With an understated intensity to his performances, actor Charlie Plummer knows how to hold an audience’s attention. He’s become a notably fierce young talent with his roles in King Jack, The Dinner, and All the Money in the World. And at 18, he’s only just begun.
Most recently, he plays Charley Thompson in Andrew Haigh’s drama Lean On Pete. Based on the novel of the same name by Willy Vlautin, it follows young Charley after a family tragedy leaves him searching the modern American frontier for a new home. Along the way, he finds solace in an ensemble of unique characters (portrayed by Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, and Steve Zahn) and a retired racehorse named Lean On Pete. (Perhaps his most memorable costar happened to be Starsky, the horse.)
We recently spoke with Charlie ahead of the film’s release. As thoughtful as he is talented, he shared his experiences of working with veteran actors and passing a bit of their wisdom on to his own generation.
Andrew Haigh has such an incredible way of creating these human relationships in his films. What was it like working with him as a director?
I think with any other director, for a film like this, if there was someone who was aggressive or who yelled a lot or just wasn’t a patient person, I don’t think it would have turned out the way it did. Because it is such a delicate film, and especially for this character, such an intense and emotional journey. I think if you had a guy leading the way that was obnoxious or just wasn’t considerate of the people he was working with, it could have been a really awful experience. I just think Andrew was the perfect person to make this movie, with the way he approaches filmmaking and how confident he is in himself and the people he works with, and how he trusts his audience to be a part of the environment, as opposed to someone who manipulates the audience into feeling a certain way or seeing a thing in a certain way. I really think for this story, that’s just essential. So, I was so pleased he was the guy doing it.
What was it like working with these horses as scene partners, both in the physical and emotional sense?
I had the best time. At first, I was nervous about working with an animal, especially on something that was so important to me that I really did want to make sure was truthful. And I think there’s always that concern of if a horse is acting up or if he’s hard to manage, that it would really have an effect on the scene. I think I was really surprised when I was doing some of those scenes where it was the two of us in the middle of nowhere, how cooperative he was, but also in Starsky, who plays Pete, how helpful he was for me. Because in a sense, there’s that element of danger like he could just run off at any moment or get scared and kick you in the face or step on your foot, but at the same time, he also is giving you new things every single time. As an actor, that’s all I could hope for with any of my cast, especially him being a horse. (LAUGHS) But I had a great time.
Charley has an absentee mother in the movie. Would you say there was kind of a maternal quality to Chloë Sevigny’s character, as brief as their interaction may be?
I think so. And I think that a lot of the women that come into his life have that impact on him. I think that’s why his aunt is such a fixture throughout this story. There’s even a line Steve (Buscemi) has where he’s like, “You don’t see that a lot. A boy really needs his mother.” Something like that. I just think, especially for Charley, that definitely is an insecurity and something that is quite touchy. It does really affect who he is and what he does and why. I think certainly, when he meets Chloë’s character, she’s not the gentlest person, but I think she does really care about him. Even that alone is so meaningful to Charley. So, I certainly think there’s a bit of that maternal element.
You’ve worked with Steve Buscemi before. What was it like reuniting with him?
Yea, I mean I kind of worked with him before. But that was just me basically being a set piece and watching him work, which was great. And I really do treasure that experience but when I worked with him, I was only 12, so I wasn’t really having any deep conversations with him. I think getting to actually work with him and talk about filmmaking and seeing what kind of creative person he is and his experiences working with certain directors and directing himself – and same goes with Chloë and Steve Zahn – I just have so much respect for all those people, to just be around them and see how they work and pick up on the little details. That was really valuable to me.
You have a unique perspective of the #MeToo movement, having worked on All the Money in the World. What was it like to see that accountability that Hollywood is taking?
I think it’s essential. It’s very needed to have balance. So much of it is about opportunity, I think, opportunity for people to feel comfortable enough to share their stories and opportunity for people to be able to tell stories. We’ve seen just this year, when people get those opportunities, what they’re going to do with them. And I think that is just so important that really everyone has equal opportunity to do that. That’s my spin on it.
You’re part of a very empowered generation of young people. How does it feel to have this platform as an actor?
I think it can be a huge benefit in a lot of ways. Whenever anyone is listening to what you’re saying, you hope that what you’re saying is meaningful and you connect with a lot of people. I hope that any film that I’m a part of and that my name is on in any way, can have a positive effect on people and connect with people. And I know there’s only so much I can do in my own life. But I hope to use any platform I have in that way and to talk about things that I’m passionate about and things I think need to be talked about. At the same time, I’m all for really focusing on my work, especially now. Because I’m really fortunate that I’m getting opportunities to work and really making the most of everything. I also acknowledge that I am so young, and I have so much to learn from the people that have been doing it for decades and decades.
Lean On Pete is now in select theaters. Watch the trailer below.