Christopher Walken facts for kids
Quick facts for kids
Walken in 2018
March 31, 1943
New York City, U.S.
|Other names||Ronnie Walken
|Alma mater||Hofstra University|
Christopher Walken (born Ronald Walken; March 31, 1943) is an American actor. Prolific in films, television, and on stage, Walken is the recipient of numerous accolades including an Academy Award, a BAFTA Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award, as well as nominations for two Primetime Emmy Awards and two Tony Awards. His films have grossed more than $1.6 billion in the United States alone.
Walken has appeared in supporting roles in films such as The Anderson Tapes (1971), Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976), Roseland (1977) and Annie Hall (1977) before coming to wider attention as the troubled Vietnam War veteran Nick Chevotarevich in The Deer Hunter (1978). His performance earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He was nominated for the same award for portraying con artist Frank Abagnale's father in Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can (2002).
Since his breakthrough, Walken has appeared in films in various genres, both in lead and supporting roles, including The Dogs of War (1980), The Dead Zone (1983), A View to a Kill (1985), At Close Range (1986), Biloxi Blues (1988), King of New York (1990), The Comfort of Strangers (1990), Batman Returns (1992), True Romance (1993), Pulp Fiction (1994), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Man on Fire (2004), Wedding Crashers (2005), Hairspray (2007), Seven Psychopaths (2012), A Late Quartet (2012), the first three Prophecy films and Percy (2020). He has also provided voice work in Antz (1998) and The Jungle Book (2016)
On television, Walken has appeared in television films such as Who Am I This Time? (1982) and Sarah, Plain and Tall (1991), for which he received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination. More recently, he has starred in television series The Outlaws (2021-) and Severance (2022-), the latter of which earned him a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series nomination. He is a popular guest-host of Saturday Night Live, hosting seven times. His most notable roles on the show include record producer Bruce Dickinson in the "More Cowbell" sketch; the disgraced Confederate officer Colonel Angus; and multiple appearances in the Continental sketch.
As a stage actor, Walken has played the lead in the Shakespeare plays Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and Coriolanus. His performance in the original rendition of James Joyce's The Dead (2000) earned him a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical nomination. He was nominated for Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for his role in Martin McDonagh's A Behanding in Spokane (2010). He also wrote and played the lead role in the 1995 play Him about his idol Elvis Presley.
Walken was born Ronald Walken on March 31, 1943, in Astoria, Queens, New York, the son of Rosalie Russell (May 16, 1907 – March 26, 2010), a Scottish immigrant from Glasgow and Paul Wälken (October 5, 1903 – February 23, 2001), a German immigrant from Gelsenkirchen who owned and operated Walken's Bakery in Astoria. Walken was named after actor Ronald Colman. He was raised Methodist. He and his brothers, Kenneth and Glenn, were child actors on television in the 1950s, influenced by their mother's dreams of stardom. When he was 15, a girlfriend showed him a magazine photo of Elvis Presley and Walken later said, "This guy looked like a Greek god. Then I saw him on television. I loved everything about him." He changed his hairstyle to imitate Presley and has not changed it since. As a teenager, he worked as a lion tamer in a circus. He attended Hofstra University but dropped out after one year, having gotten the role of Clayton Dutch Miller in an off-Broadway revival of Best Foot Forward alongside Liza Minnelli. Walken initially trained as a dancer at the Washington Dance Studio before moving on to dramatic stage roles and then film.
As a child, Walken appeared on screen as an extra in numerous anthology series and variety shows during the Golden Age of Television. After appearing in a sketch with Martin and Lewis on The Colgate Comedy Hour, Walken decided to become an actor. He landed a regular role in the 1953 television show Wonderful John Acton playing the part of Kevin Acton. During this time, he was credited as Ronnie Walken.
Over the next two years, he appeared frequently on television (landing a role in the experimental film Me and My Brother) and had a thriving career in theater. From 1954 to 1956, Walken and his brother Glenn originated the role of Michael Bauer on the soap opera The Guiding Light. In 1963, he appeared as a character named Chris in an episode of Naked City, starring Paul Burke. In 1966, Walken played the role of King Philip of France in the Broadway premiere of The Lion in Winter. In 1968, he played Lysander in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Romeo in Romeo and Juliet at the Stratford Festival in Canada. In 1969, Walken guest-starred in Hawaii Five-O as Navy SP Walt Kramer.
In 1964, he changed his first name to Christopher at the suggestion of Monique van Vooren, who had a nightclub act in which Walken was a dancer and who believed the name suited him better than Ronnie (a pet form of his given name, Ronald), which he was credited as until then. He prefers to be known informally as Chris instead of Christopher.
In 1970, Walken starred in the Off-Broadway production of Lanford Wilson's Lemon Sky opposite Charles Durning and Bonnie Bartlett. Later that year Walken received the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance.
Walken made his feature film debut with a small role opposite Sean Connery in Sidney Lumet's The Anderson Tapes. In 1972's The Mind Snatchers a.k.a. The Happiness Cage, Walken played his first starring role. In this science fiction film, which deals with mind control and normalization, he plays a sociopathic U.S. soldier stationed in Germany.
Paul Mazursky's 1976 film Next Stop, Greenwich Village had Walken, under the name "Chris Walken", playing fictional poet and ladies' man Robert Fulmer. In Woody Allen's 1977 film Annie Hall, Walken played the borderline crazy brother of Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). Also in 1977, Walken had a minor role as Eli Wallach's partner in The Sentinel. In 1978, he appeared in Shoot the Sun Down, a western filmed in 1976 that costarred Margot Kidder. Along with Nick Nolte and Burt Reynolds, Walken was considered by George Lucas for the part of Han Solo in Star Wars; the part ultimately went to Harrison Ford.
In 1977, Walken also starred in an episode of Kojak as Ben Wiley, a robber.
Walken won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in Michael Cimino's 1978 film The Deer Hunter. He plays a young Pennsylvania steelworker who is emotionally destroyed by the Vietnam War. To help achieve his character's gaunt appearance before the third act, Walken consumed only bananas, water and rice for a week.
Walken's first film of the 1980s was the controversial Heaven's Gate, also directed by Cimino. Walken also starred in the 1981 action adventure The Dogs of War, directed by John Irvin. In 1982, he played a socially awkward but gifted theater actor in the film adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's short story Who Am I This Time? opposite Susan Sarandon. Walken then played schoolteacher-turned-psychic Johnny Smith in David Cronenberg's 1983 adaptation of Stephen King's The Dead Zone. That same year, Walken also starred in Brainstorm alongside Natalie Wood and (in a minor role) his wife, Georgianne.
In 1985, Walken played a James Bond villain, Max Zorin, in A View to a Kill, Roger Moore's last appearance as Bond. Walken dyed his hair blond to befit Zorin's origins as a Nazi experiment.
At Close Range (1986) starred Walken as Brad Whitewood, a rural Pennsylvania crime boss who tries to bring his two sons into his empire; his character was mostly based on criminal Bruce Johnston.
In 1988, Walken played a memorable role as Sgt. Merwin J. Toomey in Neil Simon's Biloxi Blues, which was directed by Mike Nichols and he played the role of Federal Agent Kyril Montana in The Milagro Beanfield War. He also played the leading role of Whitley Strieber in 1989's Communion, an autobiographical film written by Strieber based on his claims that he and his friends were subject to visitations by unknown, other-worldly entities variously identified as possibly "aliens" or, simply, as "visitors". That same year, Walken appeared in the film Homeboy, which was written by and which featured Mickey Rourke in the titular role. In 1989, he played the lead role of "Puss" in the Cannon theater group's musical version of Puss in Boots.
The Comfort of Strangers, an art house film directed by Paul Schrader, features Walken as Robert, a decadent Italian aristocrat with murderous tendencies who lives with his wife (Helen Mirren) in Venice.
King of New York (1990), directed by Abel Ferrara, stars Walken as Frank White, recently released from prison and set on reclaiming his criminal territory. In 1991, Walken starred in Sarah, Plain and Tall as Jacob Witting, a widowed farmer. In 1992, Walken played a villain in Batman Returns, millionaire industrialist Max Shreck. Also in 1992, Walken appeared in the music video for Madonna's hit single, "Bad Girl" (directed by David Fincher). He also played Bobby, Cassandra's producer, in Wayne's World 2.
Walken's next major film role was opposite Dennis Hopper in True Romance, scripted by Quentin Tarantino. His so-called Sicilian scene has been hailed by critics as the best scene in the film and is the subject of four commentaries on the DVD. Walken has a supporting role in Tarantino's Pulp Fiction as a Vietnam veteran named Captain Koons. He gives his dead comrade's son the family's prized possession—a gold watch—while explaining in graphic detail how he had hidden it from the Vietcong.
Later in 1994, Walken starred in A Business Affair, a rare leading role for him in a romantic comedy. Walken manages to once again feature his trademark dancing scene as he performs the tango. In 1995, he appeared in Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead, Wild Side, The Prophecy and the modern vampire flick The Addiction, which was his second collaboration with director Abel Ferrara and writer Nicholas St. John. He also appeared in Nick of Time, which also stars Johnny Depp and an art house film by David Salle, Search and Destroy. In 1995, Walken acted in "Him," a first play written by Walken about his idol Elvis in the afterlife featured in the New York Shakespeare Festival.
In the 1996 film Last Man Standing, Walken plays a gangster named Hickey. That year, he played a prominent role in the video game Ripper, portraying Detective Vince Magnotta. Ripper made extensive use of real-time recorded scenes and a wide cast of celebrities in an interactive movie. In 1996 Walken also appeared in the Italian film Celluloide as US Officer Rod Geiger and played the role of Ray in the Abel Ferrara crime-drama film The Funeral. In 1997, Walken starred in the comedy films Touch and Excess Baggage and had a minor role in the film Mouse Hunt.
In 1998, Walken played an influential gay New York theater critic in John Turturro's film Illuminata. The same year he voiced Colonel/General Cutter in the computer-animated film Antz.
In 1999, he played James Houston in Vendetta. In the same year, Walken appeared in the romantic comedy Blast from the Past portraying Calvin Webber, a brilliant but eccentric Caltech nuclear physicist whose fears of a nuclear war lead him to build an enormous fallout shelter beneath his suburban home. The same year, he appeared as the Headless Horseman in Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow, starring Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci. He also appeared in Kiss Toledo Goodbye with Michael Rapaport and Nancy Allen.
Walken also starred in two music videos in the 1990s. His first video role was as the Angel of Death in Madonna's 1993 "Bad Girl". The second appearance was in Skid Row's "Breakin' Down" video.
In 2000, Walken was cast as the lead, along with Blair Brown, in James Joyce's The Dead on Broadway. A "play with music", The Dead featured music by Shaun Davey, conducted by Charles Prince, with music coordination and percussion by Tom Partington. James Joyce's The Dead won a Tony Award that year for Best Book for a Musical.
Walken had a notable music video performance in 2001 with Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice". Directed by Spike Jonze, it won six MTV awards in 2001 and—in a list of the top 100 videos of all time compiled from a survey of musicians, directors and music industry figures conducted by UK music TV channel VH1—won Best Video of All Time in April 2002. In this video, Walken dances and flies around the lobby of the Marriott Hotel in Los Angeles; Walken also helped choreograph the dance. Also in 2001, Walken played a gangster who was in the witness protection program in the David Spade comedy Joe Dirt and an eccentric film director in America's Sweethearts. Also in 2001, Walken played Lieutenant Macduff in Scotland, PA, a loose film adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth.
In 2002 Walken played Mike in the film Poolhall Junkies and played Frank Abagnale, Sr. in Catch Me If You Can, which is inspired by the story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., a con artist who passed himself off as several identities and forged millions of dollars' worth of checks. His portrayal earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Walken also had a part in the 2003 action comedy film The Rundown, starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Seann William Scott, in which he plays a ruthless despot. He was nominated for a Razzie (Worst Supporting Actor) in 2002's The Country Bears and in two 2003 movies, Gigli and Kangaroo Jack. Walken also starred in Barry Levinson's Envy, in which he plays J-Man, a crazy guy who helps Ben Stiller's character and in his starring role in 2004's Around the Bend he again has a dancing scene as he portrays an absentee father who has fled prison to reunite with his father, his son and the grandson he never knew before dying. Walken played the role of Paul Rayburn in 2004's Man on Fire, where, when speaking about the imminent destructive actions of John Creasy (Denzel Washington), his character states: "A man can be an artist... in anything, food, whatever. It depends on how good he is at it. Creasy's art is death. He's about to paint his masterpiece."
Also in 2004, Walken played Mike in the film The Stepford Wives.
In 2005, he played Mark Heiss in the film Domino and the role of Secretary Cleary in the film Wedding Crashers.
In 2006, he played Morty, a sympathetic inventor who is more than meets the eye, in the comedy/drama Click and also appeared in Man of the Year with Robin Williams and Lewis Black. He co-starred in the 2007 film adaptation Hairspray, wherein he is seen singing and dancing in a romantic duet with John Travolta and portrayed the eccentric but cruel crime lord and Ping-Pong enthusiast Feng in the 2007 comedy action film Balls of Fury opposite Dan Fogler.
Walken was in the movie Five Dollars a Day (released in 2008), in which he plays a con man proud of living like a king on $5 a day.
The film The Maiden Heist, a comedy co-starring Morgan Freeman, William H. Macy and Walken about security guards in an art museum, debuted at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on June 25, 2009.
Walken also starred in Universal Studios Florida's "Disaster" attraction (formerly "Earthquake and the Magic of Effects" and soon to be Fast & Furious: Supercharged). Walken portrayed the owner of "Disaster Studios" Frank Kincaid and encouraged guests to be extras in his latest film, Mutha Nature. Walken was projected on a clear screen, much like a life-size hologram and interacted with the live-action talent. Famous quote "Frankenstein never scared me".
Walken returned to Broadway in Martin McDonagh's play A Behanding in Spokane in 2010 and received a Tony Award nomination for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play. He had a small voice role in NBC sitcom 30 Rock, in the "Audition Day" episode. In 2011, he played the role of Jewish-American loan shark Alex "Shondor" Birns in the film based on the life of gangster Danny Greene, Kill the Irishman. In 2012, Walken reunited with McDonagh for the British-American crime comedy film Seven Psychopaths and also played the founder and leader of a string quartet in A Late Quartet.
Walken costarred with Al Pacino and Alan Arkin in the film Stand Up Guys, a story about aging gangsters out on the town for one last hoorah. He also appeared in The Power of Few.
In December 2012, Walken was selected as a "GQ" Man of the Year. ("Gentlemen's Quarterly." April 2018. p. 24)
In 2013, Walken became the protagonist in the campaign "Made From Cool" by Jack & Jones. In 2014, he appeared in Turks & Caicos. Walken appears as Gyp DeCarlo in the 2014 film Jersey Boys.
In 2014, Walken played Captain Hook in the NBC production Peter Pan Live!
In 2015, Walken starred in the film When I Live My Life Over Again and played the role of Clem for the second time in the David Spade comedy Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser.
In 2016, he voiced King Louie in the CGI-live action adaptation of Disney's The Jungle Book, directed by Jon Favreau. He also recorded a cover of Louie's song "I Wan'na Be like You", which he sings in the film as well as on the soundtrack. Also that year, he appeared in Dexter Fletcher's Eddie the Eagle and Barry Sonnenfeld's Nine Lives. In 2017, Walken replaced Bill Irwin in the role of Walter Tinkler in the critically panned Father Figures. The following year, he played Myron in the Netflix film Irreplaceable You.
In 2021, Walken appeared as Frank in the BBC One/Amazon Prime Video comedy The Outlaws. and in the second series broadcast on BBC1 in 2022.
In 2022, he had a supporting role as Burt Goodman in the Apple TV+ series Severance. For his performance, he was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. Walken will portray Emperor Shaddam IV in the 2023 film, Dune: Part Two.
Legacy and popularity
Described as "diverse and eccentric" and "one of the most respected actors of his generation", Walken has long established a cult following among film fans. He is known for his versatility and was named as one of Empire magazine's "Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time". Once dubbed a "cultural phenomenon", he has portrayed several iconic movie characters including Johnny Smith in The Dead Zone, Max Shreck in Batman Returns and Max Zorin in A View to a Kill and was also considered for the role of Han Solo in Star Wars films. His Oscar-winning performance in The Deer Hunter was ranked as the 88th greatest movie performance of all time by Premiere magazine and his performance in Pennies from Heaven made it into Entertainment Weekly's list of the "100 Greatest Performances that should have won Oscars but didn't." Sometimes regarded as "one of the kings of cameos", Walken has made several notable cameo appearances or appeared in a single but popular scene of films including as Captain Koons in Pulp Fiction, Duane in Annie Hall, Hessian Horseman in Sleepy Hollow and Don Vincenzo in True Romance. Writer and director Quentin Tarantino declared that Walken's involvement in True Romance's popular "Sicilian scene" was one of the proudest moments in his career.
Walken's work has been praised and acclaimed by many popular figures. Benicio del Toro cited Walken as an influence and stated that the best advice he had ever been given regarding acting came from him: "When you're in a scene and you don't know what you're gonna do, don't do anything." Kat Dennings called him her favorite actor and said that he was the reason that she wanted to be an actress. Johnny Depp once said one of the main reasons he starred in Nick of Time was wanting to work with Walken. Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrell, Bradley Cooper, Leonardo DiCaprio and Mads Mikkelsen are among actors who spoke about their admiration for Walken. Prominent movie critic Roger Ebert, who was particularly impressed by his villain and anti-hero portrayals, once stated, "when he is given the right role, there is nobody to touch him for his chilling ability to move between easy charm and pure evil" and called him "one of the few undeniably charismatic male villains."
Walken is noted for refusing movie roles only rarely, having stated in interviews that he will decline a role only if he is too busy on other projects to accept. He regards each role as a learning experience. A rare example of a role Walken turned down was that of Ray Ruby in the film Go Go Tales (2007). According to film director Abel Ferrara, the character was originally written for Walken but the latter "didn't want to do it". The role was then given to Walken's New Rose Hotel (1998) co-star Willem Dafoe.
Walken's unique voice and speaking style has been compared to other entertainment figures with voices that create "a pleasing (or at least entertaining) aural experience," such as William Shatner and Garrison Keillor. Walken believes that the source of his speech stems from growing up with immigrant neighbors who came from everywhere stating, "The neighborhood itself, you didn't hear a lot of English. Lots of Greek, Italian, Polish, German, Yiddish. I think I grew up listening to people who spoke English in a kind of broken way. I think maybe I talked that way." Walken inspired the stage show, All About Walken: The Impersonators of Christopher Walken, created by actor/comedian Patrick O'Sullivan in Hollywood in 2006.
Appearances on Saturday Night Live
Walken has hosted the comedy sketch and satire TV series Saturday Night Live (SNL) seven times.
One of Walken's more famous SNL performances was a spoof of Behind the Music, featuring a recording session of Blue Öyster Cult's "(Don't Fear) the Reaper". In the guise of record producer Bruce Dickinson (not to be confused with the real Bruce Dickinson, lead singer for Iron Maiden), Walken makes passionate and slightly unhinged speeches to the band and is obsessed with getting "More Cowbell" into the song. The phrase "I gotta have more cowbell" has since been adapted to merchandise. The producer who suggested the cowbell on the original BÖC recording is David Lucas.
Walken is also known for his part in one of Will Ferrell and Rachel Dratch's "The Luvahs" skits. His character brought a lady friend to meet The Luvahs and she is subjected to learning the history that Walken's character shares with The Luvahs.
Walken spoofed his starring role from The Dead Zone (1983) in a sketch titled "Ed Glosser: Trivial Psychic" (1992). In the film, Walken's character can predict deaths and catastrophes, while Glosser can accurately predict meaningless, trivial future events but with the same emotional intensity as in the film: "You're going to get an ice cream headache. It's going to hurt real bad, right here, [touches forehead] for eight, nine seconds.").
His character in A View to a Kill was parodied in a sketch titled "Lease with an Option to Kill", in which he reprised his role as Max Zorin. Zorin, who had taken on some qualities of other notable Bond villains (Blofeld's cat and suit, Emilio Largo's eye patch), was upset that everything was going wrong for him. His lair was still under construction; his henchmen had jump suits that didn't fit; and his shark tank lacked sharks, having a giant sea sponge instead. A captive James Bond, portrayed by Phil Hartman, offered to get Zorin "a good deal" on the abandoned Blofeld volcanic lair if Zorin let him go, to which he reluctantly agreed.
He performed a song and dance rendition of the Irving Berlin standard, "Let's Face the Music and Dance".
Until 2003, Walken had a recurring SNL sketch called "The Continental", in which Walken played a "suave ladies' man" who in reality cannot do anything to keep a woman (a neighbor in his apartment building) from giving him the cold shoulder. In "The Continental", only the hand of his neighbor is ever seen; the camera always shows her point of view.
The April 5, 2008 Saturday Night Live show was the first time an episode hosted by Walken did not have a "Continental" sketch or a monologue in which he sang and danced. This episode, however, did include one sketch titled "Walken Family Reunion", which spoofs many of Walken's idiosyncrasies. The sketch depicts a fictional Walken family reunion, where all of Christopher's relatives have his mannerisms and speech patterns and sport his trademark pompadour hairstyle. In order of appearance, the other Walkens are Christopher's cousin Stanley (Bill Hader); Stanley's brother John (Jason Sudeikis); John's son Scott (Andy Samberg) and daughter Maxine (Amy Poehler) (who carries a doll that also has a pompadour); Nathan (Fred Armisen), a gay relative for whom "flamboyance" means dressing all in black and running his finger around the rim of a cosmo glass; Uncle Richard (Darrell Hammond) and Aunt Martha (Kristen Wiig), who think that The Deer Hunter was hilarious and who are hosts of a Nigerian foreign exchange student named Oleki (Kenan Thompson). When he came to live with them, Oleki—who has absorbed all of the Walken Family traits—could not speak any English. But now (he says) he "talks like a normal teenaged American boy". The biggest laugh of the sketch occurs when Christopher expresses his sympathies for Scott's teenaged attitude: "I appreciate your situation. For a Walken, adolescence is a difficult time. You feel like you're the only normal person in a school full of nutjobs." Scott's response: "Wow! It's like you're lookin' right into my noggin!" (Will Forte also appears as a waiter at the beginning of the sketch, but does not do a Walken impression.)
In September 2004, SNL released a DVD titled The Best of Christopher Walken through Lionsgate.
Presidential candidacy hoax
Walken became the subject of a hoax controversy in 2006, when a fake website started in August of that year by members of Internet forum Genmay.com announced that he was running for President of the United States. Some believed it was authentic, until Walken's publicist dismissed the claims. When asked about the hoax in a September 2006 interview with Conan O'Brien, Walken said he was amused and when asked to come up with a campaign slogan, he replied, "What the Heck" and "No More Zoos!"
In 1963, Walken met Georgianne Thon during a tour of West Side Story. They married in January 1969. The couple have no children and Walken has stated in interviews that being child-free is one of the reasons he has had such a prolific career. The couple have a cat named Bowtie and their previous cat was named Flapjack.
Awards and nominations
- In Spanish: Christopher Walken