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Christopher Plummer Says He'll Never Work With Terrence Malick Again, Says He Needs A Writer

by Kevin Jagernauth
January 23, 2012 12:58 PM
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The New World Christopher Plummer

While Terrence Malick's admirers and fans are numerous, his mercurial attitude, intuitive filmmaking style and free rein in the editing suite has also earned him his fair share detractors. Adrien Brody wasn't exactly pleased to learn his lead role had pretty much been reduced to nothing in "The Thin Red Line"; composer James Horner famously battled Malick during the making of "The New World" and recently, Sean Penn was a bit confused on what his role really meant in "The Tree Of Life" (though he still recommended and supported the film). Well, you can add one more actor to the list who doesn't exactly sing the praises of Terrence Malick.

“I love some of his movies very much,” Christopher Plummer said at the Newsweek awards season roundtable, “but the problem with Terry is he needs a writer, desperately. He insists on overwriting until it sounds terribly pretentious…and he edits his films in such a way that he cuts everyone out of them.”

"Terry gets terribly involved in poetic shots, which are gorgeous, they are paintings, all of them, but he gets lost in that and the stories get diffused," Plummer continued. "Particularly in 'The New World.' The first half hour of that film is sheer magic to look at…but then the story starts to [wander]."

"I was put in all sorts of different spots and suddenly my character was not in the scene that I thought I was in, in the editing room. It was very strange. It completely unbalances everything. And a very emotional scene that I had suddenly became background noise," Plummer said about his experience, adding that afterward, he wrote him a letter. “I gave him shit. I’ll never work with him again.”

This is hardly the first time Plummer, who plays Captain Newport in the film, has spoken out about his tough time shooing "The New World." He's previously said that Malick was more interested in shooting osprey than any actual scenes for the movie (a comparison he brings up again here). It's also interesting to see George Clooney, who featured in "The Thin Red Line," particularly enjoy Plummer's assessment of Malick.

Anyway, take a look at the full video below. Bonus: also included below that is Michael Fassbender's impression of Quentin Tarantino (it's towards the very end of that video).

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  • attal | April 19, 2013 10:51 PMReply

    i do not care what you say because i am the smartest person because i am the smartest person in the world.

  • Joe | December 19, 2012 12:31 PMReply

    "This whole roundtable discussion is incredibly patronising to someone who will arguably go down as one of Americas greatest film directors"

    Please! Malick is overrated as hell, pretentious and boring. His films are weird, boring, tepid, and pretentious as hell.

  • david | November 28, 2012 6:12 PMReply

    This whole roundtable discussion is incredibly patronising to someone who will arguably go down as one of Americas greatest film directors... Whilst we can all understand the incredible sacrifices of psychological suffering actors flagellate themselves with on a daily (well not daily like most individuals work but you know what I mean) basis - if as George Clooney amusing recites their part gets left on the cutting room floor because the Auteur requires it thus.... tough shit.... you got paid, you did your work, it wasn't used, be a man not an ego and deal with it. Many places of work their is a general level of respect for the head honcho that generally you respect their decisions or disagree with them quietly in your own mind. That this profession see fit to disrespect someone at the top of his art is such a laughably puerile way merely shows themselves up as a bunch of gossiping school children whilst Mr Malicks work speaks for itself.

  • carlos | January 30, 2012 10:09 AMReply

    there are no rules in cinema. who says you even need a story?

  • Dan | January 28, 2012 5:04 PMReply

    TTRL was a masterpiece -- I have to watch it at least once or twice
    a year. Malick fell down with Tree of Life -- though I wasn't expecting
    another TTRL, it just left me thinking but definitely not satisfied and
    wondering if he made the kind of mistakes that Plummer discusses.

  • Ian | January 26, 2012 12:57 PMReply

    The actors are tools for the director. They aren't supposed to worry about how it comes together, or what they 'thought' a scene would look like. Their job is to learn their lines and trust the director. / This is a clear example of relativity in the film world, as you have admirers (often the actors themselves) coming into it knowing full well that the result will be something beautiful, yet their arrogance takes over and spoils their experience. It's the actors/collaborators who truly surrender that understand Malick.

  • Huffy | January 25, 2012 8:12 AMReply

    I don't necessarily agree with Plummer but The Tree of Life, while quite good and masterfully directed, definitely isn't as focused as it could have been and suffers because of it. I think that Sean Penn really nailed the film vs. the script.
    In any case Plummer has earned the right to say whatever the hell he wants to say and without getting shit on for it, especially by people on the internet who have never even seen Malick talk much less worked with him.

  • buntyhoven | January 23, 2012 5:40 PMReply

    It's really about ego. Plummer was full of praise for Malick here:

    Of course, the film comes out and he finds out that many of his scenes have been cut, so he reacts badly. That's fine - but this "Malick needs a writer" stuff is bullshit. He's made five astonishing auteurist masterpieces. The last thing he needs is John Logan or Akiva Goldsman or someone writing reams of exposition scenes for him.

  • caro | January 24, 2012 5:42 AM

    it's probably because Plummer and Clooney have more ego than you thought and Bale has less ego than we think

  • buntyhoven | January 23, 2012 6:21 PM

    Plummer's delivery is funny, though. Kind of expected him to finish it with "Me and Malick, we're fucking done professionally." Speaking of which, it's interesting that Bale, one of the most notoriously mental actors out there, seems to have become Malick's muse. And also surprising to see Clooney join the pile on. From what I previously understood, Clooney was just glad to be there when TTRL was being made - at the time, he was Dr. Doug Ross and the shittiest Batman. Now he makes it seem like he was "glad to be cut".

  • Ryan Sartor | January 23, 2012 4:21 PMReply

    Plummer's earned the right to his opinion. Hell, everybody has. Malick defenders should read "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls."

  • Cde. | January 24, 2012 6:26 PM

    Nothing in that book makes me rethink my position here.

  • Knative | January 23, 2012 4:08 PMReply

    I like when actors badmouth people they've worked with.
    I did not like Tree of Life, and for the reasons this dude speaks of.

  • matt | January 23, 2012 3:44 PMReply

    while I agree wholeheartedly with Mr Plummer on Malick desperately needing a writer, I never get why people keep using that A. Brody story from Thin Red Line as some sort of cautionary tale. IMO Caviezel did excellent work in the movie, definitely miles ahead of anything he's done since. Some people have a hard time accepting the final cut, and always seem to believe that the version that was edited out would've been better than what was released.

  • anonymouse | January 23, 2012 8:16 PM

    i think the issue people take with The Thin Red Line are typically actors warning other actors about the dangers of being in a Malick film and not the quality of the films. Caviezel deserves all the praise in the world for his performance in it, as well as Malick for shifting the focus of the film for the better, imo (i've read the screenplay). however, it was still a dickish move on the filmmakers part not to inform Brody he was nearly excised completely from the film he was contracted as lead in.

  • caro | January 23, 2012 3:20 PMReply

    with all my respect for Plummer(i hope he will win Oscar this year) and Clooney,there is more ideas in ONE shot of Malick's movies than all Clooney movies
    i can say it even if i was pretty confused by TREE OF LIFE

  • tristan eldritch | January 23, 2012 3:17 PMReply

    Mixed feelings about this. I think its completely wrong to say, on principle, that film-makers have to observe basic story-telling structure - it really depends on the film and the director. (Wasn't there some little movement in Europe in the fifties and sixties called "art cinema"?)
    I think its fair to say that there is a certain amount of actors ego involved in this. Surely actors have to accept from the get-go that they go to a film-set, do their work, get paid, and after that the movie is entirely the director's baby, hell or high water? Unless they're doubling up as producer, they can't expect even a remote input into what gets left in or out of the final product. Plummer is a towering talent, no doubt, but you can't help but go Boo-hoo! when he talks about his big powerful speech becoming background noise.

    And Clooney should definitely keep a lid on it here. I'd rather watch Malick at his most meandering and ill-focused than middle of the road shit like Ides of March.

  • Mo | January 23, 2012 4:52 PM

    Actors have a right to get upset. They're asked to work on a film based on a specific, promised role in a script (and let's be real here - most studio films are funded based on the cast).
    If you have no intention of honoring that promise, then just say so. Don't be a coward and leave it to the Press or your producers to break the bad news to your lead actor, ala Adrien Brody, that he was cut out of the film.
    Try working on a brilliant film and being treated like cattle. You'll pick average from then on just so you won't want to kill yourself or the director.

  • M.M.S | January 23, 2012 4:23 PM

    Indeed, very well said.

  • Ryan Sartor | January 23, 2012 4:19 PM

    I did not like The Ides of March the first tike I saw it. What it again. The screenplay is TIGHT.

  • Cde. | January 23, 2012 3:51 PM

    Well said. Especially the Ides dig.

  • Chrs | January 23, 2012 2:21 PMReply

    Look at those Hollywood hacks mocking Terry Malick. How sad. Wish Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling or Brad Pitt were there to stand up for one of the most unique artistic voices of cinema. Idiots.

  • Wash | January 23, 2012 1:36 PMReply

    Catering to actor's egos? Malick needs to cater to basic storytelling structure that has been around for hundreds of thousands of years. The guy can't put together three coherent cuts in a row. Being able to ignore basic storytelling rules doesn't make someone a "visionary", it makes them ignorant.

  • StephenM | January 23, 2012 3:50 PM

    I can definitely understand critics of Malick finding him pretentious and unmoving--those are matters of taste and emotional connection that just vary from person to person. But the number of people who persist in thinking his cutting is formless and unmotivated continues to astound me. Just check out the essay here for a glimpse into how dense, controlled, and sophisticated The New World's opening sequence is:
    ....Storytelling structure has been around for thousands of years, and it has been modified, subverted, rearranged, and deconstructed for just as long. You don't have to have anything against traditional stories to appreciate artists who attempt to go against the grain and do something different.

  • Cde. | January 23, 2012 3:49 PM

    Wash, you're forgetting that Terrence Malick made Badlands.
    He is not ignorant. He knew all the guidelines of conventional story structure before he started to break them.
    As Tristan Eldritch says, he's an art filmmaker. He can do what he wants.

  • AdamA | January 23, 2012 1:35 PMReply

    He's only echoing what a lot of people who have worked with Malick before have said. One would think actors know what they are signing up for when they sign on to a Malick film. The chance that you could be edited out of the film are quite high.....

  • Jbean | January 23, 2012 1:17 PMReply

    Fuck Plummer....its not his movie....Malick is the visionary...I'm glad he doesn't cater to actor's egos and all this bullshit.....btw...New World was a masterpiece...all of it

  • Zinjo | January 27, 2012 7:54 PM

    OK, let's recap the careers of both on IMDB.

    Malick - professionally directing - started 1969
    Plummer- professionally acting - started 1953

    Plummer has been around for 16 years LONGER than Malick. I tend to agree with those who feel Plummer has a right to say whatever the hell he wants about any director.

    There is this thing called "Creative Limitation" that appears to have been lost in this age of CG possibilities and it is sad. Mainly because such a limitation forces creative people to be even MORE creative in their story telling. Clearly Malick needs to rediscover that...

    The reasons why we love tight, well paced indie films is the same reason we hate bloated Hollywood tent pole films. Too much money does not make for a better film. Neither does unfettered control over a project.

  • Mo | January 23, 2012 5:14 PM

    Only on the internet can you get away with saying that to someone you don't (likely) really know.
    On the other hand, Plummer actually knows Malick, because he's worked with him and by now, probably also the better half of Hollywood.
    So Plummer can say whatever Plummer damn well pleases.

  • Will | January 23, 2012 1:22 PM

    [steps away from JBEAN very, very slowly...]

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