Christopher Walken talks about being Hollywood's ultimate oddball

Christopher Walken says "80 percent" of directing is casting the right people.
Christopher Walken says "80 percent" of directing is casting the right people. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: October 12, 2012

THERE ARE TWO very good reasons that Christopher Walken is in the new movie "Seven Psychopaths."

The first is that Walken became friendly with writer-director Martin McDonagh ("In Bruges") when Walken starred on Broadway in McDonagh's play "A Behanding in Spokane."

"Martin was at the rehearsals all the time," Walken said last month at the Toronto International Film Festival, "so we got to know each other pretty well. And then I got this script. So many terrific actors. It seemed like something that was a good idea."

The second reason? How could Walken NOT be in a movie called "Seven Psychopaths"?

The lanky actor, with his distinctive voice and hair, has played so many oddballs over his lengthy career that it's a little surprising when he turns out to be kind of normal. He's been married more than 40 years, grew up in Queens, N.Y., and worked at his parents' bakery before cutting his teeth in touring musical theater. He performed on TV in the '50s and '60s, broke into movies and then became part of the movie consciousness with back-to-back roles in "Annie Hall" and "The Deer Hunter," for which he won an Oscar as best supporting actor. Films such as "Pennies from Heaven," "The Dead Zone," "Pulp Fiction" and dozens of others - good and bad - followed along with memorable spots ("more cowbell") hosting "Saturday Night Live."

Without going into too much detail, "Seven Psychopaths" is about a blocked screenwriter (Colin Farrell), two dognappers who kidnap the wrong dog and, uh, seven psychopaths.

Although McDonagh is not too experienced directing film, Walken was very complimentary.

"He's efficient. He's nice. He really knows what he wants," he said. "While we were making the movie, I didn't always know what was going on, but I knew that he did."

As someone who's worked with many different directors, Walken has an interesting take on their impact.

"Somebody once said that 80 percent of directing actors is casting them in the first place. So you hope that they hired you because you have some particular quality that is going to be useful to them in the movie. Good directors usually hire you and then they kind of leave you alone," he said.

"Actors play," he added. "It's a curious thing. Grown-ups, they play when they're kids. They pretend. But when they get older there's not a lot of that. But there is if you're an actor. The best jobs are the ones where you look forward to going to work because basically you're just going to have some fun. They drive you back and forth and they feed you. It's not unlike being 7 years old."

As for being one of the best-known actors in the world, Walken shrugged and got philosophical. (For maximum enjoyment, please read to yourself the following in your best Christopher Walken voice.)

"There are degrees of fame," he said. "These days you'll get to the airport and they'll say the plane doesn't leave for two hours. So I'll say, 'OK,' and I'll go get a Bloody Mary in the lounge.

" 'I'm sorry, sir, there is no lounge.' Or 'The lounge is closed for renovations.'

"So you sit in the main terminal with 500 people and their kids, and it's not that they know who you are, it's that they recognize you. And so it becomes a lot of 'Aren't you the actor?' 'Yeah, yeah.' 'What's your name?'

"When I was younger, everyone would ask, 'Would you sign this for me?' Nobody does that anymore. Now it's, 'Can I take your picture?' But's it's not really, 'Can I take your picture?' It's 'Can I have your picture with me?' So you have to stand there as they put their arm around you. The whole thing is just out of hand.

"You get your picture taken. With the person. And it never works the first time. So it's 'Do you mind if I do that again?' I understand why somebody like Johnny Depp just decides to stay in his room."

Walken is on a roll now. Even though our 15 minutes with him is winding down, and it might be good if he talked some more about the movie, just listening to him is hypnotic.

"Even if you're just walking down the street, everybody's got a camera in their hands," he continued. "It's bizarre.

"And I don't have a cellphone. I don't have a computer. It used to be that between takes, actors would just sit around and talk about something. Or they'd play cards. There was a lot of card playing. Now everybody's got their iPad. And I don't. So I'll say to this actor, 'Where do you live?' and they'll say 'Malibu,' and I'll say, 'Can you get the Google on there?'

" 'Sure.'

" 'Show me your house.'

"And they'll punch it up, and I'll get to see where they live. And their driveway. The whole neighborhood.

"Then I'll say to them, 'Here's my address; Google my house.' And it's a fabulous thing because it drives them crazy - they can't find it. I don't exist on the Internet. I'm just a big patch of green.

"There are not many people who have no Internet identity."

Walken chuckled, pleased with himself.

Like he said, 80 percent of directing is in the casting.


Contact Howard Gensler at gensleh@phillynews.com or 215-854-5678.

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