In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, David Fincher’s adaptation of the Swedish thriller, veteran Canadian actor Christopher Plummer plays Henrik Vanger, patriarch of a troubled family still haunted by the disappearance of a young woman years before.
Had you already read the Stieg Larsson books when you were approached to play Vanger?
No, I was approached first and then I read them. I read all three; I think it only took me 10 days, they were so riveting. And then I thought, yes, I am playing the only nice guy in this whole outfit. Why not?
He is the only nice guy, but the audience doesn’t know that. How do you keep up the suspense?
David [Fincher]is very good at making red herrings. You sort of suspect everyone. He is very good at keeping that going; even better than the book. You sort of get the message [in the book]that Vanger is a sweet old guy. I thought it was wonderful what Fincher did making it all so restless and uneasy from the word go, helped enormously by that extraordinary score that gave it that extra pulse of spookiness.
And for your own performance, was there something you had to telegraph about Vanger?
The only thing one really had to telegraph was the feeling of a once very powerful man. And that power is sometimes mistaken for wheeling and dealing, and surreptitious behaviour. And, of course, being a powerful man he is quite comfortable in other respects. He has time for a little humour, thank God, in a piece in which there wasn’t much humour. So that was what I concentrated on.
Tell me what you are up to at the Stratford Festival this summer, A Word or Two ?
I am diving in with yet another one-man show. It is all about the literature I have loved all my life and how each work influenced me from youth to middle age and so on. I love it because it gives me a chance to do a lot of poetry and prose that people have not seen me do. It’s a literary autobiography. Hopefully, if it works, one might bring it into New York for a brief run.
You have performed Prospero in The Tempest . That’s the farewell role ...
I quickly killed that by doing Barrymore.
But I was wondering if you plan to return to other Shakespearean roles?
I don’t know if there are many left that are that suitable or exciting. I don’t know about Falstaff.
I don’t see you as Falstaff.
I don’t either. The padding would have to be very clever; some new invention of a cooling system would have to put in. There are other things to do; there’s Molière. I am determined to go on. I am not going to retire.
Do you prefer the theatre to film?
Nothing can replace a live audience. The public is your partner. A lot of people think you have to play straight to your leading lady and never take in the fact there’s an audience. How wrong! It is so exciting to bounce off an audience – if things are going well. If things are going badly, they are the first to tell you.
There’s no net.
No. Except, of course with film, if it’s bad, it’s immortalized. At least in the theatre you can sort of get away from it.
You sometimes complain that you can’t escape Captain von Trapp from The Sound of Music .
Yes, I do. It always comes up. It’s ancient history.
It must have been one of the first movies I ever saw as a little girl and I was terrified of him; he kept yelling and blowing a whistle.
I wish I had been more horrible, and turned it into a horror movie.
And how long will you be at Stratford?
Only five weeks. I can’t spend too long there any more. It is a long haul and if you do it in the prime of the summer, it has a much more positive feel than working late there. It’s a long trip to ask people to take. For a long time I have wished Stratford would find a Toronto home.
Rather than going to Broadway?
I think you could do both. A whole section of other plays and performances could be organized freshly, so you are not stuck with the same season all the way through. I don’t know what I am talking about, but I always thought it should have a metropolitan home base.
Perhaps you’d like to take on the artistic director’s job, when Des McAnuff leaves?
No. Thank you very much.
I am enjoying myself thoroughly in my old age. I seem to be working more than I have in years. I am not going to run away from that.