‘Lean on Pete’ a breakthrough for actor Charlie Plummer

The 18-year-old has appeared in a series of intense dramas but hopes to lighten up his work going forward

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Charlie Plummer is still waiting for his romantic comedy.

“You’re talking to a guy who’s favorite movie is ‘Hitch’ with Will Smith,” says the young actor, on the phone earlier this month from Los Angeles. “I’m hoping for something along those lines, someday. I hope soon!”

Charlie Plummer, 18: “It’s an important thing, especially for people of my generation, who are going to exist and be a part of this business for their entire lives, being able to see everything that happens behind the scenes,”

So far Plummer has been landing roles in tough, hardened dramas, several worlds away from “Hitch.” Despite being drawn to dark roles, Plummer doesn’t come across as mopey or brooding, and lights up when talking about sharing a birthday with Bob Dylan.

Dark is definitely a descriptor for “Lean on Pete,” which opens Friday and stars Plummer as a down-on-his-luck teenager who befriends an equally downtrodden racehorse. Plummer carries the film, a heavy-duty drama that packs a hearty emotional gut punch.

“Lean on Pete” is a breakthrough for Plummer, who is of no relation to acting legend Christopher Plummer, thank you for asking, although the veteran actor did play his grandfather in last year’s “All the Money in the World.”

Plummer was born to theater parents — mom is an actress, dad is a director — who together ran a Shakespeare festival in New York’s Hudson Valley.

At 12, Plummer’s father took him to see Mark Rylance perform in “Jerusalem” on Broadway, “and it just changed everything for me,” Plummer says. He went back to see it again the next night with his mother.

“I had never seen an actor do what he did,” says Plummer, who turns 19 next month. “And I think the reason why is because he was himself, and he really enjoyed every moment of it. Even though it is such a sad story, there really was that playfulness behind it that made it so a 12-year-old could connect with the performance, and an 80-year-old could probably connect with the performance in the same way. Seeing that was such an inspiring thing for me as a young actor and it pushed me into knowing what I wanted to do.”

Charlie Plummer stars in "Lean on Pete."

Around that same time, Plummer appeared in eight episodes of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” which he followed with a small role in David Chase’s 2012 drama “Not Fade Away.” In 2016, he landed his first starring role in “King Jack,” in which he played a bullied teen, and in “All the Money in the World,” he played John Paul Getty III, whose kidnapping set the plot in motion.

“All the Money in the World” marked Plummer’s first big studio film, and its troubled post-production — from the replacement of Kevin Spacey to the controversy over Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams’ subsequent reshoot salaries — taught Plummer a valuable lesson about the Hollywood machine.

“It was wild,” says Plummer, whose thin frame and mop of blonde hair recalls a young Thurston Moore. When Spacey was replaced from the film following accusations of sexual misconduct, Plummer recalls talking about the incident to his veteran publicist, who told him he had never experienced anything similar in his career. And here it was happening to Plummer on his first go-round.

“It’s an important thing, especially for people of my generation, who are going to exist and be a part of this business for their entire lives, being able to see everything that happens behind the scenes,” Plummer says. “I could have been really upset, but I have an appreciation for it now. I think everyone did their best with the situation, and I feel really happy to be a part of it. For these things to come out will hopefully, in the future, force these things to change. And to have that be my movie that kind of, in a backwards way, forced that to happen is a really wonderful thing.”

In “Lean on Pete,” all the drama is on-screen. Plummer felt the weight of the project when he read the script, and as filming took place — the movie was shot almost entirely in sequence — Plummer says he had to forget how devastating it was as a whole and take things day-by-day.

“For the character, it’s like all of these things are happening to him throughout the course of the film, and it’s like he’s holding his breath and finally, at the end of the film, he’s able to exhale and take a deep breath for the first time,” he says. “For me, it was a similar experience, where it didn’t hit me until that final day. When we finally wrapped, it all just collapsed on me.”

For Plummer — who is currently filming “Gully,” about a trio of teens running wild in a dystopian L.A. — managing the emotional heft of “Lean on Pete” with the day-to-day baggage of filming illustrates the harmony he strives to achieve between his career and home life.

“To be able to balance work with your family and friends and home and that stuff too, if I can find a balance between those things, I’ll be very very happy,” he says. “I also want to be able to take a deep breath in and get to work with everyone I admire. If I can do that? Man, I will be the luckiest person on the planet.”


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‘Lean on Pete’

Rated R for language and brief violence

Running time: 122 minutes

Opens Friday