Plummer Launches a 'Counterstrike'

Jerry Gladman is the television columnist for the Toronto Sun

"Doing a TV series is bad news, I think, for someone like me. You get so terribly identified with only one role you can't be taken seriously as an actor. I think when IUm old and gray and with my career behind me, maybe that's the time to do a series."

Christopher Plummer laughed good-naturedly as those words, uttered years before he even considered doing something called "Counterstrike," were flung, unceremoniously, back at him.

"Well, I am getting gray, I suppose," said the actor best known for playing Capt. Von Trapp in "The Sound of Music." "I am 60, so I guess 60 is OK for this. But I don't know that my whole career is behind me just yet. There's still a bit more to do."

However, Plummer, whose first TV series premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on the USA Network, recalls making the statement and the reason for it.

"Someone had asked me several years back if I would do a TV series. I remembered doing a play with old friend Raymond Massey in 1958 in New York. At the end, he went off to do Dr. Kildare and became a series actor. It was a big success for Pappy (Massey). But he was pushing 70 so it was OK. And that's where I got the idea from for that quote."

The truth is that neither age nor a dwindling career-which is anything but-played heavily upon Plummer's decision to take up regular residence on the small box. It was the deal, plain and simple.

"It was a wonderful deal. I work only 40 days a year. Forty days! I still have time to do a play or movies or whatever I want. With this kind of a situation I can't say IUm lumbered with a series.

"The producers were very generous to me both financially and in time. Initially, I didn't want to do it. But they kept after me and kept bettering the deal. They wound up cutting it down in time for the same money, which is fantastic."

But Plummer said there were other factors. "I didn't just do it for the money or the schedule. I liked the concept very much. I knew potentially it had some interesting possibilities. I'm a baby in the field of TV series, but I could tell this one was very promising.'

"Counterstrike," produced by a Toronto compay, follows the exploits of an elite crime-fighting trio headed by a brilliant, eccentric billionaire (Plummer). His co-stars are Simon MacCorkindale ("Falcon Crest"), Cyrielle Claire ("Sword Of Gideon") and Stephen Shellen ("Casual Sex").

Plummer says he likes his character very much for its colors and the texture he may be able to bring to it.

"He's an eccentric, sort of a rich tycoon who gives up his burning desire for money and power after his wife is kidnapped. He begins bringing terrorists and criminals to justice, often by taking the law into his own hands. During it all, he still wants desperately to find his wife, whom he believes is still alive.

"It's not a new story, of course. But I knew I could bring a different sort of creature to the screen than you usually see. I can give him a kind of overbearing authority that has a lot of energy to it. Also, his humor is cryptic and edgy, which could be fun."

His co-stars will jet off to Paris to shoot additional sequences, but Plummer says he will remain behind. "This is convenient for me, but it's good they're going to Europe. Unlike most series, this one will have an international flavor to it."

The script wasn't changed to accommodate him. The original story had his character as a man who was crippled in an accident and worked primarily out of his high-tech headquarters aboard a plane.

"Since you only see him in his office or on a TV screen from the other end, it would have been foolish to send me all around the world."

Plummer says he has no intentions of being idle while his cohorts are abroad. "I have several things I want to do, including a miniseries I'm co-producing ("no details; bad luck') and there are several plays I want to do (one of which is a new London stage version of 'Moby Dick')."

And he says he would like one day to do a project with his actress-daughter, Amanda Plummer (most recently Benny's girlfriend Alice on "L.A. Law"). "I was against acting with her when she was first becoming a hot star, after 'Agnes of God' (on Broadway). I thought it would be exploitive and awful at that time. But years have passed and I would love to do something with her now if we could find the right property."

Meanwhile, Plummer, who has resisted being typecast as a Hollywood romantic lead by taking on a wide assortment of roles, says people always have been after him to do a series.

"It's not that I was against doing television, but I always felt a big hit series could hurt one's career. Think of someone like Telly Savalas, who had big talent but had a successful show. If he wanted to play Lear, he would still be seen as Kojak."

Plummer, who has done much theater, says he had to be particularly careful. "You didn't want to get tied into something where it's bye-bye to the freedom you need for a varied career like mine. You want to go on challenging yourself in the kinds of roles television doesn't offer."

The Toronto-born actor, who recently completed shooting a TNT movie, "Catherine The Young," in Leningrad, says his career plate is still fairly full and he'd like to keep it that way as long as possible.

"There is tons of stuff I still want to do. You hope you do get them in before you're too old or you run out of energy and ambition."

Then, smiling mischievously, he added: "And then, of course, you just do another television series."

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