Christopher Plummer to star as Holocaust survivor in Robert Lantos movie
By: Martin Knelman, The Toronto Star, Entertainment, Published on Wed Apr 30 2014
As soon as he read the unsolicited script by an unknown writer, Robert Lantos knew two things. First, it was the veteran Canadian producer’s destiny to make this movie, even though it would be tough to get it done. Two, Christopher Plummer, 84, was the only actor he wanted in the starring role.
The movie is called Remember and it’s about a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor named Zev who sets out to find and kill a Nazi war criminal named Rudy who was responsible for the murder of Zev’s family.
As Serendipity Point Films will announce on Wednesday, Atom Egoyan will direct, Plummer will star and the $13-million movie — produced by Robert Lantos and Ari Lantos, his son — will start principal photography in Toronto in mid-July and move during a seven-week shoot to various other locations in Ontario.
“I am looking forward immensely to working once again with Atom Egoyan and Robert Lantos, this time on a story which promises to be at once shocking, arresting and powerful beyond measure,” Plummer told the Star.
The last time the three collaborated was on Ararat (2002), about the extermination of Armenians in what is now Turkey at the end of the First World War.
As for the miracle of having a perfect script by a novice writer land unsolicited on his desk, the senior Lantos remarked the other night over dinner, “It’s never happened before in my 40-year career.”
He’d never heard of the writer: Benjamin August, a thirty-something novice from New Jersey who spent much of the past few years teaching English as a second language in Vietnam.
But Lantos read the script immediately, because it arrived with a note from his old friend Jeff Sagansky, formerly president of CBS Entertainment and co-president of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
“This is for you,” said the note.
As Sagansky recalled in a phone chat, he has known Lantos since the early 1990s, when Lantos — then running a film and TV empire at Alliance Entertainment — walked into Sagansky’s CBS office in Los Angeles and said he wanted to be the first Canadian producer to have a series on a U.S. network in prime time.
The result was Due South, written by Paul Haggis and starring Paul Gross, which began as a TV movie and segued into a weekly series that ran for four seasons on CBS.
Lantos knew immediately he wanted to make this movie and it was top priority, leaping ahead of other projects he was planning.
“If I thought this was like anything else I’ve ever seen I wouldn’t be making it. It’s not really a Holocaust movie. It’s about now. It’s about how history is connected.”
Sagansky is an executive producer of Remember.
But who would direct it?
“It smelled and felt like an Atom movie to me,” says Lantos.
Egoyan quickly signed on for his eighth collaboration with Lantos, reuniting six years after they last worked together on Adoration. Their partnership dates back to Cannes a quarter-century ago, when the two bonded and made a deal that paid off with premieres at Cannes and the Toronto International Film Festival, many prizes and an Oscar nomination for The Sweet Hereafter.
“What excites me about the script and makes it raw is that it’s a first generation story,” Egoyan said while preparing to leave for Cannes, where his latest movie will be one of three Canadian pictures in the main competition.
“This is probably the last time there can be a movie like Remember, because in a few years all the people involved will be dead,” Egoyan told me.
Zev is in the early stages of dementia when he realizes that the Auschwitz guard responsible for the murder of his family is still alive and has never been brought to justice. He learns what name this war criminal now uses and that he lives in U.S. But there are four people of that age with that name and he doesn’t know which one is the war criminal.
The rest of the movie is about Zev’s revenge mission.
“It’s a road movie about a 90-year-old armed with a gun he doesn’t know how to use and, given his failing memory, not always sure what he’s looking for,” says Lantos.
Lantos sent the script to Plummer, afraid that he might not be able to proceed if the offer was turned down by this great actor who has been a star of stage and screen for 60 years.
After just one week, Plummer signed on.
Another celebrated Hollywood veteran, Martin Landau, will play Zev’s adviser and companion, moving around in a wheelchair. Zev and his friend travel to various places in the U.S. in their quest.
The movie, a German co-production, also features Bruno Ganz, who played Hitler in the 2004 movie Downfall, Dean Norris (Breaking Bad) and Gunter Lamprecht (Das Boot).
“I wanted to shine a light on the fact that there are war criminals all around the world, not just Nazis, who have been able to evade justice and live a full life,” says screenwriter August. “And I wanted to create a lead role for an older actor. It’s a sad fact that there are few opportunities for starring roles for some of the greatest living actors.”
At 65, Lantos remains the godfather of Canadian movies in English. His long list of credits includes Joshua Then and Now, Black Robe, The Sweet Hereafter, Sunshine, Being Julia, Eastern Promises and Barney’s Version.
But Remember could turn out to be his crowning achievement.