Christopher Plummer, Star Of Stage, Screen, 'Sound Of Music,' Dies At 91 The Oscar-, Emmy- and Tony Award-winning actor began acting in films in the 1950s. He said he felt like he was "starting over" in acting every decade — "you never stop learning how to act," he said.
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Christopher Plummer, Star Of Stage, Screen, 'Sound Of Music,' Dies At 91

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Christopher Plummer, Star Of Stage, Screen, 'Sound Of Music,' Dies At 91

Christopher Plummer, Star Of Stage, Screen, 'Sound Of Music,' Dies At 91

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Oscar, Emmy and Tony award-winning actor Christopher Plummer has died at age 91. He is best known for playing Captain von Trapp in "The Sound Of Music." But our reporter Jeff Lunden says he was much more than that.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: Let's get this out of the way first.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE SOUND OF MUSIC")

BILL LEE: (As Captain von Trapp, singing) Edelweiss. Edelweiss.

LUNDEN: The man singing the famous Rodgers and Hammerstein tune "Edelweiss" in "The Sound Of Music" is not Christopher Plummer. It's the late Bill Lee, a singer who dubbed voices for several Hollywood stars in several films.

LAURENCE MASLON: Christopher Plummer was a classically trained actor who thought, quite rightly, he could do anything.

LUNDEN: NYU theater professor Laurence Maslon wrote a book about "The Sound Of Music."

MASLON: So he was quite peeved when he was dubbed singing couple of pretty simple songs like "Edelweiss" in the film of "The Sound Of Music." And of course, the role for which he'll be remembered for posterity and beyond is the one he hated the most, which was Captain von Trapp.

LUNDEN: But Plummer eventually came to terms with it, he told Terry Gross on WHYY's Fresh Air.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER: I'm grateful to the film in many ways because it was such a success. It is not my favorite film, of course, because I do think it borders on mawkishness, but we did our damned best not to make it too mawkish.

LUNDEN: Christopher Plummer was born in 1929 in Toronto and fell in love with theater in high school. He developed some serious acting chops playing Shakespearean roles in both Canada and England.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "HAMLET AT ELSINORE")

PLUMMER: (As Hamlet) To be or not to be. That is the question.

LUNDEN: Christopher Plummer in "Hamlet" for the BBC in 1964.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

PLUMMER: I'm so glad I was Canadian, in a way, because a Canadian can take the best of the British and the best of the American school. And we're rather good at that. We're kind of like chameleons in that respect.

LUNDEN: For most of his more than 60-year career, Plummer split his time, appearing both on stage and in films. Among his movies were "Stage Struck" and "The Man Who Would Be King." He even played a Klingon general in "Star Trek VI." On stage, he played Iago to James Earl Jones' Othello and Cyrano de Bergerac in a musical version of the Rostand Play, for which he won a Tony Award using his own voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERFORMANCE OF "CYRANO")

PLUMMER: (As Cyrano de Bergerac, singing) Cyrano, Cyrano, Cyrano, Cyrano, Cyrano, Cyrano, Cyrano, Cyrano, Cyrano, Cyrano, Cyrano, Cyrano, Cyrano, Cyrano, Cyrano.

LUNDEN: Theater professor Laurence Maslon.

MASLON: His characters were so big. He filled them with so much verve and talent. He played John Barrymore. He was the only actor who could sort of do that and be credible.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BARRYMORE")

PLUMMER: (As John Barrymore) I can add colors to the chameleon, change shapes with Proteus for advantages and set the murderous Machiavel to school.

LUNDEN: Plummer's film career flowered as he got older. He was cast in plummy character roles - Mike Wallace in "The Insider," J. Paul Getty in "All The Money In The World." And he won an Oscar for playing a father who comes out as gay at the age of 75 in "Beginners." Plummer said those were the kind of characters that he was interested in playing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

PLUMMER: They're witty. They've got wonderful edge to them. And I think people think that I exude a sort of power, so they keep casting me in these things.

LUNDEN: And audiences enjoyed Plummer's wit and edge in those roles, even as they worshipped him in the movie he found so mawkish.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE SOUND OF MUSIC")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Now and forever (ph).

LUNDEN: For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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