CHARLIE PLUMMER FINDS HIS DARKEST ROLE YET IN 'LEAN ON PETE'
The young actor Charlie Plummer is not one to shy away from difficult roles, but neither, he insists, is he someone who seeks them out exclusively—despite what his CV might suggest. “I think they just come to me in a way,” he laughs. “I’ll go up for other things that are much lighter and they just won’t cast me, so I don’t know what to tell you.”
After being violently bullied as a young teenager in 2015’s King Jack and having had his ear cut off as the kidnapped oil heir John Paul Getty III in last year’s All the Money in the World, Plummer is taking on perhaps his darkest project yet in Lean on Pete, the new film from 45 Years director Andrew Haigh out in New York and Los Angeles today. The eighteen-year-old gives a bracingly mature and nuanced performance as Charley, a young boy living with his single father who takes on a job with Steve Buscemi’s Del caring for his racehorses, including the aging steed of the title, with whom he builds a particularly close connection. When Charley learns that Lean on Pete is set to be killed after another loss, the two escape on a perilous journey in search of Charley’s aunt. Charley begins seemingly naïve and is forced to grow up quickly, but he never loses the inner optimism that Plummer says is exactly what drew him to the character, so much so that he felt compelled to write a letter to Haigh about the project after his audition. “Willy Vlautin, the writer of the book [on which the film is based] said that Charley is the kid that he really wished he was when he was sixteen and I felt the same way when I read it,” Plummer explains. “He’s such a strong person and he fights so hard for what he really believes in. He spends so much of the film on his own and alone and you see how difficult that is. I’ve certainly had experience with being on my own—I think everyone probably has—and how awful that feeling can be, feeling completely isolated. When I read the script it was like I was sitting with him through this entire experience and I felt so much compassion for him and that’s what really took my breath away.”
Lean on Pete offers a somber look at poverty in modern-day America—Charley encounters homeless transients, military veterans, possibly undocumented immigrants, and embattled blue-collar workers on his travels—but is also suffused with genuinely tender human connections. Plummer says the film, which was mostly shot in sequence, was “probably the most difficult experience I’ve had in my entire life, because I did connect so much with the character.” He admits to being “so worn out” afterwards, but credits Haigh along with costars Chloë Sevigny and Buscemi (a longtime hero of Plummer’s with whom he first worked years ago on Boardwalk Empire) with creating a comforting environment on set no matter what trouble Charley was going through at the time. And Plummer does admit in the end that there is something about that difficulty that inspires him. “It’s not that I hate myself or anything,” he laughs. “A lot of my favorite movies to watch are not dark. I think that usually when it’s labeled as ‘dark’ or ‘violent’ or ‘intense’ or anything like that, it’s usually just another way of saying it’s layered and interesting and there’s a lot going on. I think probably what I’m connecting with more is when I read something and I’m able to recognize that it’s truthful but I’m also able to recognize that I can’t figure it out the first time.”
Difficult as it may be to watch at times, Lean on Pete is, ultimately, a hopeful film, sensitive and gentle yet powerful at the same time. Plummer, who is branching out with a whirlwind of projects this year, would agree. “For me, so much of the film is about love and compassion—of course not in a sappy way whatsoever, but in a really honest and at times hard-to-watch way—and I think so much of what connects all of these characters that Charley meets in this journey is that first impulse of kindness and compassion. It is a really tough movie to watch and it is so brutally honest, so I hope people connect with that and I hope that it sticks with them and they feel like going forward in their own lives they can be more compassionate towards others.”
Lean on Pete is out today.
Styling by Julie Ragolia at Lalaland Artists. Grooming by Eloise Cheung at Kate Ryan Inc using La Mer. Photographer’s assistant: Mateo Arciniegas. Stylist’s assistant: Bertille Noiret. Postproduction by Jamie Saunders.