don't need to be made to look evil. I can do that on my own."
Tomatoes Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
are very few actors who can always be relied on to turn in extremely
watchable performances (even in unwatchable films) but Christopher
Walken definitely belongs to that select list. To paraphrase one
of his lines from "Batman Returns", he's got the magic.
His charisma's bigger than both of us. For Walken, it has been
a long, strange trip en route to becoming one of the most respected
actors of his generation.
Ronald Walken in 1943 in Queens, New York, he studied dancing
originally, and his early career included such odd jobs as lion
taming. He was influenced to embark on a career in show business
by Jerry Lewis. The young Walken was an extra on a show where
Lewis and Martin were guest hosts. His early work was almost exclusively
on the small screen in TV shows such as "Naked City"
(credited as Ronnie Walken), "Hawaii Five-O" and "Kojak".
made his big screen debut in the 1968 film "Me
and My Brother". Other roles in various minor films followed,
but it was not until his role as Diane Keaton's slightly psychotic
brother in "Annie
Hall" (1977) that people really began to pay attention.
Although his part was little more than a cameo, his memorable
speech to Woody Allen about how he sometimes feels like driving
head on into the lights of an oncoming car provided the template
for many of Walken's subsequent roles - scary and humorous combined.
Walken is also famous for a role he did not get that same year
- he was George Lucas's second choice for the role of Han Solo
after Harrison Ford. This was memorably spoofed on a "Saturday
Night Live" episode years later, where Kevin Spacey played
Walken auditioning for the role with his infamous delivery style.
next major role was as Nick in Michael Cimino's Vietnam epic "The
Deer Hunter" (1978). His moving and disturbing performance
as a veteran who is tragically unable to leave the war behind
(especially the Russian Roulette games he and his fellow POWs
were forced to take part in by the enemy) was the heart of the
film. Walken held his own in every scene alongside another great
actor, Robert DeNiro, and the role won Walken his first (and to
date, only) Oscar.
years later, Walken again appeared in a film for director Cimino,
the infamous "Heaven's
Gate". The reception for this epic western couldn't have
been more different than that for their previous collaboration.
It was met with almost total indifference by both critics and
audiences, and soon became synonymous with big budget flops. Its
failure also helped put an end to the era of individualistic filmmaking
that had been ushered in by the seventies auteurs. This disappointment
was followed by a role in the Hollywood version of Dennis Potter's
From Heaven" (1981). The musical finally allowed Walken
to demonstrate his talent for dance routines in a major way.
was an important year for Walken as it saw him in two leading
man roles where he played somewhat against type for a change.
The first of these, "Brainstorm",
was a sci-fi thriller about scientists who experiment with recording
people's thoughts and was directed by Douglas Trumbull, the special
effects genius behind "2001: A Space Odyssey". However,
it is mainly notorious for being the last film to star Natalie
Wood, who died before principal photography was completed in 1981.
She was on a sailing trip with her husband, Robert Wagner, and
Walken himself when she drowned. The mysterious nature of her
death, and the need to shoot further scenes without her, delayed
the release of the film by two years. When it finally did reach
movie theaters, the reaction was less than ecstatic.
other film that year, "The
Dead Zone", was far more successful. A fairly faithful
adaptation of the novel by Stephen King, it featured Walken in
a rare heroic role as schoolteacher Johnny Smith, who receives
the gift (or curse) of foresight after awaking from a long coma.
Walken's haunted, sensitive performance was a revelation, and
made the story possibly even more emotionally powerful than it
had been in the novel. The heartfelt character development in
the film was also a departure for director David Cronenberg after
the extreme nature of his early horror films. One amusing coincidence:
early on in the film Walken tells his class he'll be reading them
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Of course, 16 years later, Walken
played the legendary horseman himself.
was next seen in perhaps the first of many purely villainous roles
View to a Kill" (1985). The James Bond movie (the last
to feature Roger Moore) was not 007's finest hour, but Walken
gave an entertaining performance and held his own alongside the
even scarier presence of Grace Jones. A year later Walken returned
to more serious roles in "At
Close Range". The powerful drama, based on a true story,
featured Walken as the violent criminal father of Sean Penn's
character. He convincingly showed the evil that can lurk in everyday
mostly appeared in smaller films over the next few years, such
Milagro Beanfield War" (1988), the Matthew Broderick
bootcamp drama/comedy "Biloxi
Blues" (1988) and the supposedly true story "Communion"
(1989) which detailed author Whitley Strieber's abduction by aliens.
He also won acclaim in an uncharacteristic warm role in the TV
Plain and Tall" (1991) opposite Glenn Close. Walken was
back on more familiar ground in Abel Ferrara's 1990 gangster epic
of New York". His mobster, Frank White, was a terrifying
and charismatic creation.
1992 Walken reached a whole new audience by collaborating with
director Tim Burton for the first time in "Batman
Returns". His role as Max Shreck (one letter away from
the German actor who played Nosferatu) was less flamboyant than
the other villains in that film, but no less integral to the plot
and allowed Walken to demonstrate his talent yet again for mixing
menace with humor. This was best demonstrated in the brilliant
scene where he toys with Selina Kyle before pushing her out of
a window, inadvertently creating Catwoman. It remains one of the
most successful films Walken has appeared in.
The next year Walken played a somewhat standard comedic villain
role in "Wayne's
World 2". More notable was his cameo in the same year's
Romance". Written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by
Tony Scott, the film was a fast-paced, violent and hilarious modern
take on the lovers on the lam genre. It was stuffed full of memorable
performances, none more so than Walken's brief but unforgettable
appearance as mob head honcho Vincent Coccotti. His one scene
opposite Dennis Hopper featured both actors at the top of their
game, aided by Tarantino's typically outrageous dialogue (which
some criticised for liberal use of the infamous "n"
Fiction" (1994) featured Walken in another role created
by Tarantino with an equally memorable one-scene speech. His telling
of the history of a gold watch to the young Bruce Willis has a
hillarious punchline involving the exact part of the human anatomy
the watch was stored in during the Vietnam war. "Things
to Do in Denver When You're Dead" (1995) was one of the
many Tarantinoesque movies to be released in the wake of Pulp
Fiction's success. Walken oozed his usual menacing charm in the
role of The Man With the Plan. The same year Walken took the role
of an angel in the supernatural thriller "The
Prophecy". The surprise success of the film led to several
sequels also starring Walken as Gabriel.
was a busy year for Walken as he also found time to appear as
the villain in the thriller "Nick
of Time". It marked his first time starring alongside
another Burton regular, Johnny Depp. And he topped the year off
by starring as a vampire in another film for director Abel Ferrara,
Addiction". Walken has appeared frequently in movies
since then, both good and bad. Two of his most successful films
in the late nineties, somewhat ironically, were family movies:
the comedy "Mouse
Hunt" (1997) and the computer animated "Antz"
1999, Walken worked again with two previous collaborators - Tim
Burton and Johnny Depp - on the horror film "Sleepy
Hollow". His almost silent role as the Hessian Horseman
(before he became the Headless Horseman) was kept quiet before
the film's release and was a pleasant surprise for many of Walken's
fans. The film was a big hit and probably won Walken some new
the same period Walken branched out by appearing in music videos
for Madonna and Fatboy Slim. His dance routine in the latter's
"Weapon of Choice" video not only allowed Walken to
display his dance talent in a more obvious way than in most of
his films, but won an MTV Video Music award. He has also shown
his comedic range with numerous guest host appearances on "Saturday
Night Live" over the years, including a sketch where he spoofed
his own psychic role in "The Dead Zone". He branched
out even further into other creative areas by making his directorial
debut in 2001 with the film "Popcorn
most recent role in a major film was as a sympathetic father in
Steven Spielberg's "Catch
Me if You Can" (2002). Walken received his second Oscar
nomination for his performance, and while he didn't win, it was
a tribute to his long and rich career. It's worth noting that
it's not just on the screen where Walken has a celebrated reputation.
He has also appeared on stage in over 100 plays.
future continues to look bright for the actor as he enters his
sixth decade (his fifth in showbusiness). While his choice of
films is sometimes questionable, Walken always gives every role
his best shot. As Walken said in various interviews in 2002: "I
don't have hobbies, I don't play golf, I don't have children,
I don't like to travel. So I like to work." It will be interesting
to see how the latter stage of the career of one of the most unconventional
leading men in Hollywood develops.
Arran McDermott 2003
Christopher Walken Seite
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