Christopher Plummer has become synonymous with playing real people — from the hunky Austrian captain that started it all to his last-minute portrayal of J. Paul Getty that earned him quite possibly the quickest Golden Globe nomination in history. His next project is a starring role in Boundaries, an indie dramedy that chronicles an estranged father-and-daughter as they’re forced to drive across the country — with a grandson and several rescue dogs in tow.
The flick, which also stars Vera Farmiga as Plummer’s headstrong daughter and Bobby Cannavale as her adorably frustrating ex-husband, is ripped straight from the upbringing of writer-director Shana Feste. Feste, who also helmed 2010’s Country Strong, among others, modeled the story of Plummer and Farmiga after her own relationship with her father, and Boundaries‘ journey from her memory to the big screen is one almost as wild as what happened to All the Money in the World. (We said almost.)
EW sat down with the director to get the real-life tale behind Plummer’s entertainingly devious character firsthand. Below, she shares every hilarious detail, in her own words:
“I was really interested in directing a comedy but I knew that no one would see Country Strong and think, offer Shana Blockers — I knew I had to write it myself. As a woman working in the industry, I don’t think you can wait until something is offered to you. If there’s something in your career that you want to do, if you want to make a change, you have to write it yourself. The idea came from my father, who passed away in June and was a very big force in my life.
He was married six times, he had six different children, he was in and out of prison — for nonviolent crimes. I was so enamored with him but he was in and out of my life — when he came in, we would get Chinese food and order everything on the menu, and we’d go into video stores and leave with 20 VHS tapes, it was the best. But then when he left, which he always did, there was a very big hole in my life.
I started to have this anger that was building up in me but I was so terrified to express, because then my dad would really never come back. There was an ongoing question of what do I do with this anger? I wanted to write about it, and I wanted to write about it in a cathartic way but I also wanted it to be funny because my dad always made me laugh. But when I wrote the first draft and gave it to a directing coach that I work with, she said ‘Shana, this is a charming little comedy. Is that what you want to make?’
I was like, no, I want to make more than a charming little comedy. I thought I was writing this script about my own rage and it wasn’t there — it was soft because I was still thinking, my dad’s gonna see this. So I had to go back and really try and investigate anger and rage and see where it would appear for Vera’s character.
The minute I saw Chris [Plummer]’s name on the casting list, I thought no way. And then I started watching interviews, and whoever was interviewing Chris was so charmed and smitten by him. I recognized that quality as something my father has — if he was here right now he’d have you ordering a tequila and he’d be telling stories about how he smuggled diamonds out of the brim of his cowboy hat in the ’70s. I thought that Chris had that quality and that the casting was so interesting and unexpected.
Of course, my dad is covered with tattoos, he’s been in and out of prison, he drives a white cargo van. Chris is a master of Shakespeare, a concert pianist, and has a pocket scarf. He could not be further from my father, but they both have that kind of twinkle in their eye. I did have to make some changes to the script — my dad cheated a casino in New Mexico, I had Chris cheat a casino somewhere in Europe to make it a little fancier. I put him in an old Rolls Royce, I had a nice tailored coat. He actually used his own jacket.
A few years ago he apologized and I’ll never forget what he said — he told me, you didn’t get the father you deserved. It’s just so hard for parents to admit they’re wrong and have that guilt and actually own up to it, so for him to make this apology was incredibly moving. He ended up moving in with us because he was getting sicker, and I watched him have this really amazing relationship with my son. Every day after school the first thing he would do is run up to Papa’s room. It was just like my childhood, I’d peek in and my dad was watching Romancing the Stone, or they would watch Naked and Afraid together, it was totally inappropriate. But he kind of got to redo some of his parenting with my son.”
Boundaries hits theaters on Friday.