Christopher Walken: Interview with the Antichrist

When Christopher Walken won an Oscar in 1978 he looked like the Next Big Movie Star. He became, instead, a specialist in weird characters. These days he's a virtual Cult Hero -- his recent appearances in Batman Returns and True Romance, and the new Wayne's World II show why.

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I'm only going to say it once: Christopher Walken is the creepiest man on the big screen. Whether he's playing Russian roulette for his life (The Deer Hunter) or having morbid clairvoyant visions (The Dead Zone) or planning the ruin of Gotham City (Batman Returns), Walken's presence is guaranteed to raise the hair on your neck.

But just try to take your eyes off him. In this fall's True Romance, his confrontation scene with Dennis Hopper was both unremittingly horrifying and hysterically funny. Playing an icily deadly gangster, Walken tells victim Hopper, "I'm the Antichrist," and who would argue? It's what we've all been thinking since Annie Hall, when Walken (as Annie's brother) told Woody Allen how tempted he was to drive into the oncoming traffic.

All of which has made Christopher Walken by this point a cult hero of sorts. It's no surprise that Abel Ferrara used Walken to personify corruption in King of New York, that Sean Penn insisted Walken play his father (a thief and unapologetic scumbag) in At Close Range, or that Mike Myers and Dana Carvey would cast Walken as the evil music producer who becomes Wayne's nemesis in Wayne's World II.

Nothing about Walken's collective screen persona makes me particularly comfortable when Walken invites me to his house in Connecticut. Nor does it help that when Walken opens the door, he's dressed head to toe in black, and he's as pale as the vampire Lestat. But I am undaunted.

"I brought fresh bread," I say, holding up the bakery bag in my arms.

"Bread?" he says, his eyebrows arching to the heavens.

"Yes, I read that your father was a baker, and there's a great bakery in my town, so I brought four loaves for you."

"How sweet," he says, inviting me inside.

"Well," I say as I enter the Walken home, "I have an ulterior motive. I was hoping you'd dance with me."

Trust me when I tell you that Walken looks like he's going to run.

"It's just that I watched all your movies, and I realized that you're the most fantastic dancer. I mean, I knew you'd danced in musicals before getting into the movies, but when I saw you dancing in Pennies From Heaven and The Deer Hunter, and even in King of New York ... you're just terrific. Once in my life, I'd like to dance with someone who really knows what they're doing."

Walken, who has played some of the gloomiest characters in film, lets out a raucous laugh. But he doesn't agree to dance with me. Instead, we head for the kitchen.

As Walken is cutting the bread and making tea, I tell him about my own personal Christopher Walken film festival. "In one day I watched The Deer Hunter, Communion, The Dead Zone, Batman Returns and King of New York," I explain. "The next day, I saw Heaven's Gate, Brainstorm, The Comfort of Strangers, At Close Range and Homeboy. This was," I point out, "the most depressing group of movies ever made. I'm telling you, I almost slit my throat."

"My God," Walken says. "I've never seen them back-to-back like that."

"You're lucky," I tell him.

"It must have been ..."

"Hell," I say.

Walken's wife, Georgianne (whom someone once described to me as "the real deal of New York women ... smart, funny, doesn't take shit") comes bounding into the room. "You two have a good time," she says, kissing her husband on the cheek. "I'm leaving for the city."

"I asked Chris to dance," I tell her.

Georgianne gives me that "lots of luck" look, and then she's gone.

"I'm sorry that I made you come all the way out here," Walken says while we're getting comfortable on the screened-in porch.

"Are you kidding? This is my dream come true. I hate doing interviews in restaurants. It's much better getting to see the way you live."

"It's pretty simple," he says, waving his arm in the air. He's right. The house is woodsy and welcoming, comfortable and lived-in.

"I could only watch the first hour of The Deer Hunter" I say. "After I saw it the first time, I used to wake up in the middle of the night, screaming. So I really only watched the wedding scene."

"It's funny," he says. "I saw Michael Cimino the other day, and I haven't seen him in a long time. Somebody was talking about a wedding they had just been to, and we looked at each other, and I said, 'We went to the best wedding.' Which I still think it is."

I tell Walken that I think one of the best things he's ever done is one of the most recent: True Romance. "I didn't know whether to laugh or hide my eyes when you and Dennis were going at it."

"I'll tell you, Quentin Tarantino really writes the most amazing dialogue. My part was, like, four pages long. lust talking on and on. And then Dennis goes on and on. It could have been really offensive, that scene, but Quentin is so funny and so smart that it's not."

Going from the sublime to the ridiculous, I decide to bring up the 1990 film Communion, in which Walken portrayed the real-life writer Whitley Strieber, who claims to have been abducted by--literally--little blue men who did weird things to his body.

"I live right over the mountain from Whitley Strieber," I tell Walken.

"Whitley, he's such a devil," Walken says with a laugh.

"Everybody in my hometown got totally freaked. They didn't care if Whitley got abducted by aliens and got the anal probes, but they just wanted to make sure it didn't happen to any of us."

"I bet. He's a fascinating guy. He's eccentric, in a way that you usually find in England and Europe where people just go about their business and nobody pays attention. But he's an American, so it's different."

"Did the aliens really come for him?"

"I believe that he believes it. When he describes these things--and lots of people have seen them, so I'm not talking about something really private--he really gets into it. I'm telling you, he's like a radio show. He does the sounds and the screams. Whitley has people come over to his house, people who had the same thing happen to them, and they all agree about what the aliens looked like. And they all seem perfectly ... well, they all have jobs."

"Let's talk about Wayne's World II. Do you have a big part?"

"I don't think so. I play a record producer who, well, I don't want to give the movie away."

"Don't worry."

"Okay. It's not like the first one, I don't think. Wayne and Garth are in a different situation. I liked Wayne's World a lot. And it was done in the spirit of 'Saturday Night Live,' which I've done twice. A lot of the same people are involved. It's a brilliant group. To be in the company of those people, they are the big guys of our time. Now I'm getting ready to do another movie ... It's called Seraph, it's about angels."

"What do you play, the devil?"

"No, Martha, I play an angel."

"Years ago, I saw you off-Broadway in David Rabe's Hurlyburly. You were the most amazing thing I had ever seen onstage."

"Well, it was quite a cast. Bill Hurt, Harvey Keitel, Judith Ivey, Jerry Stiller, Sigourney Weaver ..."

"That reminds me. My editor wanted me to ask you this. Who's crazier, you or Bill Hurt?"

He laughs.

"I told her that the real question is, 'Who's sicker, you or Harvey Keitel?'"

Walken laughs even harder. "Harvey and Bill, they're both very nice ..."

"You did King of New York with Abel Ferrara, and then Harvey did Bad Lieutenant with him and ..."

"Let me just say that I think Bad Lieutenant and Harvey, they were made for each other."

"You seem so natural for the theater," I say.

"The two people who used to employ me all the time are dead. One was Joe Papp. We had a great relationship. He'd call me on the phone and say, 'Do you want to play Coriolanus?' I'd say, 'Sure.' And he'd say, 'Well, why don't you read it first?' I'd say, 'Okay, but I'll do it anyway.'"

"Are you well read?"

"No. That's what makes me interesting in those parts--that I don't know them. And I haven't seen them, either. I don't know how you're supposed to do it. Onstage I have a natural chutzpa that audiences like. I'm out there."

"I think you have to do some comedies," I tell Walken. "Or, don't you ever get offered romantic parts, where you dance and sing and get the girl?"

"Not too much. I did those Hallmark shows with Glenn Close [Sarah, Plain and Tall and Skylark: The Sequel to Sarah, Plain and Tall]. I played a farmer, it was romantic, we had kids ..."

"And millions of people saw it, right?"

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