On Movies: Many mimic him, but few deliver a line like Walken

Christopher Walken (second from left) stars in "Stand Up Guys" with Al Pacino (left), Alan Arkin, and Katheryn Winnick.
Christopher Walken (second from left) stars in "Stand Up Guys" with Al Pacino (left), Alan Arkin, and Katheryn Winnick. (SAEED ADYANI)
Posted: February 04, 2013

'Well, he's the most unique man I've ever met," says Colin Farrell, speaking of Christopher Walken, his costar in Seven Psychopaths, the recent Martin McDonagh caper. "A most unique person."

As for the way Walken comes at a piece of dialogue, Farrell noted: "His pitch and his cadence and his interpretation of the lines is so beautiful and beautifully odd."

Farrell is not alone in this observation. Since the beginning of Walken's career, way back in the Annie Hall and The Deer Hunter days, audiences, filmmakers and fellow actors have been struck by his delivery, how Walken can transform the most benign line into something menacing, or ironic, or just weird.

And vice versa: the most menacing, or ironic, or weird, becomes something that sounds eerily matter-of-fact.

"You know, they say there are as many different Hamlets as there are actors to play him," says Walken, asked to consider the issue of his trademark enunciatory style. "And I think it's true - if you give a part to an actor, it's going to be different than it would be for some other actor."

But Walken, who stars with Al Pacino in Stand Up Guys - their first film together - is not ducking the question.

"I probably have an odd way of speaking," he concedes. "I've thought a lot about that. People comment on it."

Walken grew up in Queens, in a part of the borough filled with immigrants. His mother was Scottish, his dad German.

"Both my parents came to America as adults," he explains, "and the part of New York that we lived in, that was typical of all of the kids that I grew up with - their parents were from some place else. There were a lot of foreign languages spoken, and English, when it was spoken, was often with a heavy accent.

"I grew up listening to people who spoke English as a second language, and I suppose that rubs off a little bit."

So Walken, who has almost 120 films to his credit, just carries on. It is, after all, who he is, the way he talks.

"It doesn't feel odd to me. But people do comment. A lot of people imitate me."

In fact, he says, strangers come up to him on the street, in restaurants, and start doing him, to him.

"Usually when people do that in front of me, I'm not sure what they're doing exactly," he says, deadpan. "I think, Why are they speaking like that? Then I catch on. . . .

"My wife says there are people who are really good at it. Like, Kevin Pollak and Kevin Spacey. And I have a friend who does me on his answering machine. I call him up, and it sounds like it's me on the other end."

In Stand Up Guys, which opened in area theaters Friday, Walken is a quiet, old con artist and gangster named Doc. He lives modestly, paints religiously, and stops at a diner every day to talk up the pretty, young waitress ( Addison Timlin). His long-ago partner in crime is played by Pacino - an actor with his fair share of impersonators, too. After a long stint in prison, Pacino's Val is released, and Doc picks him up and takes him home, and a wild couple of days ensue. Alan Arkin plays another former colleague who figures into the storyline, too.

"Honestly, to think that I'd have a big part in a movie with Al Pacino, and Alan Arkin, a movie about three friends - it was a really nice surprise," Walken says. "As a matter of fact, somebody in the movie, I think it's Alan Arkin, says, 'It's great that we got to work together.' And that's true."

Although Stand Up Guys, directed by Fisher Stevens, boasts hookers and mob goons, a car chase and even a big, slo-mo shoot-out, in important ways its theme is the same as a couple of other films in theaters now, Amour and Quartet.

All three are about growing older, coming to terms with the passage of time, the challenges faced as minds and bodies begin to fall apart.

"That's definitely part of it," says Walken, a sprightly 69.

"It's really hard for me to get a grasp on how old I am. I don't feel that old, and, you know, I don't even see it when I look in the mirror. But it's just a fact. And it's true, what they say, that it catches you by surprise. . . .

"For me, anyway, both my parents had long, healthy lives. And I think there's a time when you just start paying more attention to what you eat and try to stay healthy and exercise and that sort of thing. That's what happened to me, anyway."

And if you could hear the way Walken said that line, you'd know it's true.

On Movies:


Stand Up Guys

In area theaters

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies

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