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Arts & Entertainment

Christopher Plummer portrays actors’ actor John Barrymore

Christopher Plummer poses for a portrait in New York.
Christopher Plummer poses for a portrait in New York.
Charles Sykes/AP

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Back in 1942, screen legend John Barrymore was preparing to audition for backers to finance a revival of his 1920 triumph, "Richard III," and reflecting on his life and career.  Barrymore died in May of that year.

These last few months of his life are the the basis for the play "Barrymore," which premiered on Broadway in 1997 and starred Christopher Plummer in the titualr role. 

"1996-7 was when I did it ['Barrymore'] on Broadway and it ran for almost a year, which I had to stop because it was too exhausting,” said Plummer on AirTalk. “I kept saying to the producers, 'I'm not a machine, fellas. I can't go on forever.' So we did stop but the tickets were still in demand and people were loving it.”

The stage production has now been made into a film, with Christopher Plummer reprising his Tony Award-winning role as the brilliant, self-destructive thespian.

The play, written by William Luce ("The Belle of Amherst"), was adapted for the screen and directed by Érik Canuel. If anyone can get inside the skin of a consummate actor, it’s another consummate actor.

“I got a huge charge out of Barrymore and trying to play the old guy,” said Plummer. “I had admired him very much as a sort of great 20th century personality. And a tragic figure too."

 Plummer received multiple honors, including the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award, for his most recent role, the freshly out-and-proud widower in “Beginners.” But that’s only one of many dozens of accolades the 82-year old actor has received in his six-decade career, which began in 1958 with Sidney Lumet’s film “Stage Struck.”  

Some of his best-loved films include “The Man Who Would Be King,” “Twelve Monkeys,” “A Beautiful Mind” and of course, “The Sound of Music.”

 In “Barrymore,” Plummer holds the screen alone for nearly the entire film; the role has already sparked early talk of a second Oscar. The roles and offers have gone up significantly for Plummer most recently, a sign of validating and reinvigorating his career.

"It feels rather like starting all over again actually which is rather nice,” he joked. “It makes me feel rather young. I’m showing some promise."


Christopher Plummer, award-winning stage and screen actor, starring in “Barrymore”