Christopher Walken: Dark Horse (2011) Interview

Christopher Walken Dark-Horse-

There’s Christopher Walken with a bad toupee, sitting like a zombie on the sofa in his comfy suburban house. His perky, bespectacled wife Mia Farrow sits next to him. They both watch an episode of Seinfeld, gazing at the TV like they’ve been hypnotized.

The scene is from Dark Horse, the new film written and directed by bad boy auteur Todd Solondz, the man who placed a plethora of perversities in such sicko suburban serenades as Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness, Storytelling, Palindromes and Life During Wartime.

As has been written elsewhere, this is a different sort of Solondz cinematic excursion, a bit kinder, somewhat gentler, and with not as much perversity. Sure, the tale of a geeky slacker (Jordan Gelber) who lives with his parents (Walken and Farrow), and thinks he meets his dream girl when he encounters the depressed Selma Blair at a Jewish wedding, is not a laugh riot. But there are some funny moments and a nicer, softer touch to Solondz’s social satire here.

“It was an easier movie to finance than my other ones,” Solondz has reportedly said. “If I knew that I would have left the pedophilia out of my films a while ago.”

Solondz, being the steadfast independent he is, usually gets great casts for his disturbing films. And here, like he has done so many times before, Christopher Walken etches a memorable character in a supporting role.

For decades now, Walken has been an attraction for pretty much anything he’s been in, whether in an indie or Hollywood film, a TV appearance on Saturday Night Live or a Fat Boy Slim music video, or a stage performance like the turn he did in Broadway’s “A Behanding in Spokane” or as Elvis in “Him,” or any number of his interpretations of Shakespeare.

He’s at the center of a huge cult of followers who know what they are getting with the imprimatur on it: Something that’s familiar but unpredictable at the same time.

What makes the 69-year-old former child actor born Ronald Walken (named after thespian Ronald Colman) such a magnet for people?

Can it be his gauntly handsome demeanor?  His oddball New Yawkish accent and unusual speech “pattun”? His semi-spiked hair or his deer-in-headlights mien? His overall spookiness and mostly unspoken connection to the mysterious death of Natalie Wood?

Walken himself said he has “a natural foreignness” which makes it hard for him to play a regular guy.

“Oh, I know I look strange, and strangeness equates into villainy through the camera. If you saw pictures of me when I was a kid, I always looked pretty strange. But I really don’t feel strange. It’s hard for me to play the guy next door. But it’s an advantage too, because other actors don’t have it.”

We all knew something was up even early in his career, whether he was playing the narcissistic poet in Paul Mazursky’s Next Stop, Greeenwich Village, or the intrepid New York detective investigating spooky goings on in The Sentinel, or the brother of Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) plagued by strange visions in Woody Allen’s Academy Award winner.

Of course, the game changer for Chris was his tour-de-force turn as Nick, the Pennsylvania factory worker-turned-Vietcong POW in Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter.  Walken won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, bringing his otherworldly touch to the haunted, Russian Roulette-playing character.

With the film winning five of the nine trophies it was nominated for, including Best Picture and Best Director for Cimino, Walken’s profile took a huge bump. He was now a bona fide name actor, getting major or leading parts as a mercenary in The Dogs of War; Heaven’s Gate, Cimino’s disastrous western follow-up to The Deer Hunter; and showing off his dancing (and stripping) skills behind Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters in the bold but despondent musical screen version of Dennis Potter’s Pennies from Heaven.

Walken’s quirky presence has made him a rare actor who can weave between lead and supporting roles. He’s certainly a workhorse, appearing in over 85 films over the 34 years since The Deer Hunter came out, and that doesn’t even count his TV or stage roles. Meanwhile, Walken has nine films in various stages of production that will be released in the future, ranging from a new feature by documentarian Errol Morris on cryogenic freezing, to playing Zeus in the fantasy romance Gods Behaving Badly.

But the actor has gone on record stating that what you see on screen is not what you get in real life.

“There’s a certain tongue-in-cheek at play here,” he said. “Anybody who knew me for five minutes wouldn’t think that’s my persona. One reason I can play the people I do is I have such a distance from them. I’m not neurotic or any of those things. I’m very positive.”

Whether a bad guy in a James Bond or Batman movie (A View to a Kill, Batman Returns), an Italian mobster (True Romance), a soldier with a prized watch (Pulp Fiction), a drug kingpin (The King of New York), a pussycat (Puss in Boots), a sci-fi writer interrogated by aliens (Communion), a Disney villain (The Country Bears), the evil angel Gabriel (the Prophecy series) or the father of a con artist (Catch Me If You Can), Walken has been something to behold—and in most cases, scary, too.

What are your favorite Christopher Walken performances?

  • Wayne P.

    It has to be his role in the Deer Hunter.  He wasnt the best russian roulette player in that famous scene…how could he be after being in that hell-cage like he was? But he was sure worth saving to Robert DeNiro who acted his part to perfection in asking for 3 bullets (thus making the odds 50/50) for a chance to spring them from the greedy VC!

    • Brighttyger

      Yeah…but poor Nick tries to become Michael.  One shot.

      • Wayne P.

        The end of the movie was very much a downer for me…Walken’s character drugged out in Bangkok or someplace and basically coming to the end of himself, but thats PTSD ‘Nam style for you!

  • Juanita123516

    I really enjoyed his performances and in Hairspray and A View to a KIll . A very versatile  actor as evidenced by his foray into pop music videos and his work across several genres.

  • Dana-thompson

    Loved him in Deer Hunter, also in Blast from the Past, Catch Me If You Can and of course as the Continental on Saturday Night Live and who can forget “More Cow Bell”

  • Dana-thompson

    One more, has anyone seen “Who Am I This Time”? He was magnificent

    • Brighttyger

      Love love love Who Am I This Time.  Utterly charming.  Walken has a gift for romantic comedy and it’s too bad he didn’t get more of those roles.  He does being in love better than anyone.

  • Brighttyger

    My favorites are Who Am I This time, The Dead Zone, and Deer Hunter.  He’s fun in Blast From the Past, too.

  • Dreemweever

    His bit part as the exterminator in Mouse Hunt.

  • Barbara

    I guess it doesn’t count as a real “movie”, but we love him in the Hallmark Hall of Fame “Sarah Plain and Tall” 3-part series, mainly because he DOES play a really normal, non-quirky guy. It’s always a pleasure to see an actor/actress play against type.

  • eldersburgrick

    I can go with TRUE ROMANCE or PULP FICTION.

  • Timbeer1

    You have all missed it. Sean Penn’s dad in At Close Range

  • Shawnaguilera88

    Even with all the bad-guy roles he’s played and the other memorable roles, I still think of him as Johnny in the ‘Dead Zone’.

  • Rjwidmann

    He was unforgettably sinister in “At Close Range and “The King of New York”, campy and cooky sinister in “View To A Kill ”  

  • Gfkseratt

    For being a kookie spookie in so many films,  he seems to have a handle on being a great father and lover in Hallmark’s SARAH PLAIN & TALL.  Extra proof of versatility !!  Isn’t that what a REAL GOOD ACTOR does?

  • LordGooGoo

    What a fantastic title for this article!  Am I the only one who gets it?  Anyway, I haven’t seen even half of the body of Walken’s work, but of what I have seen, my favorite by a very wide margin is Who Am I This Time, in which he starred with the equally brilliant Susan Sarandon.  

  • Valdy

    I really enjoyed his work in ‘The Dead Zone’.  And ‘A View to a Kill’… Wow!  And ‘Mouse Hunt’, perfect choice.  He has never failed to show me a good performance.  There is another one which I cannot remember the name of; perhaps one of you film buffs may remember.  In the film, a teen girl is inadvertently kidnapped by a young guy in the process of stealing a car; he steals cars ‘to order’ for a crime organization.  Walken plays her uncle, who is called in by her Dad to ‘straighten out’ the kidnappers… He was excellent as the slightly menacing uncle with an implied ‘action past’, someone with the capability to ‘troubleshoot’ such a situation (which he does, of course).  The movie was actually funny at times, and he was great on the more serious side.  I wish I could remember the name; I’d order it on DVD if I could.

    • http://www.facebook.com/shannon.bloom.75 Shannon Bloom

      Excess Baggage

  • MissKitty

    Even though they’re fairly new…Sleepy Hollow and Blast From the Past…

  • RBW56

    “Blast from the Past”, “Wedding Crashers” (“I stand with my daughter”  — best line of the movie), “Who Are We This Time” w/ Susan Sarandon (not a movie, but a 30 – 50 minute made for TV offering based on a Kurt Vonnegut short story) . . .

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OC6SKJLQDZEY674X7VRYBWH6AI Tom

    The ” keeper of the watch ” in Pulp Fiction.  As he tells his dead P.O.W. friend’s son the long history of that watch, I am bouncing back and forth from crying at the tragedy and laughing at the absurdity of that “moisture laden” watch.  And Walken pulls if off perfectly.

  • VICTOR W. SIMPSON

    CHRISTOPER WALKEN IS A GREAT ACTOR AND I LOVE WATCHING HIM IN MOVIES.  IN FACE IF I SEE A MOVIE THAT HE IS IN I TRY TO WATCH IT AND IF IT IS ON BLUE RAY OR DVD I BUY IT.

  • Sunra37

    Short but Sweer: Vincent Coccotti “You tell the angels in heaven you never seen evil so singularly personified as you did in the face of the man who killed you” The rest of the exchange, and Walkens reaction to that exchange, is rough, but nevertheless priceless……………..Oh Yeah, “More Cowbell”!

  • Ysuz28man

    All he needs is a little more cow bell!!   (his headless horseman was entertaining, too.

  • Susanjohnston

    I really enjoyed Christopher Walken in the “Dead Zone.”  He is a powerful actor, but he usually “creeps me out” and is so intense that my abilities to remain focused and savor the performance fail.  His role in the “Deer Hunter” was like this, but I thought his charaterization was excellent in that film.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nathan.forester.1 Nathan Forester

    I have to agree on Sleepy Hollow. Grr…grrr..rrr.

  • jbourne5181

    I’ll watch any movie that Christopher Walken is in

  • Carolyn Ferrante

    ‘Communion’ is a sleeper, (meaning a movie that didn’t get the attention it deserved), but I’m glad I have it on VHS. I have a friend from Queens, NY, who used to go to the Walken bakery, I believe it was, or grocery store. She remembers the brothers well.

  • Eric Nilsson

    I admit to checking IMDB, but I remember Christopher Walken in “The Happiness Cage.” It’s ending was a preview of the Christopher Walken in “The Deer Hunter.”

  • Robert Gordon

    The scene in “True Romance” with the dialog between Chris Walken and Dennis Hopper is absolutely sensational.

  • jbourne5181

    I was going to write the exact same thing that Robert wrote [below] which what I can only describe as a spectacular back and forth dialogue between Walken and Hopper. but basically I like every thing the man has done, just throw out Heavens Gate. Mr. Walkens wife must have needed a new washer and dryer.