TORONTO—The Vancouver Public Library’s central branch isn’t the only Canadian icon featured in Terry Gilliam’s new opus, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, which opens next Friday (December 25). Between his role as Capt. Von Trapp in The Sound of Music and his reign as king of TV miniseries (including his Emmy-winning role in Arthur Hailey’s The Moneychangers), the 80-year-old Christopher Plummer is one of Canada’s most acclaimed exports.
Watch the trailer for The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.
Plummer’s Canadian roots go deeper than his place of birth (Toronto) and his allegiance to Ontario’s Stratford Festival (where he’s slated to play Prospero in The Tempest in 2010): he’s the great-grandson of Prime Minister John Abbott. Now that’s Canadian content.
“But I perform all over the place,” says the impossibly dashing Plummer in an interview with the Georgia Straight in a hotel room during the Toronto International Film Festival. “It’s not a Canadian thing. When you’re an actor you belong to the world, because there’s no nationality involved. You are, simply, an actor.
“I think Canada has done terrifically well in the last several decades,” Plummer continues. “They take more pride in their work now than they did before. When I was growing up, it was sort of hopeless. There was a band of very talented people who were fighting for recognition in the arts, but it was awfully hard. And we had these dyed-in-the-wool, Presbyterian, Protestant sort of people who thought theatre was something in a church basement somewhere. You couldn’t possibly earn a living in that craft. So we had all that narrow-mindedness to fight, and it got exhausting, so we all left to go somewhere else. And then it got healthier and we came back.”
One thing Plummer came back for recently was Parnassus, a Canadian-British coproduction that was shot in Vancouver, among other locations. Although his great love is theatre—where he’s played most of the great roles, including Cyrano, Lear, and Hamlet—he was delighted to take on Gilliam’s title character, partly because it invokes the classics: “There’s a bit of everything in Dr. Parnassus. There’s a bit of Lear and a bit of Prospero.”
Plummer says there are a few factors that draw him to movie roles. “Money. Good script. Good location. And terrific directors. Terry Gilliam is one of my favourites. He’s a most original filmmaker. And he’s in his glory in this one.”
In a separate interview with the Straight, Gilliam beamed when asked about casting Plummer. “Well, he’s just one of the great actors of all time. And the idea of Parnassus, who’s this showman—but he might be a con man as well—I never knew if he was really a thousand years old or not. So you want someone who can give you that kind of dignity and conviction that he probably is eternal. And Christopher—this was a chance for him to really show on film his brass,” Gilliam says. “I put him in the most outrageous situations, and he always gave it dignity and weight.”