'Right now, speaking as an American, we are lacking compassion'
Too much fame, too young, that has been a problem for young actors too – but the articulate, polite Charlie Plummer is unlikely to spin off the rail
Actor Charlie Plummer: Next week you can see him shine in Andrew Haigh’s wonderful ‘Lean on Pete’. Photograph: Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images
Charlie Plummer in a scene from ‘Lean on Pete’
Right now, some old jerk is somewhere complaining that younger people communicate only through grunts and emojis. Old jerks have been doing this since the Reformation. Such folk should be put in a room with Charlie Plummer for half an hour or so.
Suddenly in all the right places, the young actor – still at least two years from boozing age in most US states – buzzes with articulate energy and interest.
We speak in early October. Plummer was then known for a juvenile role in Boardwalk Empire and, among the cognoscenti, a stunning turn in Felix Thompson’s tense indie King Jack.
“Oh you saw that? Thanks,” he says. “That was like all my films. Only 10 people see them, but that’s all right. That was my first lead role and Felix Thompson was an amazing guys.”
The situation has since changed. Over Christmas, Plummer, blonde and fine-featured, appeared as the kidnapped John-Paul Getty III in Ridley Scott’s entertaining All the Money in the World. Next week you can see him shine in Andrew Haigh’s wonderful Lean on Pete. The adaption of Willy Vlautin’s novel casts Plummer as a troubled kid accompanying an elderly racehorse across the US. I bet acting with horses is no joke.
“They are kind and loving creatures,” Plummer says. “But they are also really smart. If you are intimidated they’ll spot that and they’ll take advantage of it. They demand that you be confident. As an acting partner they are honest and they demand honesty from you. If they do something spontaneous then you have to go along with it.”
You have to learn to improvise with a horse?
“Yes. They’re flight animals and if they get spooked you can be in trouble.”
Lean on Pete is among a number of recent films – Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky springs to mind – that have accidentally become about Trump Country. Conceived long before the 2016 election, Haigh’s follow-up to his excellent 45 Years has much to do with the excluded blue-collar citizens of “flyover” America.
“The story is so much about kindness and compassion,” Plummer says. “Right now, speaking as an American, I think that is something we are lacking.”
Oddly, our conversation then continues without mentioning President Trump by name. He is very real. He is also a ghost at too many feasts.
“As soon as that guy got elected, everyone I knew pretty much was heartbroken,” Charlie says. “And anybody in the arts registered that the next four years at least would reflect the times. How harsh they are. How ugly it all is. And this film, in its quiet way, does that. It shines a light on an environment and on a group of guys who might have contributed to this man’s success. But it’s not trying to pit anybody against anybody else.”
“When I was growing up my parents never thought I would be an actor,” he says. “They know how hard it is. I was also really shy growing up. I was nine or 10 and did this community theatre play. Something there connected with me.”
His earliest ambitions were to work on Broadway.
“My manager always brings up this fact that when I was 10 and first met her I said I never want to do movies and TV,” he laughs.
He’s not complaining about how things worked out. The role on Boardwalk Empire introduced him to Steve Buscemi, his co-star in Lean on Pete, and helped instil the disciplines of the sound stage. He admits that, being able to put “from Boardwalk Empire” in his CV was useful “even if I was barely in it”.
The really challenge came with King Jack in 2015. Plummer’s role as a teenager facing up to bullying secured the interest of all the casting agents that mattered. Other actors noticed as well.
“My favourite actor is Mark Rylance, ” he says. “My friend Barry Keoghan was in Dunkirk and he talks a lot about him. Barry had seen King Jack actually. He reached out to me and told me how much he liked it. I had seen ‘71 and I told him how much I liked him in that. We connected over that and we hung out over the summer.”
Olummer goes on to explain that he is partly responsible for the Dubliner’s vowels in The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
“He plays a lot of baddies. Ha ha!” he says. “It was funny. When I was doing Lean on Pete he was doing Sacred Deer, and he got me to record my accent so he could use that when working on his for Sacred Deer. Isn’t that funny?”
Last year’s London Film Festival was a very strange business. The Weinstein scandal broke in the middle and, as a result, interviews carried out in the early stages have a very different character to those carried out at the close. As we speak, we have no idea that the walls are about to come down and that Christopher Plummer (no relation, alas) will soon replace Kevin Spacey in All The Money in the World.
“He was so much a part of the pop culture and the political culture,” Plummer says of the younger Getty. “Then this awful thing happened. Even after he was released he slipped into drugs more heavily. He overdosed and then was a quadriplegic for the rest of his life.”
Too much fame, too young. That has been a problem for young actors too. But I just can’t imagine the articulate, polite Plummer spinning off the rails.
“I think we are now more aware of that,” he says. “You look at those actors who’ve passed away at a young age or had a real struggle. You know the dangers.”
FIVE GREAT MOVIE HORSES
The depression-era racehorse was the subject of two biopics: The Story of Seabiscuit (1949) and Seabiscuit (2003)
The Black Stallion
Hero of the terrific eponymous 1970 film by Carroll Ballard. Features Mickey Rooney’s best late role.
The horse who, during the first World War, passes through several hands in Steven Spielberg’s unfairly maligned War Horse (2011)
Poor Khartoum. Seen briefly in his prime during the Godfather (1972). Best remembered as a head a bed,
Lean on Pete
An aging racehorse gets a chance at freedom in Andrew Haigh’s lovely drama.