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How Christopher Plummer skipped Florida, saved ‘All the Money in the World’

Christopher Plummer as J. Paul Getty in "All the Money in the World." | TRISTAR PICTURES

LOS ANGELES — Christopher Plummer planned to turn into a snowbird over the holidays. Then Ridley Scott called.

“I was trying to get to Florida, where I live in the winter time. I’m still trying to get to Florida!” Plummer laughs.

As the now-infamous story goes, after Kevin Spacey’s alleged history of sexual misconduct made headlines in October, director Ridley Scott made a fast decision. Over Thanksgiving, he’d excise Spacey, who played oil tycoon J. Paul Getty in his film “All the Money in the World,” and replace him with Plummer, 88, the actor he’d initially pictured in the role anyhow. And he’d still hit his Christmas Day release date.

“Ridley came over from London to try and persuade me to do it,” recalls Plummer, who chatted with the director for just 30 minutes. “I read the script, and I said yes.”

With Plummer secured, it was off to the races. The Hollywood hat trick required 10 shooting days, $10 million in funding, flying cast and crew to Europe, access to the same shooting locations — and surgical editing by night.

“You pick up a handset, you dial it, somebody says yes or no,” the notoriously efficient director shrugs. “I just do it. I say, ‘This film is going to be affected by what’s happening, and it will kill us. I know who to put in there, he’s available, let’s go.’ ”

RELATED: Richard Roeper reviews “All the Money in the World”

Six weeks later, the Getty kidnapping drama, which centers around the 1973 capture of grandson John Paul Getty III in Italy (and the teenager’s severed ear infamously being mailed with a ransom demand), was in theaters.

“What they’ve pulled off is exceptional,” says Michelle Williams, who plays Getty’s former daughter-in-law, mother of the kidnapped 16-year-old. “But the experience of it — you know, I didn’t have that much to do with Kevin, we said a couple words to each other and were kind of in a scene together, and that was about it. There wasn’t a lot of bonding time with him.”

Under Scott’s direction, “the rest of the film was very special to me,” says the star, who mostly appears in independent films. “I haven’t really been a part of something like this.”

Plummer says he never reviewed Spacey’s scenes. “I really don’t have a clue what happened before, because I asked not to see anything,” he says. On the set, Ridley “let me do the entire thing by myself. He didn’t bother me with anything that had happened before.”

The director says while he’d have been happy with Spacey’s colder take on the frugal billionaire (Getty initially refused to pay a penny of his grandson’s ransom and ultimately only provided an amount that was tax deductible), Plummer added a twinkling layer of charm.

“If you’re going to play a villain, it’s much more interesting to find all the nice qualities of the person,” Plummer says. “Or even give him some, as a gift.”

Plummer crossed paths with the younger Getty on the party circuit in Europe prior to his kidnapping. “Paul was a party guy,” he recalls.

Scott still hasn’t heard from Spacey. “Kind of weird,” the director says. “But I do not worry about it a bit.”

The revised thriller has since earned Golden Globe nominations for Scott, Plummer and Williams. The director believes his film can be a player this Oscar season. “I’ve seen a lot of the competitors. All slow stuff,” Scott grins. “I’m very competitive.”

But first, Plummer is (finally) flying south.

“I want to lie down in Florida, thank you very much,” he chuckles.

Andrea Mandell, USA TODAY