TORONTO — Of all the revered roles Christopher Plummer has portrayed over the years — Capt. Georg von Trapp, King Lear, Macbeth, to name but a few — the most exciting one for him was that of Henry V.
He played the part during his 1956 debut at Ontario’s Stratford Festival — in a tent, no less — alongside a group of “superb” French-Canadian actors he still misses “dreadfully,” he says.
“The French court was played by the French-Canadian Theatre du Nouveau Monde performers and it was such a unique and wonderful idea to have the French court played by Frenchmen and speaking their lines in French,” the stage and screen star said in a recent phone interview from his home in Palm Beach, Fla.
“I think that was the most exciting theatrical experience I’ve almost ever had because it meant so much as a Canadian, bringing together our two cultures on the same stage at the same time, talking both languages.
“That has happened, sadly, hardly ever since and I remember that as the most inspiring kind of feeling.”
The Toronto-born, Quebec-raised Plummer is reminiscing about his roots ahead of Sunday’s Canadian Screen Awards, where he’ll receive a lifetime achievement award.
The Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television is recognizing Plummer for a nearly 65-year career that has seen him win an Oscar and Golden Globe Award, two Tony Awards and two Emmys.
But the 87-year-old Plummer also likes to focus on the future.
“I want to push forward, is my motto,” he said. “But it’s very nice indeed and I’m very gratified.”
The great-grandson of former prime minister John Abbott, Plummer began his professional acting career at age 16 and made his Broadway debut in “The Starcross Story” in 1953, in his early 20s.
“I left Canada around that time as a home and I became a, what do you call it, an alien? Donald Trump would certainly agree with that, a real alien,” said Plummer, chuckling.
“New York in the ’50s was unbelievably exciting. It was their golden age. It was the last golden age that Broadway has had and I was so excited to be a part of it all. But I changed my address and lived down there because I thought I’d done almost everything so far in Canada.”
Plummer also stormed the theatre scene in London and went on to a storied career in Hollywood, with films including The Sound of Music, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Last Station (for which he got an Oscar nomination) and Beginners (for which he earned his best supporting actor golden statuette).
Still, Plummer has continued to return to Canada to do various projects and perform at the Stratford Festival, which he hopes to do again.
“I think I’d like to do something, if we can find a play,” he said.
He also hopes to visit Montreal this year.
“I’ve promised myself that this fall I will go up to the Laurentians, as was my usual wont, and see the beautiful colour in autumn and just eat my way down,” he said. “The restaurants are so fantastic in the Laurentians that you can eat your way all the way down and across the border.”
Plummer was in Toronto last September to present a Stratford Festival Legacy Award to fellow Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent, who suggested to him that they should do a series together.
Asked if he’d be into the idea, Plummer said: “If it’s wonderful, sure. But it would have to be terrific and funny. Then I’d love to do it.
“I don’t know who’s going to be older. That would be a terrible fight for that honour,” Plummer added with a laugh.
When informed that Pinsent is 86, Plummer jested: “Well, he’s actually a child. I’m 87, so to hell with him.”
Plummer has a slew of upcoming projects, including the film The Man Who Invented Christmas, in which he’ll play Ebenezer Scrooge.
“There are so many parts I’ve not played yet and so many that I have that it’s almost hard to envision what one does next,” he said.
“I just wait for something terrific to come along that’s different.”
The Canadian Screen Awards will air Sunday on CBC from Toronto’s Sony Centre for the Performing Arts.