Accessibility options


Christopher Walken - Biography

Christopher Walken

Personal details

Name: Christopher Walken
Born: 31 March 1943 (Age: 71)
Where: New York, New York, USA
Height: 6'
Awards: Won 1 Oscar and 1 BAFTA, Nominated for 1 Golden Globe and 1 Emmy

All about this star

Biography:

Most people believe Christopher Walken to be an absolute wacko. It's a reputation he's endured for a quarter of a century, one that was sealed by his two breakthrough roles. First, in 1977's Annie Hall, he weirded the world out as Annie's crazy brother Duane, disturbing Woody Allen with his fantasies of slamming his car into oncoming traffic. Then, one year later, he was Nick in The Deer Hunter, wasted inside and out as he plays Russian Roulette in a Vietnamese hell-hole. Unforgettable appearances, both of them.

The reputation has been enhanced by many other extraordinarily wild performances. There was Pulp Fiction, where he presents a young boy with a watch he's been hiding in his arse: True Romance, where he enjoys Dennis Hopper's insults then empties a chamber into him: that mad little dance with Laurence Fishburne and his gang in King Of New York: Batman Returns, where he buddies up to Michelle Pfeiffer then shoves her through a window: The Comfort Of Strangers, where he suddenly drops his sophisticated front and decks Rupert Everett: his sharp-toothed Headless Horseman in Sleepy Hollow. He's so weird, so DANGEROUS.

But then there's the other parts, the ones that prove him to be so much more than just a rent-a-psycho. How about Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can, when he's DiCaprio's con-man dad, crushed by wife Nathalie Baye's faithlessness? His hilarious exterminator in Mouse Hunt? His show-stealing bar-room dance in Pennies From Heaven? His brilliant cat-man in Puss In Boots? His bewildered alien abductee in Communion? His tortured psychic in The Dead Zone? Walken is certainly one of the best screen villains in history, but he's done it all, and done it fabulously well. After all, reaching 60 is 2003, he'd been working for over 58 years.

He was born Ronald Walken on March 31st, 1943, in Queens, New York City. That's right - Ronald. Nothing sinister or intimidating about that. Unless, of course, you fear clowns, or remorseless multinational conglomerates. His parents were both immigrants. His father, Paul, came from Germany and met and, in 1936, married Rosalie, who'd arrived from Scotland. Ronald was the second of three sons, sandwiched between Ken and Glenn.

Rosalie had had stage ambitions, thwarted by motherhood. But her children gave her another in, and she began by finding them modelling work. Ronald's first major success came with his first job. As a 14-month-old baby, he was photographed naked with 2 cats, appearing in a hugely popular calendar.

The Fifties were a wonderful time to be an actor in New York, even a very young one. This was the Golden Age of television and over 90 shows were being made every week, including the filming of many serious plays. Any number of soon-to-be film stars made their bones here, including Paul Newman. Young Ronald spent much of his time at the studios, constantly appearing as an extra. Brother Glenn (who'd later show up in Apocalypse Now) was in 3 shows at once, always shuttling between them. When he couldn't make a radio appointment, Ronald would step in, the pair having indistinguishable voices.

This was how young Ronald began to be "different". At home, as the child of recent immigrants, he ate different food and heard different accents, his view of the world was wider and more complex (remember, Paul was German and Ronald was born during WW2). In his "spare" time, he wasn't out playing ball or swapping bubblegum cards with his mates, he was hanging around at the big studios, fraternising with women dressed up as massive cigarette packets and watching monkey-star J. Fred Muggs whizz past on his motor scooter. Even his education was different. Attending the Professional Children's School, his lessons were squeezed in around his work. Walken has a good point when he says of himself: "I came from another country".

By the age of 10, his future path was set. He'd appeared on many, many shows, including The Ernie Kovacs Show, Playhouse 90 and the Armstrong Circle Theatre, sharing the screen with the likes of Milton Berle and Sid Caesar. But the decisive moment came when, as an extra on The Colgate Comedy Hour, he played in a skit with Jerry Lewis, along with Dean Martin a guest host. Inspired by Lewis's antics and abilities, he decided a life in showbiz was for him. And it started well. That same year he won a plum role in TV series The Wonderful John Acton, concerning the family of a Kentucky county clerk in 1919, Ronnie playing the titular lead's grandson, Kevin.

Yet his thoughts then were not of a career in drama. Ronald saw himself as a dancer and this was the main thrust of his training. As a boy he's described himself as a "frivolous" fellow, enjoying a situation where 95% of his classmates were beautiful girls, unlike the other guys, most of them student musicians and serious geeks (Walken himself was a big fan of jazz).

As he grew older, there were other extra curricular activities. When he was 16, he spent the summer with a travelling one-ring circus, as a lion-tamer. When circus chief and head tamer Tarryl Jacobs Jr had finished his performance, Ronald, posing as Jacobs' son, would enter the cage with Sheba the lion and, cracking his whip, demand "Up, Sheba, up!" And Sheba - old, toothless and friendly as a dog, but a consummate professional - would deliver a suitably hair-raising roar.

There would also be work in the bakery. Paul was a hardcore trooper, toiling 7 days a week. He loved it, and it showed, Walken's Bakery becoming a legend in Queens. Ronald and the other boys would help him out often, and his influence is still felt today. Christopher has been criticised many times for his choice of roles, it's thought he agrees to too many bad movies. But the fact is he's used to working, like a shark he dies when he stops. And he loves it, as with his dad his work is his joy. Beyond this, Walken still drives very slowly, the memory of delivering birthday cakes that must not be damaged still very fresh in his mind.

Having graduated from The Children's Professional School (he received his diploma from Gypsy Rose Lee), Ronald moved on to Hofstra University to study English Literature. But this didn't last long - how could it for a boy who'd been performing all his life. After less than a year, he won the part of Dutch Miller in the 1963 musical Best Foot Forward, and thus left college to share a stage with the young Liza Minnelli. As said, dancing was always Walken's bag. In many of his later movies, he'd sneak in a little jig or spin, as if constantly reminding himself what he really is.

It was now that he took a new name. He scored a job as one of 3 guys dancing and singing with Monique Van Vooren in her sultry, Francophile nightclub act. Monique was a real showbiz character and would later turn up in Andy Warhol's Frankenstein. At the end of her act, she'd introduce the guys and, one night, in true diva style, decided she didn't like the name Ronald. He was, she thought, more of a Christopher. And Ronald, in true Walken style, didn't give a rat's ass. So Christopher it was.

Remaining in stellar company, by 1964 he was in the chorus of High Spirits, a musical update of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit. Coward himself was involved in the production and, during rehearsals, approached pretty boy Walken, then clad in a flaming crimson top, with the words "Interesting shirt". Walken, pertified in the presence of the great man, could only blurt out a distinctly unimpressive "Why... yes... it's red". "Well," retorted the famous wit "it's been an exciting day for us all".

The same year, Christopher (it doesn't seem right to call him Chris, does it? It's not, er, WEIRD enough) took off on a couple of tours with West Side Story, playing young thug-dancer Riff. It was here that he met his wife, Georgianne Thon, who was playing Riff's girlfriend Graziella. They'd marry in 1969 and remain so today. British actor Max Beesley tells a funny story about her. Over in Hollywood trying to break into the big time, he tried to win over a casting director with his favourite impression - Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter. She wasn't taken by his accuracy. After all, she'd been married to Walken for over 25 years. Georgianne has since risen to the top of her profession, winning an Emmy for her work on The Sopranos.

1965 saw a change in Walken's fortunes. Now acting as The Killer (and a member of the chorus) in an ill-fated Sherlock Holmes musical called Baker Street, he was spotted and asked to play his first ever dramatic role, as King Philip of France in a production of The Lion In Winter at the Ambassador Theatre. He was an immediate success, winning a Clarence Derwent Award. He moved on to play Claudio in Measure For Measure, then Jack Hunter in Tennessee Williams' The Rose Tattoo, for which he was named Theatre World's Most Promising Personality. There was a prime TV spot, too, in the Showcase Theatre's Barefoot In Athens, appearing alongside Peter Ustinov, Geraldine Page and Anthony Quayle.

Everything seemed to be coming young Christopher's way. But his lack of experience in serious drama now caused problems. Called to Stratford (the North American version) to play Romeo, he was not as impressive as expected. "I never knew why I got the job," he said later "but I always suspected it was because I'd done a job where I wore tights". Thankfully, imbued with his father's work ethic, the setback would just make him work harder. He would study extensively throughout his early career, with Wynn Handman and at the Actors' Studio, under Lee Strasberg.

1969 saw Walken really embrace life as a travelling player. He played Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz in Florida, and Mark Antony and Macduff in San Diego, before returning east for Chronicles Of Hell in Ann Arbor. 1970 saw him in Chicago in Lemon Sky, and the next year he was back in the windy city, winning a Joseph Jefferson award for the lead in The Night Thoreau Spent In Jail. Back in New York, there would be Cymbeline and, in the first foreshadowing of what was to come, he played Caligula for the Yale Repertory Company.

Up until 1975, Christopher worked almost exclusively in the theatre, in a wild variety of roles. There would be Metamorphosis, Enemies, The Plough And The Star, The Merchant Of Venice and The Dance Of Death. By 1973, he was a bona fide leading man, playing Harry Houdini in Houdini, Achilles in Troilus And Cressida and both Hamlet and Macbeth. In 1975 he won a Best Actor Obie for Kid Champion, then wowed Brooklyn and Chicago as Chance Wayne in Sweet Bird Of Youth, opposite Irene Worth.

This success came about due to his wits and hard work, but no real ambition. Walken was never one for logical progression - as was proved early when he failed an adding and subtracting test for a holiday job at Macy's. He liked to bounce from job to job, never starring in a Broadway hit because he refused to sign the year-long contract that would entail. His mind was hungry for novelty and new truth. He later admitted to being a changeable religious fanatic, at one point worshipping the moon.

His film success kind of slowly crept up on him. Having lost out to Ryan O'Neal for the lead in Love Story (really!) he'd made his debut proper in 1971, in Sidney Lumet's superior heist movie, The Anderson Tapes, as one of the gang Sean Connery takes on to hold up an entire apartment block (he died violently, of course). 1972 had brought a lead in Mind Snatchers, a forerunner of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, where he was an apparently psychotic soldier whose brain is experimented upon by doctor Joss Ackland.

Come 1976, with a decade of theatre success behind him, he was ready for the movies. First he appeared in Paul Mazursky's comedy memoir of Fifties New York, Next Stop, Greenwich Village, then he popped up as a cop in Michael Winner's controversially horrible The Sentinel, a film so bizarre it demanded Walken's presence. Next came his breakthrough with Annie Hall, and that classic sequence with Woody Allen. "I can anticipate the explosion, the sound of shattering glass, the flames rising out of the flowing gasoline", he says, enjoying the vision of his own death. "Right," replies Allen "Well, I have to go now, Duane, because I'm due back on Planet Earth". It was superb stuff and, with Annie Hall being an Oscar-winning triumph, it raised Walken's profile mightily.

After this came Roseland, a 3-story drama, directed by James Ivory, where Walken at last got to dance onscreen. Here, in the famous ballroom of the title, inhabited by the lost and the lonely, he played a charming gigolo who's given up hope of a career in dance and gone for easy money instead.

What a far cry from his next picture, Michael Cimino's Vietnam epic The Deer Hunter. As Nick, the vet so traumatised by war he remains after his tour of duty to play Russian Roulette, he was scintillating. The final scenes where his friend Robert De Niro, trying to save him, is forced to play with him are nerve-shredding. It's incredible how Walken has the "old" Nick hovering behind his dead eyes, almost making a redemptive appearance then being buried under "new" Nick's death wish once more. His Best Supporting Actor Oscar was one of the most deserved in Academy history. Also, being paid $14,000 for his performance, for the first time he earned more than $11,000 in a year. He might have made it one year earlier, too. Along with Nick Nolte he was George Lucas's short-list for Han Solo in Star Wars.

Throughout the Eighties, he combined film and theatre work. 1980 saw 3 major projects. There was The Seagull onstage, and two big movies. The first was the notorious Heaven's Gate, Cimino's follow-up to The Deer Hunter. This massively expensive western epic, where cattle barons warred with immigrant farmers, saw Walken as a nutty gunslinger hired to run the farmers off. Clashing with sheriff Kris Kristofferson over his methods and love interest Isabelle Huppert, he comes to re-consider his role in the bloody conflict.

Of course, the film was a famous disaster, but Christopher survived it, going on to star in Frederick Forsyth's The Dogs Of War as a mercenary who, captured and tortured in a rogue African state, gathers a gang of highly skilled ruffians and returns to lead a revolution.

. Though he was now officially a leading man, Walken never had a problem stepping down to take interesting parts. In Pennies From Heaven, where sheet-music seller Steve Martin broke the hearts of Jessica Harper and Bernadette Peters in Depression era Chicago, he took the chance to dance once more. And what a dance. Both hilarious and malevolent, he stole the movie with a hugely disturbing bar-room semi-striptease. He was mightily chuffed to have dubbed his taps on the same parquet floor used by Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly during MGM's musical hey-day (Pennies was the last musical MGM ever made). Then he was off to the 1830s Mexican desert as the mysterious Mr Rainbow in Shoot The Sun Down. One of a cast of oddball characters, was he after gold, Margot Kidder, or what?

Returning to the stage to play Hotspur in Henry IV Part 2, to take on Hamlet once more, and to try out Leonard Charteris in The Philanderer, he then returned to TV in the enchanting Kurt Vonnegut oddity Who Am I This Time? Directed by Jonathan Demme (they'd worked together back in 1979 on the paranoid thriller Last Embrace), this saw him as a shy hardware store employee who comes alive onstage in amateur dramatics. Playing Stanley to Susan Sarandon's Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire, the reticent couple express their "real" feelings through the dialogue, and so find love without really knowing each other.

After the controversy surrounding The Sentinel, The Deer Hunter and Heaven's Gate, 1983 brought the real deal. As the filming of Brainstorm neared completion, Walken was invited to spend Thanksgiving on a yacht off Catalina Island with his co-star Natalie Wood (co-incidentally, she'd played onscreen Gypsy Rose Lee, who'd presented Christopher with his school diploma) and her husband Robert Wagner. What really happened that night remains a mystery. It was said that Wood, with a history of falling for her leading men, had taken a shine to Walken, the actor reminding her of old flame James Dean. There had been arguments that night, intoxicants had flowed freely. And, somehow, Wood was drowned.

Walken never said much about it, feeling he didn't have much to say. He had argued with Wagner, he said, but it was a minor spat over politics that started in a restaurant and continued onboard the yacht. They were partying, but not excessively, and he was asleep when Wood fell from the boat - moored just 50ft from the shore and surrounded by other vessels. How it had happened he did not know, and would not add to the furore with guess-work.

Wood's death was a tragedy, and a real shame for Brainstorm, stealing the thunder of an excellent thriller.
Directed by Douglas "Silent Running" Trumbull, it concerned research scientists who discover how to record and play back people's real-life experiences. Naturally, some people see the pornographic possibilities, and the army see the military potential, while Walken hopes it might somehow re-unite him with his estranged wife (Wood). But when someone's death is recorded, things change, as murder and a possible sight of Heaven are on the cards. As said, it was superior stuff, but lost in the controversy. Trumbull suffered worst. Wood's death would have allowed the financiers to can the movie and claim the insurance, but Trumbull, using a stand-in and old footage, managed to complete it. He never directed in Hollywood again.

. Walken moved on to one of his greatest roles, as psychic Johnny Smith in David Cronenberg's adaptation of Stephen King's The Dead Zone. A young teacher with a pretty fiancee and a happy life ahead, he suffers a terrible car smash (Walken's second, after The Anderson Tapes), goes into a prolonged coma and wakes to find his fiancee married and his life in ruins. Worse, he can tell someone's future from the touch of their hand - often a horrible experience. And Walken was brilliant, as he always is with confused and tormented characters, his Johnny Smith showing a harrowing mixture of bewilderment, sorrow and shaky courage. Interestingly, before the accident he's seen reading The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow to his class. 16 years later, he'd star in Tim Burton's version.

After a stint onstage in Ivanov, Cinders and Hurlyburly (with Sigourney Weaver and William Hurt), he became the first Oscar winner to appear in a Bond movie, in A View To A Kill. Aided by sidekick Grace Jones, as May Day, he was Max Zorin, a casually murderous industrialist who plans to corner the market in computer chips by destroying Silicon Valley. The fiend! He also sported the most outrageous bleached hair-do. People have often commented on his hair, one wag forwarding the notion that it must grow directly form his wild brain. Ever-self-deprecating, Walken has admitted that "My hair was famous before I was".

Yet he was far more fiendish in his next role, another of his finest, when he played Brad Whitewood Sr in At Close Range. Here he's the leader of a 1970s Philadelphia crime family, estranged from his wife and sons. Sean Penn, as one of his sons, glorifies Walken and joins the gang. Then, caught by the police, he discovers the horrifying extent of his father's ruthlessness. Seldom has any actor been as frightening as Walken was here. He was genuinely frightened, too. At one point Penn upped the emotional ante by loudly saying to the prop-man "Give me the other gun!" then holding a real gun next to Walken's eye. Naturally, he was terrified (he hates guns) and, scene over, screamed abuse at Penn. But, realising the ploy had increased the scene's intensity, he then thanked him.

Now very much in demand, Christopher took work like there was no manana.
Onstage the late Eighties saw him in A Bill Of Divorcement, The House Of Blue Leaves, A Streetcar Named Desire (playing Stanley Kowalski for laughs!), Three Sisters, Uncle Vanya and Coriolanus (he'd begin the Nineties as a wonderfully beastly Iago in Othello). Onscreen, in Deadline, he was a journalist drawn across his professional boundaries in war-torn Beirut. In Robert Redford's The Milagro Beanfield War, he reprised his Heaven's Gate role as a trouble-shooter in a land dispute (as Walken himself has said: "Is typecasting really a problem?"). Then in Neil Simon's Biloxi Blues, he played Matthew Broderick's close-to-insane drill sergeant, in one scene playing the same gun-trick on Broderick that Sean Penn had used in At Close Range.

. Back when filming Heaven's Gate, Walken had hung around with one of the younger actors on-set, the then unknown Mickey Rourke. Rourke had an idea about a washed-up boxer and his manipulative manager and said Walken would be the manager when he came to film it. So, 8 years after that conversation, he was, in Rourke's Homeboy.

At the Nineties approached and arrived, Christopher really began to mix it up. Communion saw him undergoing hypnotic regression therapy to discover if he was abducted by aliens or just barmy. Then there were two more screamingly excellent parts. In Abel Ferrara's King Of New York he was Frank White, a drug lord just released from prison with two things on his mind. He plans to wipe out all competition, and build a hospital for the poor. He's a complicated character, both hilariously violent and zealously beneficent, and he cannot understand why cops David Caruso and Wesley Snipes are so keen to nail him. He does good things, y'know? His final scene, dying in the back of a cab with so much left undone, is classic Walken - silent but unbelievably expressive.

This was followed by Ian McEwan's The Comfort Of Strangers, where Rupert Everett and Natasha Richardson go to Venice to patch up their relationship. Sadly, they meet Christopher and his fellow predator Helen Mirren, a ghastly couple whose outward sophistication does not hide their fantastical vileness for long. When director Paul Schrader attempted to light Walken's face from below, he was told "I don't need to be made to look evil, I can do that on my own".

As if reacting to the wickedness of these people, Walken's next effort was a surprisingly feel-good affair, the TV movie Sarah, Plain And Tall. Here he played Kansas farmer Jacob Witting, who advertises for a wife to help him bring up his two kids, now that his first wife has passed away. Enter Glenn Close, a New England schoolteacher who gradually helps Witting stop grieving for the departed, and wins his heart. It was a major success, Walken winning an Emmy nomination, and spawned 2 sequels.

Now extraordinarily prolific, Christopher was taking 4, 5, maybe 6 parts a year, usually stealing the show with a crazy cameo.
McBain saw him back in Dogs Of War territory, this time attacking a corrupt Columbian regime. In Mistress, he was a manic-depressive actor, while Batman Returns had him (and another spectacular hair-do) as psycho industrialist Max Shreck, sucking up to Danny DeVito's Penguin and murdering Michelle Pfeiffer's Selena Kyle - the catalyst for her becoming Catwoman. In Scam he was an ex-FBI agent blackmailing Lorraine Bracco's con artiste, in Wayne's World 2 he was the slimy record producer trying to nick Wayne's girlfriend, then in Donald Cammell's expressionist Wild Side, he was a thoroughly twisted money launderer. Though butchered on its original release, the movie was properly re-edited in 2000 to become a beautiful, fascinating, erotic and wholly disturbing piece.

. Beside these there was the Tarantino experience, that mid-Nineties series of thrillers that - kooky, violent and comprising myriad set-pieces - suited Walken down to the ground. He was fabulous as mobster Vincenzo Concotti, laughing at Dennis Hopper's insults then blowing him away in True Romance. He was side-splittingly po-faced as the soldier with the watch in his ass in Pulp Fiction, and excelled as the ferocious, wheelchair-bound crime lord The Man With The Plan in Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead.

Sleepy Hollow saw him snarling and relentlessly brutal as the headless Hessian horseman, he was another mob boss in Kiss Toledo Goodbye (well, is typecasting really a problem?) and then came the tremendous but unfortunately ignored The Opportunists. Here he was a loser mechanic in Queens, going nowhere with his girlfriend Cyndi Lauper and trying to go straight until he's drawn into a disastrous robbery by a "cousin" from Ireland. This was one of Walken's finest performances. He's not smart or heroic, rather a dignified but sad repeater of errors.

Starting with The Prophecy 3 and The Opportunists, the new millennium saw Walken even more prolific than usual. By the end of 2003, he'd appeared in 17 pictures. Scotland, PA was Macbeth set in a Seventies burger joint (with Duncan murdered in a deep fat fryer). America's Sweethearts saw him as a mad-dog, Hal Ashby-type auteur director trying to put together his latest epic while PR Billy Crystal struggles to hide the fact that the movie's stars Catherine Zeta-Jones and John Cusack are ending their relationship. The Affair Of The Necklace was a period drama set in pre-revolutionary France where dispossessed Hilary Swank tries to win back her family's fortune by putting one over on cardinal Jonathan Pryce and - big mistake - Christopher's Cagliostro, super-bad head of the Illuminati. Poolhall Junkies was a seedy Colour Of Money, with Walken as a rich, gambling shark.

2002's Plots With A View was a comic gem, with Christopher and Alfred Molina as rival funeral directors in a small British town, Walken trying to add glamour to proceedings by running his ceremonies like Busby Berkeley.
Then came another stand-out performance in Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can, as Leonardo DiCaprio's low-grade con-man father, shattered by the infidelity of wife Nathalie Baye. Kangaroo Jack was another big hit, with Christopher as yet another mob boss, this time sending a young relative to deliver money to Australia, only for the cash to be purloined by, yes, a kangaroo. After this would come the Ben Stiller/ Jack Black comedy Envy, the Jennifer Lopez/ Ben Affleck hit-man thriller Gigli, and the Amazon adventure Helldorado, with former wrestling star The Rock.

. So busy was he with movies that Walken now seldom returned to the stage. 1999 had brought a bizarre Broadway musical version of James Joyce's mortally depressing The Dead, with Blair Brown and Marni Nixon, while 2001 had him in the Mike Nichols/ Meryl Streep Shakespeare In The Park take on The Seagull. Occasionally, too, he'd host Saturday Night Live, winning an American Comedy Award for one effort. He's a member of the prestigious 5-timers club and, along with Alec Baldwin has an open invitation to host the show once a year. Describing himself as "alarmingly predictable", he likes to introduce a song to his monologue. He directed a $100,000 short called Popcorn Shrimp. Oh, and there were the videos. Walken showed up as Madonna's guardian angel in her Bad Girl promo then, in 2001, blew everyone away with Spike Jonze's take on Fatboy Slim's Weapon Of Choice. Most people didn't know he was a dancer, or a comedian, but his hilarious flamboyance changed all that.

Christopher Walken really is an odd one. He doesn't research characters by learning their histories or doing their jobs. Crossing out much of the punctuation, he looks for the rhythm in the lines, reading them hundreds of times until he's satisfied. Described as "a zen drift", this gives him a sense of distance that makes his characters so fascinating and his killers in particular so credible. He says his emotions become available to him when he's a little bored or tired, and he eats garlic, lemons and jalapeno peppers before saying his dialogue (Brendan Fraser says there were chewed up lemon wedges all over the set of Blast From The Past). He is his own man.

Search And Destroy was another good one, mad and thrilling like Scorsese's After Hours. The Prophecy was a superior horror-flick with Walken as a smilingly evil angel Gabriel, jealous of God's love for Mankind and keen to end the world (he'd later appear in 2 sequels). Back with Ferrara for the excellent The Addiction, he was a vampire explaining the ropes to new recruit Lili Taylor, while the real-time Nick Of Time saw him kidnapping Johnny Depp's daughter and forcing him to murder the governor.

Still there was time for artier projects. Celluloide involved the troubled making of Rossellini's classic Rome: Open City, then there was the tale of Warhol "discovery" Basquiat. Walken also wrote and starred in his own stage production, Him, a satirical account of Elvis Presley's afterlife. On many film-sets, Walken has relaxed his fellow actors with his impression of Elvis.

2002's Plots With A View was a comic gem, with Christopher and Alfred Molina as rival funeral directors in a small British town, Walken trying to add glamour to proceedings by running his ceremonies like Busby Berkeley. Then came another stand-out performance in Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can, as Leonardo DiCaprio's low-grade con-man father, shattered by the infidelity of wife Nathalie Baye. The performance would earn him a second Oscar nomination (Just two? That's ridiculous). Then a brief role in the absurdly ignorant miniseries Julius Caesar would be followed by Kangaroo Jack, another big hit, with Christopher as yet another mob boss, this time sending a young relative to deliver money to Australia, only for the cash to be purloined by, yes, a kangaroo.

So busy was he with movies that Walken now seldom returned to the stage. 1999 had brought a bizarre Broadway musical version of James Joyce's mortally depressing The Dead, with Blair Brown and Marni Nixon, while 2001 had him in the Mike Nichols/ Meryl Streep Shakespeare In The Park take on The Seagull. Occasionally, too, he'd host Saturday Night Live, winning an American Comedy Award for one effort. He's a member of the prestigious 5-timers club and, along with Alec Baldwin has an open invitation to host the show once a year. Describing himself as "alarmingly predictable", he likes to introduce a song to his monologue. He directed a $100,000 short called Popcorn Shrimp. Oh, and there were the videos. Walken showed up as Madonna's guardian angel in her Bad Girl promo then, in 2001, blew everyone away with Spike Jonze's take on Fatboy Slim's Weapon Of Choice. Most people didn't know he was a dancer, or a comedian, but his hilarious flamboyance changed all that.

Still the roles came in floods. After Kangaroo Jack he'd pop up for a cameo in Gigli, a movie savaged by critics desperate to have a crack at the too-rich and too-beautiful starring couple Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, here playing mob enforcers (one straight, one lesbian) who kidnap the retarded brother of a federal prosecutor. The movie did have its scornworthy scenes but it also had some fine ones, such as the five minutes where detective Walken enters Affleck's apartment and wonders aloud who the perps might be. Aliens, perhaps, he muses hilariously.

Gigli was a famous financial catastrophe. More successful would be Welcome To The Jungle, The Rock's follow-up to his breakthrough movie, The Scorpion King.
Here the ex-wrestler is sent to the Amazon to retrieve his boss's son and finds himself in a town run by an evil Walken, who uses and abuses the local workers, at one point bizarrely amusing himself by giving them a speech about the Tooth Fairy even though they don't understand English. It was exciting, roustabout stuff, with more than a taste of Romancing The Stone. Also action-packed, though far more vicious, would be Man On Fire, helmed by Walken's True Romance director Tony Scott. Here Denzel Washington would star as a former Special Forces operative, haunted by his violent past, whose meets up with old military buddy Walken in Mexico City where Walken scores him a job as bodyguard to an industrialist and his family. When things go wrong, Washington transforms into a killing machine, with Walken's trademark speeches used to boost Washington's reputation as a merciless dealer of death.

. Man On Fire would appear in 2004, as did Envy, a comedy filmed two years earlier but shelved until Jack Black's success in School Of Rock made it more marketable. Here Black would invent "the Va-poo-rizer", a gizmo to obliterate dog muck, and make a fortune, much to the chagrin of friend and neighbour Ben Stiller, who's turned down a half-share in the enterprise. Walken would show as a mysterious bum who offers solace to a painfully embittered Stiller and encourages him to give vent to his jealousy - with predictably disastrous results. Arguably funnier would be a remake of The Stepford Wives where Nicole Kidman and Matthew Broderick arrived in a gated community where the women are just as nice as pie. Glenn Close would play the town's chief meeter, greeter and social organiser with Walken as her husband, an exceptionally creepy cove who appears to be running a community where all independent thought is crushed. The year would end with Around The Bend, where Michael Caine was a dying patriarch, cared for by his adult grandson, Josh Lucas and his young son. Suddenly Caine's son Walken appears, after 30 years' absence, and Caine sets his family the task of travelling to Los Angeles together, scattering his ashes along the way. Of course they're all drawn back together by the shared experience. More importantly, Walken was able to stretch out into his most extended role in ages as he tried to make contact with this family of strangers and old and new secrets were revealed.

2005 would bring another rush of releases. First would come the big hit Wedding Crashers where Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson played a pair of ne'er-do-wells who gatecrash parties for the free food and available women. Breaking into top-notch nuptials, they find themselves attached to two daughters of Treasury Secretary Walken and taken back to his lakeside mansion, their pretence getting ever more difficult to maintain. It was amusing in parts but a real waste of Walken, and its $200 million take was nothing short of incredible.
Far more interesting would be Romance And Cigarettes, a reunion with director John Turturro. This was an earthy comedy-drama where characters would burst into old-school songs, as in the work of Dennis Potter (Walken having of course taken on Potter's Pennies From Heaven). James Gandolfini would star as a working class joe caught between beleaguered wife Susan Sarandon and trashy mistress Kate Winslet, with Walken appearing as Sarandon's Cousin Bo, called in to track Winslet down. As ever when given the chance to sing and dance, Walken would provide a major highlight, turning Tom Jones's Delilah on its head.

. Next would come a small part in Domino, another Tony Scott picture, this time with Keira Knightley as Domino Harvey, real-life daughter of actor Laurence Harvey, who ditched a career in modelling to become a successful LA bounty hunter. Walken would appear as a sleazy TV producer who hires Knightley's team for a reality TV show then treacherously introduces real stars. The movie was an unexpected bomb, but Walken's popularity never, ever wanes. When a website sprang up claiming to be pushing him for President at the 2008 elections many believed it. He was surely intelligent enough, beloved enough, crazy enough to try it on.

And on he went, following his idiosyncratic way (his career path is like that of a overloaded bumblebee). 2006 would see him in Fade To Black as the enigmatic Brewster, adding mystery and danger as Orson Welles investigates a murder on the set of Black Magic, filmed in the late Forties in Rome. Then he'd bring extra mayhem to Click where Adam Sandler would find a remote control able to pause and slo-mo his life, only for the infernal gadget to go out of control and send him spinning back and forth across the decades.

Christopher Walken really is an odd one. He doesn't research characters by learning their histories or doing their jobs. Crossing out much of the punctuation, he looks for the rhythm in the lines, reading them hundreds of times until he's satisfied. Described as "a zen drift", this gives him a sense of distance that makes his characters so fascinating and his killers in particular so credible. He says his emotions become available to him when he's a little bored or tired, and he eats garlic, lemons and jalapeno peppers before saying his dialogue (Brendan Fraser says there were chewed up lemon wedges all over the set of Blast From The Past). He is his own man.

And he enjoys massive respect. James Lipton, host of the show The Actors' Studio remembers going to watch the boxing at Madison Square Garden with Walken and fellow actor George Plimpton. On departure they found themselves surrounded by a very heavy gang of young black men, and feared the worst. But the gang's leader just approached Walken and, belly pressed to belly, said "Man, you are the coolest white man in America". And Weapon Of Choice hadn't even been made yet. Spot on.

Dominic Wills

Page: 12345...13

Biographies

Search our film biographies.

Gallery

  • NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 06:  Actor Christopher Walken attends the WhyHunger Chapin Awards at The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers on June 6, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
    2011 WhyHunger Chapin Awards
    NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 06: Actor Christopher Walken attends the WhyHunger Chapin Awards at The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers on June 6, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 06:  Actor Christopher Walken and actor/musician Ruben Blades attend the WhyHunger Chapin Awards at The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers on June 6, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
    2011 WhyHunger Chapin Awards
    NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 06: Actor Christopher Walken and actor/musician Ruben Blades attend the WhyHunger Chapin Awards at The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers on June 6, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 06:  Actors Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell attend the WhyHunger Chapin Awards at The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers on June 6, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
    2011 WhyHunger Chapin Awards
    NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 06: Actors Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell attend the WhyHunger Chapin Awards at The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers on June 6, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 07:  Actor Christopher Walken attends the "Kill the Irishman" premiere after party at Puck Fair Bar on March 7, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
    "Kill The Irishman" New York Premiere - After Party
    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 07: Actor Christopher Walken attends the "Kill the Irishman" premiere after party at Puck Fair Bar on March 7, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 07:  Actors Ray Stevenson and Christopher Walken attend the "Kill the Irishman" premiere after party at Puck Fair Bar on March 7, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
    "Kill The Irishman" New York Premiere - After Party
    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 07: Actors Ray Stevenson and Christopher Walken attend the "Kill the Irishman" premiere after party at Puck Fair Bar on March 7, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 07:  (L-R) Actors Christopher Walken and Vincent D'Onofrio attend the premiere of "Kill the Irishman" at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema on March 7, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
    "Kill The Irishman" New York Premiere - Arrivals
    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 07: (L-R) Actors Christopher Walken and Vincent D'Onofrio attend the premiere of "Kill the Irishman" at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema on March 7, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 07:  Actor Christopher Walken attends the premiere of "Kill the Irishman" at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema on March 7, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
    "Kill The Irishman" New York Premiere - Arrivals
    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 07: Actor Christopher Walken attends the premiere of "Kill the Irishman" at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema on March 7, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 07:  Actor Christopher Walken attends the premiere of "Kill the Irishman" at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema on March 7, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
    "Kill The Irishman" New York Premiere - Arrivals
    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 07: Actor Christopher Walken attends the premiere of "Kill the Irishman" at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema on March 7, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 07:  Actor Christopher Walken attends the premiere of "Kill the Irishman" at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema on March 7, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
    "Kill The Irishman" New York Premiere - Arrivals
    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 07: Actor Christopher Walken attends the premiere of "Kill the Irishman" at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema on March 7, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 07:  (L-R) Actors Christopher Walken and Vincent D'Onofrio attend the premiere of "Kill the Irishman" at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema on March 7, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
    "Kill The Irishman" New York Premiere - Arrivals
    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 07: (L-R) Actors Christopher Walken and Vincent D'Onofrio attend the premiere of "Kill the Irishman" at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema on March 7, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK - APRIL 06:  Actor Christopher Walken holds his caricature during an unveiling ceremony to unveil the Christopher Walken caricature at Sardi's on April 6, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

    NEW YORK - APRIL 06: Actor Christopher Walken holds his caricature during an unveiling ceremony to unveil the Christopher Walken caricature at Sardi's on April 6, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK - APRIL 06:  Actor Christopher Walken holds his caricature during an unveiling ceremony to unveil the Christopher Walken caricature at Sardi's on April 6, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

    NEW YORK - APRIL 06: Actor Christopher Walken holds his caricature during an unveiling ceremony to unveil the Christopher Walken caricature at Sardi's on April 6, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 01: (L-R)  Playwright Martin McDonagh, Zoe Kazan, Anthony Mackie, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken and Director John Crowley attend a meet the cast photocall of "A Behanding In Spokane" at Sardi's on February 1, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)
    Meet The Cast Of "A Behanding In Spokane"
    NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 01: (L-R) Playwright Martin McDonagh, Zoe Kazan, Anthony Mackie, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken and Director John Crowley attend a meet the cast photocall of "A Behanding In Spokane" at Sardi's on February 1, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 01: (L-R)  Actors Anthony Mackie, Zoe Kazan, Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken attend a meet the cast photocall of "A Behanding In Spokane" at Sardi's on February 1, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)
    Meet The Cast Of "A Behanding In Spokane"
    NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 01: (L-R) Actors Anthony Mackie, Zoe Kazan, Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken attend a meet the cast photocall of "A Behanding In Spokane" at Sardi's on February 1, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 01:  Actor Christopher Walken attends a meet the cast photocall of "A Behanding In Spokane" at Sardi's on February 1, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)
    Meet The Cast Of "A Behanding In Spokane"
    NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 01: Actor Christopher Walken attends a meet the cast photocall of "A Behanding In Spokane" at Sardi's on February 1, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK - APRIL 21:  Actor Christopher Walken (R) and wife Georgianne Walken attend the Vanity Fair party for the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival at the State Supreme Courthouse on April 21, 2009 in New York City.  (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)
    Vanity Fair Celebrates The 2009 Tribeca Film Festival
    NEW YORK - APRIL 21: Actor Christopher Walken (R) and wife Georgianne Walken attend the Vanity Fair party for the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival at the State Supreme Courthouse on April 21, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)
  • NEW YORK - APRIL 21:  Actor Christopher Walken attends the Vanity Fair party for the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival at the State Supreme Courthouse on April 21, 2009 in New York City.  (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)
    Vanity Fair Celebrates The 2009 Tribeca Film Festival
    NEW YORK - APRIL 21: Actor Christopher Walken attends the Vanity Fair party for the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival at the State Supreme Courthouse on April 21, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)
  • NEW YORK - APRIL 21:  Actor Christopher Walken attends the Vanity Fair party for the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival at the State Supreme Courthouse on April 21, 2009 in New York City.  (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)
    Vanity Fair Celebrates The 2009 Tribeca Film Festival
    NEW YORK - APRIL 21: Actor Christopher Walken attends the Vanity Fair party for the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival at the State Supreme Courthouse on April 21, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)
  • NEW YORK - APRIL 21:  Actor Christopher Walken attends the Vanity Fair party for the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival at the State Supreme Courthouse on April 21, 2009 in New York City.  (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)
    Vanity Fair Celebrates The 2009 Tribeca Film Festival
    NEW YORK - APRIL 21: Actor Christopher Walken attends the Vanity Fair party for the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival at the State Supreme Courthouse on April 21, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)
  • NEW YORK - APRIL 21:  Actor Christopher Walken attends the Vanity Fair party for the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival at the State Supreme Courthouse on April 21, 2009 in New York City.  (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)
    Vanity Fair Celebrates The 2009 Tribeca Film Festival
    NEW YORK - APRIL 21: Actor Christopher Walken attends the Vanity Fair party for the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival at the State Supreme Courthouse on April 21, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)
arrow

Advertisement starts



Advertisement ends

Advertisement starts


Advertisement

Advertisement ends

Advertisement starts



Advertisement ends