Charlie Plummer still thinks about the role that got away. It was last summer, and the then 19-year-old actor, whose star seems to have risen overnight, wanted it so bad he wrote to the director, begging for the spot. “I was like, ‘Please…,’ ” Plummer recalls, post-brunch at the Bowery Hotel.
The initial response was positive. “My agent was like, ‘Yeah, the producers are big fans.… They haven't started hiring assistants yet, but when they do, they'll let you know for sure,’ ” he says, laughing. The job was P.A. on the set of Joker. He got passed over. Plummer knows it's weird for a breakout teenage movie star, who has been compared to a young Leonardo DiCaprio by the likes of Ridley Scott, to try to score a gig grabbing Todd Phillips's coffee. But he's also utterly serious: “Joaquin Phoenix is my favorite actor working today, and he's playing my favorite character in all of pop culture, and it's shooting in the city that I live in. How could I not be there?”
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Plummer, now 20, was raised in Cold Spring, New York, by industry parents: His father is a film writer and producer, his mother a theater actor. He did the child-actor thing, against their advice. (Plummer’s enthusiasm can’t be contained, only redirected—at one point, he almost gave up acting to go to college in the hopes of becoming the G.M. of an NFL team.) Perhaps his parents sensed that, if he made it through the child-role gantlet, he would be expected to play a series of teenagers put in bad situations by their fathers, which is exactly what happened in Lean on Pete (alcoholic dad), All the Money in the World (heroin-addicted Getty dad), and The Clovehitch Killer (serial-killer dad). But Plummer dodges every pitfall of the emotionally damaged-teenager tropes thrust at him with that essential young Leo–ness. He broke out in Andrew Haigh’s Lean on Pete, playing a traumatized 15-year-old who steals a racehorse that’s bound for slaughter. The quiet intensity Plummer brings to the role is unsettling in the best way—at times you don’t know whether you want to scoop the poor kid into a bear hug or walk quickly in the opposite direction.
Plummer credits his Buddhist upbringing for helping him cope with the psychic fallout of acting in all these coming-of-age tragedies while also literally coming of age. “[Buddhism] has come through for me a lot of the time,” he says. “When I'm working, especially with some of the more intense stuff, it's really easy to lose a sense of reality. A lot of times I feel like all I have is the feelings I'm having right then. It's really nice to be able to have something to just send me back to that place of, okay.”