Christopher Walken: What I’ve Learned
The actor on golf as torture, the connection between funny and scary, and why he’s sick of playing messed-up characters
Morning is the best time to see movies.
I remember once, years ago, I was walking out a door — I’d been having a conversation and I was walking out the door, and this guy said to me, “Chris,” and I stopped and I turned, and he said, “Be careful.” And I never forgot that. And it comes back to me often: Be careful. That was good advice.
That’s supposed to be a fact, that the question mark is originally from an Egyptian hieroglyph that signified a cat walking away. You know, it’s the tail. And that symbol meant — well, whatever it is when they’re ignoring you.
When I was a kid, there was someone in my family, an adult, and whenever I saw them, they would say, “You got a lotta nerve.” From the time I was a little kid, it was always like, “Heh, heh, heh — you got a lotta nerve.” I always thought, What does that mean? But then when I got older, I thought that it was an instruction. If you tell a kid something, it sticks. I think I do have a lot of nerve. But, I mean, I think I maybe got it from that person who said it to me.
My father was a lesson. He had his own bakery, and it was closed one day a week, but he would go anyway. He did it because he really loved his bakery. It wasn’t a job.
I used to love Danish. My father used to make a Boston cream pie. You never see that anymore. Very good.
Most of the jobs I get are basically very unwholesome people. There’s always something wrong with the guy, and sometimes something deeply wrong. I’m tired of that. I tell my agent I want a Fred MacMurray part. I want a part where I have a wife and kids and a dog and a house, and my kids say to me, “What do you think I should do, Dad?” and I say, “Be careful.”
I always figured that if I’m gonna be playing these people, that there should be this relationship to the audience that is very clear. “That’s Chris, and look at Chris having a good time, wanting to take over the world and sink California and shoot everybody in the room” — just so long as they understand that that’s Chris on the set having fun. And that Chris wouldn’t really do anything like that.
Golf. My God, that’s a mysterious occupation. I know people who are — good friends — who are absolutely smitten, practicing their swing and talking about it. I can understand some sort of sport where your body got a benefit, like marathon running or bicycle racing. That’s not golf. And not only that, but the whole business of standing in the sun — my God. That’s like torture.
I love spaghetti. And I like to cook spaghetti. And I used to eat it every day. I weighed thirty pounds more than I do now. You can’t — you can’t do that. Ice cream — I love to watch television and eat ice cream. But that’s like a ten-year-old. I can’t do that anymore. Beer. Beer, spaghetti, ice cream.
Professional dancers don’t go dancing.
When you’re onstage and you know you’re bombing, that’s very, very scary. Because you know you gotta keep going — you’re bombing, but you can’t stop. And you know that half an hour from now, you’re still gonna be bombing. It takes a thick skin.
I had an agent when I first got into the movies who said to me, “You’re gonna be in Los Angeles now once in a while. If somebody invites you to a party, don’t go. Stay in your room, go to the movies.” And I have a feeling I know sort of what he meant: Don’t show your face around too much. Let ’em be a little glad to see you.
It all happened when I did The Deer Hunter. Suddenly — I’d already been in show business for thirty years, and nothing much had happened. I mean, I really was laboring in obscurity, and then suddenly this movie. It was kind of infectious, and I really did become rather social. Gregarious. And that lasted, I don’t know, ten years.
Movie scripts are usually pretty loose — things usually change a lot. But not with Quentin. His scripts are absolutely huge. All dialogue. It’s all written down. You just learn the lines. It’s more like a play.
Sometimes I look at this watch and I think, There’s some guy that puts these little screws in there? There is something about it. I’m not into cars, either, but there is something about a really magnificent car.
Me and Dennis [Hopper], when we were doing that scene in True Romance, it was hilarious. It really was — including shooting him. All that laughing was real. He was killing me. And all the guys around us — that was a very cracking-up day.
I like to listen to radio interviews. I got a list of things that if I wasn’t so lazy, I would do something about, but the idea of having a radio show — two people talking on the radio is fascinating. I’ll bet you there’s some college around here — they all have radio stations. I get now that I don’t like to go anywhere, so if there was some place down the road — twenty minutes’ drive.
I don’t like zoos. Awful.
They say that the human smile is in fact one of those primordial things — that in fact it’s a showing of teeth, that it’s a warning. That when we smile, in a primeval way it has to do with fear.
There’s something dangerous about what’s funny. Jarring and disconcerting. There is a connection between funny and scary.
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