The eccentric actor talks about his upcoming role...as a nice guy?
There's just something about Christopher Walken. I mean, everyone knows he is unusual--saying that is just restating the obvious. But beyond his distinctly curious speech cadences and predilection for the most unusual bad-guy roles, Walken has the singular ability to inspire fan worship--among men in particular--in a way few others can. Seriously, what man can't quote the watch monologue from Pulp Fiction? You're thinking of it now, aren't you?
When he walked into the room for the Hairspray press junket, I noticed several things about him right away. Number one: He is scary. Not like grossly misshapen or threatening to pound your face into a pulp scary, but something about him is just intimidating--to the point that all the journalists (who were previously relaxed and joke-y with the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer and John Travolta) all but snapped to attention and called him, 'sir.' There is just something about his bearing and the way he looks at you that makes you think that if you wander off your best behavior and upset him, he may kill you.
Second, he has a frightening amount of hair. It is obscenely healthy and full--rising off his head in some sort of a 2" flat top that would be shocking on a man of my age, let alone of his.
And third, he is oddly humble--about himself, his job, and his success. In Hairspray, Walken plays Wilbur Turnblad, father of fat-but-sassy protagonist Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) and husband of oversized, agoraphobic laundry mistress Edna Turblad (a be-dragged John Travolta). Wilbur is nothing if not a good guy--perhaps a little clueless at times, but an absolutely loving husband and father. Not your usual Walken typecasting, but a role he was eager for nonetheless. "This part that I have in a strange way is a part that I’ve wanted to play," says Walken. "A husband, a father, a good guy, a man with a business and all that stuff. His own house, like a wholesome type man. Ozzie and Harriet. And this part really is the closest to that I’ve ever played. You know, it’s a bizarre family, but it’s a pretty nice family."
Walken has the bulk of his scenes with Blonsky and Travolta, but unlike most of his other Hairspray costars, he was pretty unphased by seeing Travolta decked out as Edna--even though they had a big dance number together. "It was always John in the rehearsals. And then he put that outfit on, and for five minutes, I had to think about it," Walken explains. "But after that, I just looked at him and it was still John. It was John with this thing on. So he and I treated each other, it was more like Chris talking to John than Wilbur and Edna."
One of the most imitated men in show business, Walken is blissfully unaware of all the impressions of him out there in the ether, saying only "I like it, I think it’s cool." Travolta even did a Walken impression for the press during our interview with him earlier in the day, but Walken claimed to have never seen him do it before. "Maybe he’s done it and I didn’t realize it. Yeah, a lot of people do that. I don’t really know why, but it’s okay with me."
And although he has a lot of great things to say about his fellow actors (he called Blonsky "amazing" and Pfeiffer a "world class singer") and clearly commands the respect of everyone in the room, Walken is very understated about his own talent. "To be honest, I was never very ambitious. And I still am not," he said of his decades-long career in Hollywood. "It’s astonishing to me how well I’ve done. I became an actor by accident."
So is the key to his success laboriously picking his roles? Not so much. "My agent sends me the script and I usually just look at my own lines," Walken says. "And then I think, ‘Could I say that?’ If I read it, mumble it to myself, if I have no idea what the script is about, but if I mumble the lines to myself and it’s okay, I usually say ‘Yeah, I could do that.’"
Walken remained mum on any upcoming projects that might be in the pipeline, theorizing that at his age, opportunities might dry up. "Sometimes when you’re an actor you get put out to pasture," he joked. "They put you on an ice flow. Or it’s the old actors’ home in Jersey. Where you eat bologna sandwiches on white bread."
Mr. Walken, I have a feeling that won't be happening to you any time soon.
Christopher Walken can be seen in Hairspray at theaters nationwide starting this Friday, July 20.
Click on reelz.com's Hairspray page for clips from the movie and more!