (actor)
The Sound of Music: From Fact to Phenomenon, 1994 (appears as himself)
Wolf, 1994 (actor)
Dolores Claiborne, 1995 (actor)
Harrison Bergeron, a.k.a. Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron, 1995 (actor; TV)
Twelve Monkeys, a.k.a. 12 Monkeys, 1995 (actor)
The Conspiracy of Fear, 1996 (actor; TV)
The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of Twelve Monkeys, 1996 (appears as himself, uncredited)
Skeletons, 1996 (actor)
We the Jury, 1996 (actor; TV)
The Arrow, 1997 (actor; TV)
Babes in Toyland, 1997 (voice)
Lost over Burma: Search for Closure, 1997 (narrator)
Blackheart, 1998 (actor)
The Clown at Midnight, 1998 (actor)
The First Christmas, 1998 (narrator)
Hidden Agenda, a.k.a. Secret Agenda, 1998 (actor)
Winchell, 1998 (actor; TV)
Celebrate the Century series, 1999 (narrator)
The Insider, 1999 (actor)
Madeline: Lost in Paris, 1999 (voice)
American Tragedy, 2000 (actor; TV)
Back to 'Somewhere in Time,' 2000 (appears as himself)
The Dinosaur Hunter, 2000 (actor)
Dracula 2000, a.k.a. Dracula 2001; Wes Craven Presents Dracula 2001, 2000 (actor)
Nuremberg series, 2000 (actor; TV)
Possessed, 2000 (actor; TV)
A Beautiful Mind, 2001 (actor)
Full Disclosure, 2001 (actor)
Leo's Journey, 2001 (narrator; TV)
Lucky Break, 2001 (actor)
Night and Day, 2001 (actor; TV)
On Golden Pond, 2001 (actor; TV)
A Man for all Stages: The Life and Times of Christopher Plummer, Life and Times series, 2002 (appears as himself; TV)
Agent of Influence, 2002 (actor; TV)
Nicholas Nickelby, 2002 (actor)
Night Flight, 2002 (actor; TV)
Ted Allan: Minstrel Boy of the Twentieth Century, 2002 (narrator)
Blizzard, 2003 (actor)
Cold Creek Manor/La Maison au fond de la baie, 2003 (actor)
The Gospel of John, 2003 (narrator)
Madness of King Richard, 2003 (appears as himself; TV)
Alexander, 2004 (actor)
National Treasure, 2004 (actor)
Supporting Players: Cameo Portraits of an Unforgettable Ensemble, 2004 (narrator)
Tma, a.k.a. Darkness, 2005 (actor)
Our Fathers, 2005 (actor)