Christopher Plummer died in February 2021. Prior to his death, the actor enjoyed a decades-long friendship with William Shatner. Here are the details of how they came to be friends, despite some conflict from time to time.
1. Plummer Believed Shatner Owed a Big Break to His ‘Injury’
In the video above, Plummer recalls a time when Shatner was his understudy, and got his big break due to Plummer’s hospitalization.
Both Shatner and Plummer were actors with the Stratford Festival, arguably Canada’s leading Shakespeare festival. The story goes that, after a particularly vigorous sexual encounter with a one-night stand, Plummer accidentally dislodged a kidney stone. This caused him such intense pain that he went to the hospital. By chance, Shatner was Plummer’s understudy for that performance. The play was Shakespeare’s Henry V, with Plummer in the titular role. With Plummer out of commission, Shatner had to step up.
According to Page Six (which was quoting Plummer’s own words in his memoir In Spite of Myself) the idea of missing a performance was nearly as painful as the kidney stone itself.
“It began to sink in…Shatner, my understudy, would have to go on…[It] instantly brought back the pain. I screamed for a nurse who jabbed me with more morphine,” the actor recounted.
For his part, Shatner later referred to the night he took over for Plummer as “the night I knew I was an actor,” in his memoir Up Till Now. Years later, CTV referred to Shatner’s Henry V as “a celebrated turn”.
The NY Post quoted Plummer on his reaction to seeing Shatner take his role.
“Shatner made sure he did everything I didn’t do — stood up where I had sat down, lay down where I stood up . . . he was original to the last,” Plummer stated. “I knew then that the SOB was going to be a star.”
2. Plummer & Shatner Were Leading Shakespearean Actors in Canada
While Plummer clearly wasn’t enthused that Shatner had to take over for him, the two men actually had a history that pre-dated their shared run on Henry V. According to the Globe and Mail, “the two have known each other since their early days in Montreal…They co-starred in radio plays in French and English, then moved to work in theatre in Ottawa, and finally ended up at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in its early years.”
3. Plummer & Shatner Shared the Screen in a ‘Star Trek’ Film
Shatner is arguably most famous for his role as Captain Kirk, so it’s not surprising that Shatner eventually shared the screen with Plummer in the fictional world of Star Trek. Plummer played the Shakespeare-loving Klingon, General Chang, in Star Trek VI.
The two have shared the sceen on some other occasions, as well. In 2011, Plummer appeared as himself for Shatner’s documentary, The Captains. Back in 1979, both men appeared in the Canadian made-for-TV movie Riel, though Shatner’s role as “The Barker” was notably smaller than Plummer’s role as Prime Minister John A. Macdonald.
4. Shatner Was There When Plummer Got His Star on the Walk of Fame
As we noted in our analysis of the Takei-Shatner feud, we noted that Shatner was conspicuous in his absence from certain Trek events, like when Walter Koenig got his star on the Walk of Fame. However, there was one Walk of Fame ceremony Shatner made sure to attend: that of Christopher Plummer. Shatner attended the 2015 event and was photographed alongside his long-time friend.
5. For ‘Star Trek’ Fans, There’s Another Way to See Plummer and Shatner Reunite
Can’t get enough of Plummer and Shatner? If you want more Kirk vs. Chang, you’re in luck. Plummer may have only appeared as Chang in one movie, but he actually reprised the character for a little-known Star Trek video game. A fan compiled all the in-game cutscenes from two Star Trek games together, creating the fan project in the video above. The collection of cutscenes, which features in-game moments from both Starfleet Academy and Klingon Academy, can be enjoyed like a movie.
According to WIRED, you even learn how Chang got his eyepatch in this game, which may make it popular viewing among fans who are mourning the passing of Plummer.
As WIRED notes, “the number of beloved Trek stars who showed up is nothing short of amazing. Besides Shatner (who enjoys more screen time than you’d expect), you get George Takei as Sulu and Walter Koenig as Chekov. On the Klingon side, Christopher Plummer reprises his role as General Chang from Star Trek VI, and David Warner shows up as Gorkon for a few minutes.”