TORONTO—Christopher Walken actually speaks in Christopher Walken monologues. When he walks into the hotel room to talk about the world premiere of his new movie Seven Psychopaths at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, Walken picks up a reporter’s iPhone. He then launches into a monologue about his lack of Internet presence that is so loopy, so surreal, and so damn funny that it’s hard not to wonder if the story he told in Pulp Fiction about smuggling a watch up his butt wasn’t an ad lib.
“I have no Facebook, no nothing. I don’t have a cellphone; I don’t exist,” Walken says. “When you Google where I live, it’s just a big patch of green. It’s true.”
After 60 seconds with Walken, it’s easy to see why the quirky, charismatic character actor is one of Saturday Night Live’s go-to guest hosts. Walken is fearless, funny, self-deprecating, and just on the edge of parodying himself.
A few minutes later, he’s joined by costar Sam Rockwell (Iron Man 2), whom Roger Ebert has called this generation’s Walken. But as naturally funny as Rockwell is, during the next 15 minutes he’s very much the straight man.
Walken tells the half-dozen reporters in the room that he once played Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. “When I played Stanley…everything I said was hilarious,” Walken says. “ ‘I’m the glamorous type,’ that brought the house down. Stella! When I screamed ‘Stella!’ ”…
Rockwell laughs and interrupts his friend: “You’re kidding me.”
“I’m not kidding,” Walken says. “When I screamed ‘Stella!’, they couldn’t stop [laughing].”
Rockwell stops him. “Are you serious?”
“Sam played Stanley last summer,” Walken explains. “You weren’t hilarious. I was hilarious for all the wrong reasons.”
Rockwell laughs along with the assembled journalists as everyone pictures what could be a perfect riff in an impressionist’s arsenal: Walken doing Marlon Brando doing Stanley in Streetcar.
The duo’s buddy-movie comic timing is shown off to fine effect in Seven Psychopaths (opening Friday [October 12]), the film by Ireland’s superstar playwright Martin McDonagh (who also wrote and directed the 2008 film In Bruges) that seems designed to make the statement: “Pulp Fiction wasn’t all that.” The two honed their repartee performing together on Broadway in a production of McDonagh’s play A Behanding in Spokane, which is how they ended up paired in the movie.
In Seven Psychopaths, Walken and Rockwell play two dognappers who poach the wrong pooch and end up in deep Shih Tzu because its owner is one of the title psychopaths—a gangster with serious impulse-control issues, played by Woody Harrelson in full manic mode.
Rockwell’s character is best buds with, and aspiring muse for, a struggling Irish screenwriter trying to make it in L.A. (Colin Farrell). And Rockwell is willing to do pretty much anything—hint, hint, hint—to give Farrell a story worth telling.
Walken suspects that the quirky vibe he gives off and his signature accent come from being raised by show folk and appearing on-stage since age five. “I was, in a sense, raised by musical-comedy people, Gypsies, comics.…It makes you almost from another country; it makes you foreign. And I think that in movies, that strangeness almost easily translates into menacing or malevolent…And when people do my voice and imitate me, I think it’s almost that they’re making fun of my accent.”
Rockwell offers his two cents. “Your accent is very particular. It’s like, you start with a guy who doesn’t use punctuation, he’s got the sense of humour of Jackie Mason, but he does Shakespeare. So you mix all those together and you get Chris. And he’s from Queens!”
Walken chimes in: “I grew up with people who spoke English as a second language. It could be I have an accent.”
When the conversation turns to motivation and preparation, Walken and Rockwell agree that the key to their preparation for a role is learning the lines. Walken says: “I have never known good actors to talk about their motivation or their characters; they never do. Actors, when they talk, they always talk about the same thing…”
“Girls and food,” Rockwell says.
“Girls and food and movies,” Walken corrects.
“It’s hard to talk about ‘it’, isn’t it?” Rockwell asks Walken. “Acting—there is a technique and there is a science to acting. We both studied acting; it’s hard to talk about it. I don’t know if it’s like architecture, but there is a method to some acting, but I don’t…”
Walken finishes the thought. “There’s a playpen aspect. When it’s good, it’s always there. You’re a bit like kids, and you’re in a sandbox, and you’re making it up, or you think you are. A good director really is like a lifeguard. He sits on a big chair and he’s got all these crazy kids in the sandbox and they’re playing. Every once in a while, one of them slips or falls out of the sandbox or whatever, and a good director just picks him up and puts him back inside and proceeds.”
Rockwell smiles and nods. “A bad director yells at them for falling off the slide. Spanks them. Yeah.”
Walken says that although his persona may be eccentric, his life definitely isn’t. “My life is anything but eccentric. I’ve been married for 46 years and I pay all my bills and I live in a house where the lawn is always cut. I’m nice to my cat.”
But the way he says it, with his quirky nonaccent accent, it’s still tough not to worry about his cat.
Watch the trailer for Seven Psychopaths.