Broadway star and Academy Award-winning actor Christopher Walken appeared at the 92nd Street Y's "Reel Pieces" program Dec. 9, and was interviewed on stage after a screening of his 1986 film, "At Close Range," which also starred Sean Penn.
Dr. Annette Insdorf, director of film studies at Columbia University, interviewed Walken before opening the post-screening discussion to audience questions. Walken answered all questions and casually engaged members of the audience with his sense of humor.
Recalling his experience as a member of the Actors' Studio, Walken joked that he "scrubbed floors for...I dunno, fifteen years...before they finally let me in....big deal." Asked about working in theatre versus film, the actor characterized both forms and said he viewed theatre as a chance for actors to "tune their instrument."
Walken spoke about his latest play, The Dead but would not give away much, other than to acknowledge that it was based on the James Joyce story. He said he was going back to work on the show Tue., Dec. 14 at the Belasco.
Claiming that Chekhov was a personal favorite, Walken also said he had written half a dozen plays -- "but they're all bad," he quipped. Even so, the actor said he believes that exploration in writing and art can be beneficial for actors, if only to broaden their appreciation for someone else's good work when it comes along. While describing his unique style of vocal delivery, Walken talked about writers and working with scripts. His theory, he explained, is that every sentence can be said to have a key word, a word which represents what the essence of the sentence is all about. Beyond that, he said, some scripts are elaborate and complete while others, especially in film, are open to interpretation and change.
"Quentin Tarrantino scripts are like small phone books," Walken said, describing the detail-conscious author, director and creator of such films as "Pulp Fiction" and "True Romance." Walken said he carefully rehearsed eight pages of script for the "Pulp Fiction" monologue about the smuggled watch. He added a trivia note on "True Romance," explaining that in a pivotal confrontation with Dennis Hopper, his character responds to being called an eggplant by calling Hopper's character a "cantaloupe." The exact nature of the cantaloupe inspiration escaped Walken, though he believed it to be one of the most unusual words he knew. The bit turned out to be the only unscripted piece of dialogue in the movie.
Walken said that with few exceptions he had really enjoyed working with the many actors he had been cast with throughout his career, and that he would someday like to play a "Fred McMurray" type role.
Asked about working with Sigourney Weaver and William Hurt in Hurlyburly many years ago, Walken called the experience "a real highlight."
Walken's prolific career began on the New York stage in 1959 with J.B. His appeared in his first musical in 1963 with Best Foot Forward (Clarence Derwent Award) and was later seen in The Rose Tatoo, Uncle Vanya, House of Blue Leaves and Kid Champion (Obie Award), among others.
Now a pop icon, Walken's film credits include "Annie Hall," "True Romance," “Pulp Fiction,” “King of New York,” “Biloxi Blues,” “At Close Range,” “Pennies From Heaven” and “The Deer Hunter” (Oscar for Best Supporting Actor).
Christopher Walken returns to The Dead at the Belasco Theatre on Dec. 14. The 92nd Street Y is located at Lexington Avenue at 92nd Street. For info call Y Charge at (212) 996 1100.
-- By Murdoch McBride