In ‘Golden’ Times

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by Susan King, Times staff writer ~

There is a genuine warmth, affection and playfulness between Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer as they relax in Plummer’s dressing room at CBS Television City in Los Angeles. The two have just completed a long day’s rehearsal for a new production of “On Golden Pond,” which is to be telecast live Sunday on CBS. (The play will be seen tape-delayed on the West Coast.)

The performers will be known forever, of course, for their romantic roles as Maria and Captain Von Trapp in the Oscar-winning 1965 musical, “The Sound of Music.” The years have been kind to both actors, who continue to work on a regular basis. Andrews, 65, possesses a peaches and cream complexion and is gracious to a fault. Plummer, a robust 73, is still strikingly handsome with his gray hair and mustache.

“What is exciting for me is working with Chris again,” says Andrews, sipping on a cup of tea. “It’s a lovely thing.”

The actors have remained close over the years. Plummer worked with Andrews’ husband, director Blake Edwards, on 1974’s “Return of the Pink Panther.”

“We haven’t seen an awful lot of each other because our homes are dotted all over the joint,” says Plummer. “We remain friends–thank God–and it’s easy to catch up the moment we see each other again.”

“I actually feel every time we meet …,” says Andrews.

“… there isn’t a gap at all,” says Plummer, finishing her sentence. “We worked so hard on that film in Austria.”

“But, we had a good time,” offers Andrews.

“Yes, we did,” Plummer adds with a warm smile.

“On Golden Pond” is a reunion not only for Andrews and Plummer, but also for its author, Ernest Thompson, and the telecast’s executive producer, Craig Anderson. Anderson produced and directed the original off-Broadway production of Thompson’s play in 1978, as well as its Broadway and touring productions. Thompson is directing this adaptation. Martin Pasetta Jr. is the technical director.

Originally, this production of “On Golden Pond” was to be performed live in front of an audience on a CBS soundstage. “We have discarded that idea due to the fact it’s a little too complicated,” says Anderson. “We needed to really concentrate. We are using eight to 10 cameras. Even though this is a representation of the play, it’s going to look like a movie. We will be able to do close-ups. We’ll travel with the actors.”

Anderson doesn’t believe doing “On Golden Pond” live is a gimmick; rather, it’s combining the best of the stage and TV mediums.

Thompson says this version will be vastly different in tone and style from the 1981 film that starred Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda in their Oscar-winning roles as Ethel and Norman Thayer, a long-married couple who return to their summer home in Maine and reflect on their dreams, relationships and mortality.

“It is possible to interpret ‘On Golden Pond’ on a much more superficial and sentimental, valentine-like level,” says Thompson. “What I am hoping to do is to go for the dysfunction and the anger and the pain that lies beneath the surface.”

Thompson also promises this “Pond” will be quite romantic. “Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews are two awfully vibrant and sexy actors. I am really suggesting there is a lot of passion on this lake. I like to call it ‘On Golden Porn.’ ”

Andrews and Plummer erupt into gales of laughter over the ribald reference.

“Oh, that stinker,” says Andrews. “What’s he up to? Chris’ character keeps trying to go on the make of his wife and she’s not having anything to do with it most of the time.”

Andrews pauses for a moment, adding: “Would Norman have helped himself to Viagra? Probably not.”

“Like some of us, I don’t think he needs it,” Plummer retorts.

“He’s a real old …,” Andrews says.

“… raunchy fellow,” interrupts Plummer. “That’s the way I am playing it.”

“What is wonderful is that it says a great deal about the play,” says Andrews. “It’s open for interpretation. This is just a take on it, which is lovely for us.”

“There are some good battle scenes between us,” offers Plummer. “We really do go at each other. Some are terribly funny as well.”

“For me,” says Andrews, “it’s a wonderful break from that sweetness and light image [of “The Sound of Music”].”

Plummer adds: “We are both feisty and curmudgeons.”

“On Golden Pond” airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on CBS. The network has rated it TV-14-L (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with an advisory for language).


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