“Christopher Plummer…I worked with him twice. The Insider (’99) and A Beautiful Mind (’01). Good man, fine actor.
“We were sitting on the Beautiful Mind set one day, and for some reason we began talking about Network (’76). Particularly the performances of Peter Finch and Ned Beatty. He told me that in the London theatre world of the 60s that Finch had a fearsome reputation. He’d come to the West End from Australia and had brought with him a certain inability to suffer fools combined with a deep unquenchable thirst the moment the curtain came down.
“Chris was at an actor’s party with a young lady he’d just started seeing. Somewhere far down Kings Road in Chelsea. She had recently broken up with Finch. Peter arrived looking for her and was in a very confrontational mood. Finch followed the couple around the party, making disparaging remarks. Eventually the young woman had enough and told Chris that they should leave. Not a lot of black cabs at that end of Chelsea late on a Sunday night, but luckily the young lady had her own car. So they left the party, Chris feeling somewhat relieved.
“As they got into her car and readied to drive off, the back door opened and Finch jumped in. ‘Take me back to Soho,’ he bellowed. ‘There’re no cabs.’ Thinking acquiescence wiser than confrontation at this point, off they drove. But the journey [was soon colored by] Peter spewing a torrent of abuse from the back seat. About Chris, about her, about trust, truth, love, sex, talent…non-stop.
“As they were approaching Sloane Square the young lady pulled over and ordered both men to get out. “Both?”, Christopher asked. “Yes, both of you,” she replied. So they did and she sped off without looking back.
“So here was Christopher, the young Canadian just beginning his career and Finch — drunken, aggressive, boorish, actorly genius under lamplight. Chris told me he was chilled with fear. Peter had threatened him with physical violence a number of times and he felt for sure he was about to suffer a beating at the hands of someone who’s performances he had admired greatly. Too cruel.
“Finch turned to Plummer, eyes ablaze, and in an instant the anger left his face, and the piercing knives of his eyes resolved into something impish and charming. “Thank fuck we got rid of her” he bellowed mellifluously, echoing off the empty street. He then whispered, “Let’s find a drink.” They [soon] became friends.
“I loved working with Chris on The Insider. He was just so impressive. It was a travesty that his role didn’t receive an Academy Award nomination because everyone talked about and knew that it was [one] of a handful of truly formidable performances that year.
“We worked together again on A Beautiful Mind. Occasionally we would spend time together after work. He preferred one on one — a good drink, not just any drink. I appreciated his candor and wisdom.
“As actors do in the big circles we swing around, and we fell out of touch. I reached out to him in 2012 after he won his Academy Award to say ‘on behalf of Finch and I, welcome to the club.’ He laughed.
“Rest In Peace, Mr. Plummer.”