Why Christopher Plummer is way more than a Spacey substitute

Story highlights

  • Christopher Plummer will be edited in over Kevin Spacey in the forthcoming Ridley Scott movie, after harassment allegations against Spacey
  • Gene Seymour: Plummer will be added as 'special effect,' but he shouldn't be an afterthought -- he's an octogenarian 'actor's actor' with a storied, sturdy career

Gene Seymour is a film critic who has written about music, movies and culture for The New York Times, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly and The Washington Post. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)So Christopher Plummer has simultaneously become the world's newest and oldest special effect. Plummer, an 87-year-old Oscar winner, is taking over for Kevin Spacey in the role of J. Paul Getty in Ridley Scott's forthcoming "All The Money In The World," about events surrounding the 1973 abduction of Getty's son.

The movie is to come out December 22. Nobody seems worried at the moment that it won't. That's the way it is with special effects -- in this case, superimposing Plummer's presence over Spacey's already-filmed sequences.
A series of allegations of sexual harassment against Spacey forced the change, which everybody seems to agree is both inspired and logical. A source told the Hollywood Reporter that Plummer was Scott's first choice to play the iconic billionaire, but that he was compelled to cast Spacey because the latter's name carried more box office clout.
    Did I mention that Plummer, like Spacey, won an Academy Award? And that Plummer, who's been on stage and screen for more than half a century, won his Oscar just five years ago, a Best Supporting Actor statuette for playing a septuagenarian who comes out as a gay man shortly before being diagnosed with terminal cancer.
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    Spacey, 58, who came out as gay right after the first allegation of sexual harassment was reported last month, won his Supporting Actor Oscar in 1996 for "The Usual Suspects" and a Best Actor Oscar four years later for "American Beauty."
    The comparisons above aren't important. But this is: Plummer SHOULD have been the original choice to play Getty, and all other considerations should have been eliminated at the start. And here is why:
    I know that most, if not all of you, know Plummer best -- perhaps solely -- as the brooding, strapping patriarch of the Von Trapp family in 1965's box office champ and boomer touchstone, "The Sound of Music." If that's all you know, you don't know Plummer.
    Did you know, for instance, that he's from Canada? Maybe you did. But did you also know he's been acting on stage in America since Eisenhower was president, making his New York Broadway debut in 1953? And that 20 years later, he gave a Tony-winning lead performance in the title role of "Cyrano: The Musical?" And won raves a few years later for his Iago, against James Earl Jones's Othello on Broadway?
    Of course you don't. All you hear is the song "Edelweiss" when you think of him -- and, by the way, that wasn't even his voice singing that song in the movie. (It was the late voice actor Bill Lee.)
    Plummer is what those in his profession label an "actor's actor," someone who is up for just about any role in any venue or medium. He's played everything from a slimy, shady priest in the 1987 movie parody of "Dragnet" to a slimy, shady corporate lawyer in 2005's "Syriana"; from Rudyard Kipling in 1979's "Murder by Decree" to Leo Tolstoy in 2009's "The Last Station;" from the Duke of Wellington in "Waterloo" to Mike Wallace in 1999's "The Insider."
    This doesn't even begin to mention the dozens of Shakespearean roles he's played on both sides of the Atlantic and the several dozen television shows he's worked on. Maybe if he'd done a commercial series, any series, on broadcast television here, Plummer would have been more of a household name. Instead, he's had one of the most enduring and sturdy careers of any actor in this century or the last.
    Now, he's an afterthought, a special effect. I'm guessing this doesn't bother him at all. Given his exemplary life and work, it should kind of bother the rest of us.