Christopher Plummer certainly doesn’t have the title role in “Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight,” but he has as much of the spotlight.
The “Beginners” Oscar winner is a pivotal player in the true HBO drama premiering Saturday, Oct. 5. Directed by Stephen Frears (“The Queen”), the film recalls the early 1970s deliberations by Supreme Court justices when iconic boxer Ali wanted his case heard after he was banned from the sport for being a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War.
Plummer plays Justice John Harlan II, whose mind met those of such legends as Warren E. Burger (Frank Langella) and Thurgood Marshall (Danny Glover) in debating how to proceed. Offered the Burger role first, Plummer considers himself “so lucky” things evolved as they did.
“When the fellow who was playing Harlan fell out, I grabbed it as quickly as I could. He was the one character, of the justices, who got to show something of his life as a caring person. The others were all business, though I thought this was very well written by Shawn Slovo. I was treated to a nice, rounded character who had a beginning, middle and end.”
Indeed, Harlan copes with cancer while attending to his job and helping his increasingly infirm wife (stage veteran Kathleen Chalfant). The script also details his new clerk’s (Benjamin Walker) opposing view of the Ali matter.
“It’s a dry subject, as far as the justices are concerned,” Plummer reflects to Zap2it, “and to get some relief and variety into the piece, (Frears) really threw himself into the character of Harlan. It has to be talky, but I think Stephen did a great job. He moved it along with great speed.”
Also the owner of an Emmy (for “The Moneychangers”) and two Tony Awards, Plummer – whose many other movies include “The Sound of Music” and “Somewhere in Time” – allows “there isn’t an awful lot about Harlan when you try to do research on him. It’s because he was such a private person, I guess, but he was a flexible conservative. He listened to people, at least.”