Q&A

10.12.12

Christopher Walken on ‘Seven Psychopaths,’ Natalie Wood, & More

He steals the show as Hans, a bizarre dog snatcher in this new black comedy. The Oscar winner talks about his oddest jobs, his cooking hobby, James Bond—and taming lions.

Christopher Walken is, without question, one of the most delightfully strange actors to ever grace the silver screen. OK, he’s a goddamned national treasure, and everyone has a favorite Walken moment. There’s the bizarre watch-stuck-in-ass monologue from Pulp Fiction; his thoughts of suicide delivered to Woody Allen in Annie Hall; the Oscar-winning turn as a brainwashed Vietnam vet in The Deer Hunter; the ”more cowbellSNL sketch; that amazing Fatboy Slim music video of him just dancing around—the list goes on. 

Of late, he’s had two videos go viral, including a hilarious Funny or Die video special called “Cooking with Walken,” and a video of him and his Seven Psychopaths co-stars Colin Farrell and Sam Rockwell doing a dramatic reading of the TLC series Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

In Psychopaths, Walken plays Hans, a weirdo dog thief who, along with his partner in crime (Sam Rockwell) and a Hollywood screenwriter (Colin Farrell), get caught up in a crazy predicament when they accidentally kidnap a ruthless gangster’s (Woody Harrelson) beloved Shih Tzu. It’s a hilarious farce and Walken, in his juiciest role in years, steals the show.

Walken opened up to The Daily Beast about whether he’s met any psychopaths, his lion-tamer past, his favorite Bond movies, and the Natalie Wood death case that keeps resurfacing. 

TDB: I read that you trained as a dancer initially?

CW: That’s right. I was in musicals for a long time—Broadway musicals, and tours. I did a lot of West Side Story and various musicals in New York during the ‘60s and ‘70s. I was in musicals and then at some point I got a job to be in a play, and then I got a part in a movie. It all happened a bit accidentally.

Did you work any odd jobs prior to acting?

I did. When I was a kid, during the summer, I got an odd kind of job in a traveling circus that worked up and down the Northeast—places like Utica, Ithaca, Schenectady, and it was owned by this man who was a lion tamer. He had an act and the deal was that I’d pretend to be his son. I was 17, I think. I’d go into the cage when he was done with all the big cats and he’d leave me there with one of them. It was a very sweet cat. A lioness, actually. More like a dog, almost … She was trained to do tricks—rolling over, sitting up, and all that. I was never attacked or anything. It was a very sweet, old lion-girl named Sheba. No, she certainly wasn’t interested in eating me.

Any other strange jobs besides lion tamer?

My father had a bakery and I used to deliver cakes but I never did the typical actor jobs.

I’ve also heard a rumor that you were considered for the Han Solo part in Star Wars. Is that right?

Well, along with a hundred other people. Yes. At some time, I can’t remember when it was, they were doing screen tests for Star Wars and more people than you can count auditioned for it on film. I was one of many!

You played a Bond villain, Max Zorin, in A View to a Kill, and it’s the 50th anniversary of the James Bond films this year. Do you have favorite Bond movies or villains of your own?

I remember very clearly when the first ones came out, and I even remember the Bond phenomenon before there were movies—the famous thing about John F. Kennedy saying something in public about reading Ian Fleming books, and then suddenly everyone was buying them. I remember Dr. No and I remember, in particular, From Russia with Love. They were very exciting. Very sexy! It was a lot of fun to actually be in one. And Daniel Craig is terrific, I think. He’s completely believable.

‘I’d go into the cage when he was done with all the big cats and he’d leave me there with one of them. It was a very sweet cat. A lioness, actually. More like a dog, almost …’

Hans in Seven Psychopaths is one of your juiciest roles in quite some time. What personal touches did you add to the character? Was it your idea for him to wear a cravat?

No, the cravat was part of the script ’cause, of course, he has this terrible scar from cutting his throat. Hans is a guy who’s had a very troubled past and when the movie starts, he’s older and is kind of in a place where he’s pulled himself together. Then they kill his wife. I think he’s fine until then, and then, he gets a little dangerous.

There’s a great scene where Hans gets a shotgun pulled on him and completely brushes the situation off. Have you ever had a gun pulled on you before?

No, I don’t believe I have. Only in the movies.

Who is, in your opinion, a real-life “psychopath?” 

I probably have met psychopaths but I don’t think I was ever around them long. A couple of times in my life I’ve been in a room with somebody that’s made me very uncomfortable. Occasionally … I’ve met people that I thought were very troubled, and not necessarily for reasons I can explain. Usually, when that happens, I leave.

Is there anything that’s troubling you these days? What’s on your mind?

Oh, everything’s pretty good. Actors are always worried about their next job and it’s never been any different for me. When I’m busy and when I wasn’t busy, I’ve never really known much about what I’m going to do next. You know, I don’t have kids and I don’t have hobbies. I don’t like to travel. So, going to work is really about it.

You really don’t have any hobbies?

Not really … I dabble in things, but my attention span is just not very good. I do a little bit of painting, a little bit of writing. I like to cook.

What’s the Christopher Walken specialty?

I make very basic things but I’m a pretty good cook. The thing about cooking that they don’t talk about enough, especially on cooking shows, is they never tell you how long it takes. That’s particularly vital with things like fish—not too much, not too little. I did a cooking video with Richard Belzer for Funny or Die. I just finished the narration for it recently.

Speaking of your voice and accent, you’ve become so celebrated for the rhythm of your speech and the way you deliver your lines.

I think it comes from the part of New York I come from. I’m from an area of New York full of people from other places, particularly Europe. My parents both came to America as adults from Europe and all my friends had parents where English was their second language. There are places I grew up where people still spoke Italian and German and kind of brought Europe to America with them. The people I grew up with, a lot of them had very heavy accents, and I think it rubbed off a little in terms of rhythm.

For some reason, the Natalie Wood case keeps appearing in the news. The authorities have been treating it very oddly and keep reopening it and exploring it, especially of late. I’m curious as to why you’ve decided to stay quiet about that whole situation?

And I have to tell you that I will. There’s so much stuff that anybody who’s curious can just go find it on the Internet. It’s not something I care to talk about. It’s such an old story. I’m sure there’s somebody you could ask. I have no idea.

Now you’ve played a plethora of interesting characters but most of them could probably be classified as villains or eccentrics. There is, however, the occasional straight performance like the loving father you played in Catch Me If You Can. Do you actively seek out these less wacky parts?

I am looking for them but also some things happen just naturally. As you get older, you’re playing uncles, fathers, and grandfathers. It’s nice to be doing different things.

I’m such a fan of your monologues in True Romance and Pulp Fiction. Are you and Quentin Tarantino going to work together again?

You should tell him to call me! I would love to, of course.