This is a Christopher Plummer interview without any questions about "The Sound of Music." Not that the veteran stage and screen actor would have minded talking about Captain Von Trapp, but he has more pressing items at hand. His one-man show "A Word or Two" at the Ahmanson Theatre opens Wednesday, and each performance requires him to command the stage for nearly an hour and a half.
The show, which previously ran at the Stratford Festival in Canada, is a literary stroll through works by the actor's favorite writers. The last time Plummer was at the Ahmanson was in 1998 for "Barrymore." The 2012 screen adaptation of "Barrymore," with Plummer reprising his Tony Award-winning role, will air on PBS starting Jan. 31.
The Ahmanson is a big theater — does that worry you for a one-man show?
No, not at all. I was there before in "Barrymore" — which was a one-and-a-half-man show — and it worked perfectly. We didn't even have to close off the balcony. I thought we could have stayed three more weeks on that tour.... I'm not afraid of the theater not being intimate. I found it to be intimate when playing "Barrymore." It's a well-built theater. There's some big stuff in the show, vocally. It's intimate up to a point. Then suddenly you're doing a long speech from the Bible or [George Bernard] Shaw, and then you have to project in a different way. So you need the space.
Do you do vocal warm-ups before you go on stage?
I don't think it's necessary because I open the show with something large, big, and it hopefully hits them right away. So that's my workout. You can use the big speeches as a workout. If I have a cold, which I hopefully won't get, then I will warm up. I go all over the place — that's the point of the piece — the color and the music of words that have guided me all my life.
How long have you been doing this show?
I'd done it over the years at different venues and charities. I'd never earned any money on it. A cycstic fibrosis benefit, for example. An event for world literacy, which was perfect. It worked, and I continued to put it together. We did it in Stratford last year and I asked Des [McAnuff] to come along as director -- I needed someone out in front. He gave me a lovely set and he made a great production out of it.
Why did you want to bring the show to L.A.?
I wanted to do it again. And I couldn't find anything in New York — or any producer who didn't want a long run out of it. I was like, come on, guys, it's not that kind of a show anyway. It's not a blockbuster. I speak for an hour and 25 minutes without stopping. And I'm getting on, guys. I can get tired — and I didn't want that to happen. It's all on me to keep the energy going. Five performances is my limit per week. And they're doing that for me here.
A lot of actors doing theater in L.A. shoot TV or movies during the day and perform on stage at night. Are you doing that?
No. Those days are gone. I couldn't possibly do that. I don't know how we did it in the old days. Especially in England, where we would shoot TV during the day and did theater at night. But we did it.
Where did your love of reading come from?
I came from an Anglo family who were well educated and loved to read. And that inspired me. They made me read — thank God. They taught me what fun reading could be. We used to read aloud after dinner — it was a lovely custom that made me want to be an actor because I could perform when it came to be my turn.
At this period in your life, what are you reading most?
My wife is the voracious reader. I read her castoffs. I'm going back and rereading things that I love. One of my favorites is [Vladimir] Nabokov — nobody writes like him. It wasn't even his first language. He could make fun of English grammar. I once played him in a PBS special — I don't think anyone understood it. It kind of disappeared. But it was great to play him and I think I got his voice. He had a distinct way of speaking, a strange mixture of British and totally middle European. A wild mixture. So I put it in this show. I do bits of Nabokov.