I saw actor Christopher Walken being interviewed by Conan O’Brien recently. I have never written about Walken, so let’s correct that.
Walken is one of those people that identified with such a unique persona, that he is often imitated or he appears in a lot of memes. He has that intense, sullen, almost ghostly look. He speaks with a measured and forceful vocal delivery. Naturally, he has been cast in many villainous roles, playing mysterious and eerie characters. That serious vibe has been turned on its side as Walken as appeared in many comedies and played outlandish characters.
In his interview with O’Brien, Walken admitted that he has never owned a computer or cellphone, and he’s never sent an email. Technology is not his thing, his wife handles that. Walken has been interviewed by O’Brien several times, they have an easy interaction, which means that O’Brien will kid him about a lot of things, including Walken’s hair.
O’Brien, who used to be a staff writer for SNL, asked him about the notoriety from appearing in the “cowbell skit.” Walken said he is constantly amazed at how popular that skit is and how it was resonated with many people. He recounted how he was in Singapore, at a restaurant, and a man at the next table said to him, “Chris, this salad needs more cowbell.” Walken told Will Ferrell (also in the skit) that fans were a bit too zealot about the cowbell thing. If you search for Walken on YouTube, the cowbell skit is about the first thing that comes up.
Walken has well over 100 acting credits, so picking 10 should not be hard, but it took some study. I have not seen everything he has done, and many are generic roles. The guy always works. I also wanted a variety of roles.
Here are 10 Christopher Walken roles.
Dead Zone This Stephen King story is quite good and Walken was a great choice to play the character who develops a special ability after an accident. He must deal with his girlfriend having married while he was in a coma for five years, and the ability he has, and how to best utilize it, even when it comes with a cost.
The Dogs of War One of my favorite Walken roles. If his Deer Hunter character had lived, this is what he might have turned into. A mercenary who travels the world fighting wars, he has insulated himself from anyone caring about him. The woman he cared about cannot fit into his world. His character develops a conscience and goes against the interests that hired him to overthrow an African government.
Catch Me If You Can One of Walken’s best roles, and a meaty one at that. Playing the father of the Abagnale character, he plays a man who never made it, but cannot stop pretending that he will. There is a sadness about this character. Walken has roles where he would rip out your heart, and other roles where he tugs at it.
The Deer Hunter The role that put Walken on the map and won him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Walken is so psychologically damaged that he is almost in an altered reality. He plays this role so well that it type-casted him as coldly dangerous.
Blast From the Past A very wacky comedy with Walken as a scientist who leads his family in a bomb shelter after thinking the U.S. is at war with the USSR. They survive for 35 years until the shelter door unlocks and they are in the 1990s instead of the 1950s. Walken is the 1950s era father who can’t quite comprehend that future.
At Close Range A very meaty role for Walken as Sean Penn’s crime boss father, who is dastardly enough to rape his son’s girlfriend and commit murder when he needs to.
Man On Fire A secondary role, he serves to help the Denzel Washington character, helping land the bodyguard/driver job, and then helps him after he’s been shot and in need of firepower. This is not a demanding role, nor a large one, but his character provides a quiet strength.
Joe Dirt A dumb role in a dumb film, but Walken has fun with the role. You do not usually expect Walken to appear in films like this, but he does. You wouldn’t expect Walken to host SNL, but he has multiple times.
The Jungle Book (voice) Walken is a natural for voice work. He has a strong, clear, authoritarian voice.
Sarah, Plain and Tall Based on the children’s books, Walken plays a Kansas farmer, a widower with kids, who advertises for a mail-order bride. This was on of three Hallmark films that Walken starred in as Jacob Witting. This is about as normal a character as Walken plays.
Honorable Mention: King of New York, Batman Returns, True Romance, Pulp Fiction, Sleepy Hollow, Hairspray, Kill the Irishman, Stand Up Guys, Antz, Annie Hall.