Entertainment

Christopher Walken shows his mild side in 'A Late Quartet'

Christopher Walken in a scene from the movie A Late Quartet.
Christopher Walken in a scene from the movie A Late Quartet. Conteibuted - Image.net

"I'VE played a lot of monsters," says Christopher Walken.

Anyone who has seen the New York-born actor contemplate suicide in Annie Hall, play Russian roulette in The Deer Hunter, recount the family history of a gold watch in Pulp Fiction, "not kill anybody since 1984" in True Romance, come out of jail in King of New York, or dognap in Seven Psychopaths will recognise the truth of this statement.

But in his newest film, A Late Quartet, the 69-year-old portrays perhaps the most recognisably human character of his career.

>>More Celebrity News

"It's true that this guy is a person," he adds in those otherworldly tones that unnerve his on-screen foes and make audiences quiver.

There's no disputing his tough-guy credentials - aged 16 he trained to be a lion-tamer.

His unusual torpid delivery is a reminder of his immigrant background: his father was a baker from Germany, his mother a Scot who never lost her broad accent, and he grew up in Queens in the midst of Middle Eastern families.

In A Late Quartet he plays Peter Mitchell, the elder statesman of a string quartet who, after discovering he has Parkinson's disease, announces that he will perform one final concert.

The news forces the foursome - whose other members are played by Catherine Keener, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Mark Ivanir - to confront the rivalries and disputes that have been bubbling under the surface for years.

The predicament of the cellist seems even more disturbing because of Walken's record of playing demonic, fearless characters.

It's unnerving to see Walken confront his own mortality.

Yet his character in A Late Quartet shares similarities with his villains; Walken specialises in creating a sense of deep-rooted psychological damage, such that even when he has a blank expression on his face, there is something in his empty eyes that is like volcanic molten rock.

There is always method in his madness.

In A Late Quartet, the volcano may be dormant, but the sense of conflicting emotions is palpable.

Walken is also incredibly self-aware, playing on his tough-guy reputation to create self-mocking comic turns.

He was a stalwart on Saturday Night Live, sending up characters he's played on screen and his reputation as a nut.

His seven turns presenting the show are celebrated in a DVD: Christopher Walken: The Best of Saturday Night Live - an honour usually bestowed only on cast members.

He doesn't mind the fact that he's been typecast: "I have a feeling that actors, especially in movies, if they do something that works, there is a chance they are going to repeat something.

"Movies are expensive to make and the people that produce movies want to know what they are getting. I've played a lot of villains, but as I get older it's nice to graduate to play uncles, fathers and grandfathers."

His career started as a child actor under his birth name Ronald Walken.

In 1964 he took his stage name on the suggestion of a singer, Monique van Vooren, with whom he was working at the time.

Walken married the casting director Georgianne Walken (née Thon) in 1969; they have no children, which the actor credits as the reason he has appeared in more than 100 films.

They live together in Connecticut with their cat, Bowtie.

Mystery will always surround the death of his Brainstorm co-star Natalie Wood. Walken was on the boat with her husband, Robert Wagner, when she drowned.

The case was reopened briefly in 2012 and the original "accidental death" verdict was changed to "undetermined death", but the LAPD has stated: "Walken is not a suspect."

Despite working for more than six decades he has no desire to slow down: "I think one of the things about being an actor is that you can keep going as long as you keep going.

"My favourite actor story is about John Gielgud: when he was in his 90s, the Queen Mother, when she was still alive, wanted to throw him a big party, but he had to respectfully decline because he was on location shooting a scene.

"That's what I want, not the queen and the party; I want to be really old and making a movie."

He complains that he recently went to the cinema and was given a senior citizen discount without asking for it: "That hadn't really happened before. They'll ask you sometimes, but she gave it to me automatically and I thought that's it, it's over!"

It's hard to agree, given the number of films Walken has on the horizon. In Stand Up Guys he, Al Pacino and Alan Arkin play old-time gangsters reuniting for one last job; The Power of Few is about an attempt to clone Jesus, and in the contemporary Manhattan-set comedy about the Greek deities Gods Behaving Badly, Walken plays Zeus.

He's also signed up to appear in Errol Morris's 1960s-set cryogenics tale Freezing People is Easy.

"Personally you realise that sticking around is tricky and just to be there year after year, all sorts of things can get in your way," he adds.

"If you are old enough you get forgiven some of your mistakes - the guys look at you and think, he's still swinging and that's appreciated. There is a point where you think I've got to start taking care of myself.

"I have a great constitution and I've taken a lot of beatings and you have to make sure you drink your orange juice and get enough sleep."

He retains his remarkable physique by running every day, using a treadmill to protect a bad back.

As a teenager he trained as a dancer in New York and his career has seen him display memorable dance moves in films including Pennies From Heaven, Hairspray and Search and Destroy.

In 2001 he waltzed his way through the video version of Fat Boy Slim's "Weapon of Choice", which won a Grammy award for Spike Jonze.

His dance prowess led to him getting a call from one of his childhood acting heroes, Marlon Brando.

Brando said he had trained as a dancer and wanted to do a streamed internet music-revue show from his home and asked for the number of the choreographer on Pennies From Heaven.

Brando never called the choreographer but Walken cherished the fact that Brando spoke to him for "a while. I heard later he was a big phone guy."

Topics:  acting, actor, interview, movie


Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

Swooping season has begun

A magpie on the touch field at Kearneys Spring Sporting Complex, Saturday, August 27, 2016.

Spring is here and the magpie swooping season has begun.

Construction starts on Hoods Lagoon boardwalk

BOARDWALK WORKS: Cameron, Ashlynn and Sandy Frost walk along Hoods Lagoon, Clermont.

Hoods Lagoon boardwalk rejuvination begins.

From Casino to CQ: Emerald bull sales

SENEPOL BULL SALE: Vendor Colin Godfrey with son Blair.

The Godfrey family travel a long way to sell bulls at Emerald.

Local Partners

CH Regional Council heads to Blackwater

Central Highlands Regional Council recently visited Blacktown to give locals the opportunity to discuss local issues with councillors.

Unveiling ceremony to honour victims of flood

AFLOAT: Floating Lantern Ceremony at the Clermont Gold and Coal Festival paid tribute to the great flood in Clermont in 1916.

VICTIMS of Clermont's 1916 flood will be honoured in ceremony.

Swooping season has begun

A magpie on the touch field at Kearneys Spring Sporting Complex, Saturday, August 27, 2016.

Spring is here and the magpie swooping season has begun.

Construction starts on Hoods Lagoon boardwalk

BOARDWALK WORKS: Cameron, Ashlynn and Sandy Frost walk along Hoods Lagoon, Clermont.

Hoods Lagoon boardwalk rejuvination begins.

From Casino to CQ: Emerald bull sales

SENEPOL BULL SALE: Vendor Colin Godfrey with son Blair.

The Godfrey family travel a long way to sell bulls at Emerald.

Coal truck driver suing mine he crashed at

Former mine truck driver who crashed 280-tonn truck suing Anglo Coal

Black lung must be investigated, and fast says victim

Percy Verrall suffers from 'black lung' disease caused by his time spent coal mining.

'I don't want young people working in the mines to go through this'

Rural property: hot to trot

RURAL PROPERTY BOOM: Maguires Real Estate and Livestock owner, Tim Maguire at the saleyards where the price of cattle is influencing the rural property market.

Rural properties in high demand.

Classic car auction draws buyers from US, Dubai

"He wants everyone to enjoy the cars, the collection got too big'

Angelina turns to Depp for consolation after divorce

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie with their six children

Angelina Jolie is reportedly being consoled by Johnny Depp

Rockhampton dancer en pointe for European stages

CENTRE STAGE: Anastasia Lewis has moved from Rockhampton to Sydney to study classical ballet.

Rocky dancer believes competitions are the perfect preparation

Conner's food distraction leads to elimination

Australian Survivor contestant Conner Bethune.

HUNGER gets to castaway as Australian Survivor's tribes merge.

Bonus point gets Dan and Carleen over the line on The Block

Dan and Carleen in their winning living and dining rooms in a scene from The Block.

BABY boomers win living and dining week as show hits halfway mark.

Olivia Wilde having a girl

Olivia Wilde revealed she is expecting a baby girl.

Michael Palin: Terry Jones dementia is 'painful' to see

Michael Palin has found Terry Jones' decline "painful to watch"

Property 200m from ocean selling for just over $100K

BEACHCOMBER PARK: Work has started on a new $19.2 million development at Toogoom.

The estate's developer is offering huge discounts for early buyers.

UPDATE: Former rodeo champ's sale rained out, now back on

Larkhill local Ken Consiglio is having an auction of most of the things on his property.

'People kept showing up and we had to turn them away'

First stages of $25 million housing development underway

New development on Madsen Rd - The Springs.

The blocks of land are much bigger than usual

Couple build their own 'tiny house' for $45k

Holly Bowen and Oli Bucher built their "tiny house" themselves, only hiring a plumber and an electrician. Photo/supplied

The house, which is built on a trailer and can be towed.

Rocky proves prime real estate in latest REIQ report

Kas Woch sold this Wood St home in Depot Hill for $107,000 in August.

A new investor's market as Rocky house prices hit lowest in state

Sunshine Beach property breaks real estate record

The property overlooks Sunshine Beach, as the backyard lawn meets the sand.

Sunshine Beach mansion sale smashes real estate record