It is morning in a Los Angeles diner. A couple sits in a booth chatting. One is an Englishman in a Hawaiian shirt, the other is a skinny American woman with sandy red hair. She calls him Pumpkin. He calls her Honeybunny.
Suddenly he stands up on a seat and declares: “OK everybody, be cool, this is a robbery!”. The suddenness and the fact he holds a pistol makes you jump, but it’s Honeybunny who strikes fear into every single customer in the diner when she screams: “Any of yeeewww f*****g pricks mmmooooveee and I’ll execute every motherf*****g last ONE of yew!”
This is the opening of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and for many it is the defining image of actress Amanda Plummer who plays Honeybunny in that unforgettable film.
Amanda was in Galway last week as the special guest of the Galway Film Fleadh where she gave the actors’ masterclass and attended the screening of Beginners, which stars her father Christopher Plummer.
While Amanda has starred in such films as The Fisher King, So I Married An Axe Murderer, and The Million Dollar Hotel, it is Pulp Fiction that she is most associated with in the public mind. The film’s writer/director Quentin Tarantino has said he wrote the parts of Pumpkin and Honeybunny with Tim Roth (Lie To Me ) and Amanda in mind. Is that true?
“That’s what Tim and I were told by him,” Amanda tells me as we sit for the interview on a Thursday afternoon. “I went to the opening night of The Fisher King with my friend Tim Roth. We were hanging out on the stairs and Tim introduced me to Quentin. I can’t remember what he said but is was all ‘Pa-pa-dum-pa-pa-dum-pa-pa-dum-pa-pa-dum!’ [chanted fast then slow while hands beat on the table] and next thing we knew we were in the film.”
That LA diner sequence opens and closes Pulp Fiction, starting with Pumpkin and Honeybunny’s hold up, before concluding much later with the couple’s ‘confrontation’ with Jules Winnfield (Samuel L Jackson ) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta ). What are Amanda’s chief memories of filming the scene?
“Everything was free and everything fit,” she says. “Everybody worked really hard on that set - the man with the guns, the cinematographer, the lighting man, the actors. It was great fun, but the bar was set very high from the moment you stepped on the stage. I read the script and I thought ‘Frickin’ A!’ we have to translate that energy.
“The diner scene was split in two for the film but we shot it all as one long scene. I think we worked on it for a week or two. Sam and John Travolta were there and Tim and I. There was an amazing, embraceable energy, the focus was extraordinary and that was down to Quentin, that’s what a great director does.”
Amanda is currently at work on a number of new films, including Small Apartments, where she will star alongside Little Britain’s Matt Lucas, as well as James Caan, Johnny Knoxville, Billy Crystal, and Rosie Perez.
“It’s directed by Jonas Åkerlund,” she says. “I liked him the moment I met him and I told him I really wanted to work with him.”
She is also working with Korean-American director Lee Isaac Chung on his new film Abigale Harm.
“I’m very fortunate to be working with Lee ,” she says. “He did a film called Munyurangbo in Africa. It was a work of genius. The graciousness of spirit in his works makes you want to breathe. I’m working on Abigale Harm in Queens and Brooklyn, with him and Ayaho Fugitani, one of the greatest Japanese actors ever and my best friend now. It’s a brilliant script and I’m really excited about it.”
Horses and Galway
As well as the big screen, Amanda has also starred in numerous stage productions - she has been Tony-nominated three times - and appeared on TV in The Outer Limits, Law & Order SVU, and Battlestar Galatica. Yet despite this, and despite the fact her mother and father are both actors, Amanda did not originally want to be an actress. Her original passion was for horses and she wanted to be a jockey.
“When I looked in the mirror I thought I looked like a horse,” she says. “I was angry at humans. I didn’t want to be a part of the human race. I wanted to be an animal. I love doing things physically and I love feeling at one with things and the horse is such a wonderful animal.”
From a young age Amanda received horse riding lessons and by 14 she auditioned for a job at Sagamore Farms, the thoroughbred horse breeding farm in Maryland. “They put me on a horse called Sir Francis Drake and I galloped for a man called Mr Vanderbilt and I got the job and went on to train five horses,” she says.
Her passion for horses and equestrian work eventually led her to Ireland and to Galway.
“I was in Galway when I was 15 with the horses,” she says. “We were travelling all over Ireland racing a white race horse called Maximilian III. He was white with a flaxen mane and tall. He was a beautiful animal.”
However the Galway connection did not end there. It would come back again via her new career as an actress. What led her to switch from horses to film?
“By the time I was 17 I didn’t want to continue racing as I found the business side of it too harsh,” Amanda says. “I’m a big reader and I listen to a lot of music.
“I imagine pictures when I listen to songs and I like to act out the parts, so I began making costumes and props, and then started acting as it was to do with people. I realised you can’t stay an animal all the time and had to become part of the human race. I needed the energy of other people around me so I could be myself.”
One of her earliest roles was in a 1987 film adaptation of JM Synge’s play Riders To The Sea, alongside Geraldine Page, whom leading film website IMDB.com said was “considered by many to be one of the greatest American actresses of all time”.
“I was in Galway for that,” says Amanda. “I got a chance to work with Geraldine Page and boy did I get an eyeful! I was blessed to work with her and be taught by her. When you were working with her it was like a spray of dew, all different colours, and that wet mist was embracing you.”
Amanda’s next encounter with Galway would come via the Broadway production of My Fair Lady where she played Eliza Doolittle alongside Connemara-born screen legend Peter O’Toole.
“He’s a f*****g genius!” she declares. “Can you imagine it? ‘Do you want to work with Peter O’Toole?’ ‘I think so!’ I dreamed of working with that man before it was even a dream. An amazing human being, what a massive generosity of soul he has.”