Christopher Walken hits cinemas this weekend alongside Al Pacino in 'Stand Up Guys', which sees them play on their reputation and portray two elderly gangsters facing one last job.
Esquire sat down with him to discuss a career playing men of a certain type.
ESQ: What do you do when you first get a script?
CW: Every time I get a job, it’s the same process. I stand in the kitchen with the script and I mumble the lines to myself over and over and over — there’s no method to it. I just keep doing it until I start to notice things.
ESQ: Always the kitchen?
CW: Yes. I live in a nice place [Wilton, Connecticut], kind of in the woods a little bit. I have a counter that I can stand up at, I put the script down, and you know, I cook a chicken or I make some soup or something.
ESQ: Did your father teach you to cook?
CW: Sure. I still like to cook and so do my two brothers. My father had a bakery [in Astoria, Queens]. He loved going to work and he made a very nice life for my mother and us. My mother came from Scotland and she loved showbusiness. In those days, the early Fifties, television was getting born in New York. We could say a line and sing a little, dance a little, and there was lots of work for kids. I’ve been in showbusiness since I was five years old.
ESQ: When did you last watch anything you were in back then?
CW: I saw myself at 10 not long ago, in a skit with Jerry Lewis on The Colgate Comedy Hour. It took place in a penny arcade and he was doing something with a machine. I walked over to him and said “Hey, mister, what are you doing?” I looked pretty much the same. I had the same voice. I had the same body language. Same attitude. I realised that maybe people don’t change as much as they think they do.
ESQ: An idea of “Christopher Walken” exists in popular culture: your name is used in song lyrics and film titles and sketches. Are you aware of it?
CW: I’m aware of certain things, people doing imitations, for instance. Often when people do that to me, I’m not sure right away what they’re doing. I have a friend who does me on his answering machine so when I call him I’m basically hearing myself. And there was a show in Los Angeles that ran for a long time that’s various people doing me. I’m not sure the origin of that but, of course, it’s kind of wonderful. I guess I’m easily imitated.
ESQ: Who does the best Christopher Walken impression?
CW: I wouldn’t really know. My wife thinks certain people are better. She likes Kevin Spacey, and Jay Mohr and Kevin Pollak.
ESQ: It says on IMDb…
CW: IM… What’s that?
ESQ: It’s the Internet Movie Database.
CW: I don’t have a computer.
ESQ: You don’t?
CW: Nope. And I don’t have a cellphone. People always talk to me about things assuming I know. And I say to them, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, the Internet Moviebase [sic]. Explain.”
ESQ: Why don’t you have one?
CW: I arrived at the computer age at a certain moment. I took a lesson years ago and became quickly exasperated. Then I saw some 10-year-old doing magical things with a computer and I thought, “If I work a year I’ll never even be as good as that.” In other words, I just missed the boat.
ESQ: In last year's Seven Psychopath's you play Hans, a possibly psychopathic dog-napper. Would have been hard to turn that one down.
CW: Well it was obviously a very good part, and in fact I’d been in Martin McDonagh’s play A Behanding in Spokane with Sam Rockwell two years ago in New York, and so I knew them pretty well. I knew Woody [Harrelson] a little bit. Colin [Farrell] I’m sure I’d never met him. It was a wonderful bunch of people to be with.
ESQ: You’ve got an aversion to guns. Did Hans being a pacifist make him more appealing?
CW: It’s true I think there’s way too many guns. I don’t like being around guns. I’ve used them in the movies because of the kind of parts I’ve been getting, but as I get older, I’m getting parts for fathers and uncles and grandfathers and that’s a welcome change. I think Hans is decent. He doesn’t hurt anybody and he’s very nice to his animals. He returns them.
ESQ: There’s a funny scene where you’re in the back of a car asleep with your mouth open. I imagine other actors of your stature might not do a whole scene with their mouth open.
CW: I did that on purpose. We’ve all seen people like that in bus stations and airports. You see somebody who’s fallen asleep and it’s really quite… What do you call it? Well, you know what I mean. Very revealed. With their guard down. I’m glad you noticed that because when I saw the movie I thought it was funny, too.
ESQ: You weren’t drooling at least.
CW: Well, I was drooling, but there was no close-up.
ESQ: Your next film is Stand Up Guys with Al Pacino. Can it really be your first movie together?
CW: Yes. We were both in Gigli but I never saw him when he did that. I knew Al a little bit through mutual friends. We were in just about every scene together. On our day off we would get together at his house and rehearse, talk about the script, and the time flew by. I had a great time with him.
ESQ: There’s a good picture of you on set wearing some rather fetching high-waisted trousers. Something you also sported in Todd Solondz’s last film, Dark Horse.
CW: You know I never saw that movie. Did you see it?
ESQ: I did. I don’t know how honest to be. It had such promise and it had some wonderful bits in it. Not least your trousers.
CW: If your trousers get reviewed…
ESQ: Well, it wasn’t the only good bit.
CW: Did you like my hairpiece?
ESQ: I did.
CW: My hairpiece looked awful. But I guess it was supposed to.
ESQ: It definitely didn’t look like it was yours. Speaking of which — how do you get your actual hair to do what it does?
CW: I try to keep it cut pretty short so that it stands up. I use a product to make it thicker. A spray. I put that in there when my hair is wet, and I sort of pull it up with my fingers and when it’s dry it stays that way.