This past Sunday’s premiere of the jolly new Yuletide fable The Man Who Invented Christmas wasn’t supposed to be a mob scene. The fictionalized imagining of Charles Dickens’s creative process during his writing of A Christmas Carol is just the kind of sweet-hearted, kid-friendly release that does a relatively dialed-back version of the red-carpet treatment on a Sunday afternoon — the stars hang around for a few questions and a couple glasses of wine at the after-party, and everyone’s home by nine. But when star Christopher Plummer took to the photo pit, the assembled press exploded into a barrage of questioning that would be considered aggressive even in comparison to the usual fracas of 20 people all trying to get one man’s attention.
Plummer stars in The Man Who Invented Christmas as a hallucination of Ebenezer Scrooge sprung from Dickens’s subconscious, but on Sunday, his next gig was the subject of most interest. Plummer made headlines last week when he agreed to step in and replace Kevin Spacey as oil kajillionaire J. Paul Getty in Ridley Scott’s upcoming drama All the Money in the World, going into full-blown reshoots about a month and a half before the December 22 release. When he sat down with Vulture on Tuesday evening, Plummer was reticent to talk about his high-profile substitute job — as well as his unlikely second life as an online icon of resistance — but all too eager to chat about getting drunk on Christmas and seeing Pavarotti sing.
Ebenezer Scrooge is a rather classic character, already played by George C. Scott and Michael Caine. In what way does your performance diverge from what’s come before?
The character of Scrooge from Susan Coyne’s script is original because the dialogue comes from her and not Dickens himself. When you read his book, you can see her lines as they were actually written, and there you go. But most of this is conversation, modern-day conversation about how Scrooge can help one writer work through writer’s block. Dickens was entirely modern as a writer, his prose is proper, modern writing. His thoughts were far ahead of his time — his affectionate crusading for children in the workhouses, his work on the plight of those living on the street. He was a hero in how he wrote beautifully about them, without making a meal of it. He made it all so witty.
Did your background in Shakespeare come in handy for Scrooge’s ornate dialogue?
I think of being ornate as a Victorian quality, little to do with Shakespeare. But even Dickens wasn’t ornate, he wrote with flow and naturalism.
He wrote with economy.
As opposed to [William Makepeace] Thackeray, who was always much more flowery.
Were you raised on Dickens?
We used to listen to Lionel Barrymore do A Christmas Carol on the radio long ago, and I like Reginald Owen, who played Scrooge in the first treatment for the screen. But my favorite Scrooge was Alastair Sim. He was enchanting, an absolutely beautiful performance.
Do you get sentimental about Christmas, lots of fond memories?
Oh sure, all we did was drink and eat like mad! That was Christmas for us, and it continues to be that way for me. I can’t wait to sit down with the wine, Christmas turkey and stuffing, everything on the side. Maybe this year, I’ll imagine I’m Scrooge or Bob Cratchit.
One Christmas, we did start a fire that caught and started to envelop the living room, so we had to bring in hoses and hose it down. That was not the most pleasant time, but we all got so pie-eyed after, we still turned it into a good Christmas.
Both Dickens’s story and the film are all about redemption and forgiveness, which I think of as good Christian values.
Oh, I don’t have any religious beliefs. In Montreal, when I grew up, I’d go to the Notre-Dame Basilica, a gorgeous cathedral in town. I’d listen to huge symphony orchestras, Pavarotti singing operas, that was absolutely marvelous. I like that aspect of the cathedral, the spectacle.
Lately, the image of you tearing the Nazi flag in half as Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music has been shared around online as a symbol of resistance to fascism. Is this something you’re aware of? Are you at all flattered by it?
No, I wasn’t aware at all until you just told me. But I don’t find it all that flattering. I think that that’s kind of complacent. I certainly wasn’t asked, at least, nobody requested my permission to use it.
I’m curious, then, about your principles with regard to activism.
Oh, I don’t want to go into all that.
Of course, I’m also curious about your upcoming role in All the Money in the World — purely in terms of logistics and shooting schedules, how’s it all going to work?
[Chuckles.] Well, it’s going to have to work. There’s no other way out!
This interview has been edited and condensed.