A true Hollywood great who has given us some of the greatest silver screen performances of all time, Christopher Walken has appeared in over 100 films and TV shows since he made his debut in 1953’s The Wonderful John Acton. He went on to win his first Academy Award in 1978’s The Deer Hunter.
Walken has had a long and varied career, working as a director and screenwriter alongside his acting roles. Notably, he wrote and starred in the 1995 play Him and directed the 2001 film Popcorn Shrimp. He’s also an accomplished dancer and has put his skills to use in several music videos – most famously in the video for Fatboy Slim’s single Weapon of Choice. Although he’s in his late 70s now, it doesn’t seem like Walken has any plans to slow down or stop working.
Below are 20 things that you might not have realised about this dazzling actor.
20. His real name is Ronald
Walken was born Ronald Walken on 31 March 1943, but later changed his name to Christopher.
The name change came about while Walken was working as a nightclub dancer. ‘Christopher’ was the suggestion of Walken’s friend, dancer Monique van Vooren.
Walken is of mixed heritage and was born in New York to a Scottish immigrant mother and a German immigrant father.
His father Paul owned and ran Walken’s Bakery in Astoria, New York. The business thrived for decades.
His mother Rosalie encouraged Christopher and his two brothers Kenneth and Glenn to take up acting.
Her encouragement and support was invaluable, as all three boys ended up becoming TV child actors during the 1950s.
19. He was one of the last people to see Natalie Wood alive
Actress Natalie Wood tragically drowned in November 1981 while on vacation at Santa Catalina Island.
Her death has always been shrouded in mystery given the still-unexplained elements of her demise.
Walken was actually one of the last people to see Wood alive, as he had joined Wood and her husband Robert Wagner on their holiday.
Walken usually declines to publicly talk about the tragedy, but did speak about it briefly with the New York Times back in 1992.
“For me the only response for years was silence. I just wanted to turn my back on the vulgarity of what was said.”
“I just decided to have some dignity afterward and be quiet,” he said, explaining his sustained refusal to comment on Wood’s death.
18. He’s one of only two actors to have a standing offer to host SNL any time he likes
Apparently, Walken is one of only two actors to hold a standing offer to host SNL any time he fancies it.
Walken has already hosted the famous comedy show seven times – an impressive feat, given how much of an honour it is to host the show at all.
The other actor who has the honour of a standing offer to host is Alec Baldwin, who holds the record for hosting the show the most times ever (17 in total).
Walken’s most famous role on the show is arguably that of record producer Bruce Dickinson in the More Cowbell sketch.
Another popular sketch of his is The Walken Family Reunion. This sketch sees cast members impersonate Walken and pretend to be part of his long-lost family.
Walken is such a popular SNL host that a “best of” episode dedicated to him has been released on DVD.
17. He steals all his clothes from movie sets
You’d think that Walken would have racked up enough money by now to buy whatever clothes he wants. But it turns out that he actually rarely spends money on clothes – given the fact he steals most of his outfits from movie sets.
Back in 2010 Walken turned up to an interview with The Independent wearing a jacket swiped from the set of The Comfort of Strangers.
“I never buy clothes,” he said. “Whenever I do a movie, all my clothing is from that movie set. They don’t give me anything. I steal.”
Walken has apparently developed a bit of a reputation for being such a kleptomaniac, as many producers have now clued into Walken’s penchant for pinching costumes.
“Well, when I was in Batman Returns, I wore very interesting things. On my last day of shooting, I had already thought of the things I was going to take; there were some very interesting cufflinks, a bow tie,” he said.
“When I finished the last scene I went back to my dressing room and everything was gone. They saw me coming.”
16. He worked as a lion tamer when he was a teenager
Hilarious and terrifying in equal measure is the fact that Walken once worked as a lion tamer’s apprentice.
He got the job at his local circus during a summer holiday when he was just 16.
Walken has since claimed that working with the lion – named Sheba – was just like working with a dog.
“You could pet her, and she would rub her head on you,” he recalled when speaking to the New York Times in 2012.
“I would come into the cage and wave my whip, and she’d kind of lazily get up and sit like a dog and maybe give a little bit of a roar.”
When asked why he took the job, he said simply: “It just looked too good to pass up. I like cats a lot. I’ve always liked cats. They’re great company.”
15. He went to dancing school from the age of 3
Before he was an actor, Walken was a dancer. He started dancing at the age of 3, taking lessons as a child.
“It was very typical for people — and I mean working-class people — to send their kids to dancing school,” he said in an interview with Interview magazine.
“You’d learn ballet, tap, acrobatics, usually, you’d even learn to sing a song,” he explained.
After dropping out of university after just one year, Walken went on to train professionally as a dancer at the Washington Dance Studio.
His talent for dancing was utilised in his appearance in the amazing video for the 2000 Fatboy Slim single Weapon of Choice.
The iconic music video sees the actor showing off his impressive moves in an empty hotel – even defying gravity at one point.
14. He was George Lucas’ second choice to play Han Solo in Star Wars
Since launching his acting career, Walken has starred in acclaimed films such as Pulp Fiction and The Deer Hunter.
These roles brought Walken to the attention of the Hollywood masses and cemented his position as one of the industry’s most bankable stars.
But before Walken hit the big time, he auditioned for the role of Han Solo in Star Wars.
Reports even suggest that the actor was George Lucas’ second choice to take on the role of the wisecracking space smuggler.
Nick Nolte and Burt Reynolds were also considered for the role alongside Walken, but ultimately, the part went to Harrison Ford.
But as one door closes another one opens and Walken ultimately went on to star in Woody Allen’s classic film Annie Hall in 1977.
13. He lived on a diet of bananas and rice to prepare for the Russian roulette scenes in The Deer Hunter
Walken received a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination for his performance in the 2002 Steven Spielberg film Catch Me if You Can.
But his only Oscar win came 24 years earlier, when he scooped the award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Michael Cimino’s epic war film The Deer Hunter.
In the film, Walken plays Nikanor ‘Nick’ Chevotarevich, a steel mill worker and some-time deer hunter.
He stars alongside acting greats Robert De Niro, John Cazale, John Savage and Meryl Streep.
Those who have watched the iconic film will know that Walken looks pretty tired and gaunt towards the film’s end.
The actor achieved this emaciated look by eating only bananas and rice for a whole week prior to shooting.
12. He was rumoured to be considering running for the US presidency in 2006
Back in 2006, a website claimed that Walken would be running for President of the United States.
Many people took this claim as gospel until the allegations were dismissed by his publicist.
“The person who put this together was just trying it as a hoax, I presume,” his publicist, Mara Buxbaum, said at the time.
“My take on it is it sounds like the person who put this on the Web took his role in ‘Wedding Crashers’ too seriously and now wants him to run for the presidency.”
Walken took it all in his stride and later admitted to being “amused” by the political hoax.
He also revealed that if he was going to run for the presidency, then his campaign slogan would be either “what the heck” or “no more zoos.”
11. He says horses have no respect for him
Actors are occasionally required to ride horses for a role, but it’s something that Walken has revealed that he has never liked doing.
Speaking to the Guardian in 2016, he said: “I have a lack of control. The times I’ve had to be on a horse, I’ve always been told, ‘You’ve got to take control of the horse. The horse can feel your authority.’”
“Forget about it. The horse had no respect for me. They always run away with me.”
But a little fear like this has never stopped Walken from shying away from getting on a horse when required.
The star revealed that the stunt team on his 1985 James Bond film A View to a Kill came up with a brilliant solution to his riding phobia.
Walken told the Guardian about the film’s famous horse racing scene: “you see me racing on a horse. That was a stuffed horse. On a trolley. With tyres. And they towed it behind a truck.”
10. He’s been married to his wife for more than half a century
Walken met his wife Georgianne back in 1963 while touring with a production of West Side Story.
Walken and his wife, who is an esteemed casting director, have now been married for over 50 years since tying the knot in 1969.
The couple have never had any children, with Walken once saying that being childless is one of the main reasons he has had such a prolific career.
When asked by Guardian in 2013 if his career would have been possible with children, he replied “absolutely not.”
“I’m sure many of the kids I knew as a child would have continued in showbusiness, but they had kids of their own, had to do something dependable.”
“I didn’t, so I could get by even in periods of unemployment,” he explained in the interview.
9. He hates flying and driving, thinks just crossing the street is “dangerous”
Walken is no stranger to navigating the globe for work – but he actually loathes travelling because of his job.
“I don’t like flying at the best of times,” he told the Guardian back in 2012.
“And as I get older, I like it less and less. I don’t much like driving either.”
“I prefer to be driven. And, when I’m in London, I don’t even like walking on the street.”
He continued: “I can never get used to looking the right way when I cross the street.”
“When we’re over there, I always say to my wife, ‘Stay in the hotel. Don’t go out there. It’s too dangerous.'”
8. He was unemployed for years before he became successful
Walken may now be one of the most successful actors around, but he wasn’t always so lucky when it came to getting work.
Walken spent most of the early days of his career unemployed, getting by on unemployment cheques and performing minor roles in plays.
Speaking to the Guardian in 2016, Walken revealed that he was never demoralised or despondent about his career struggles.
“You’d go to Safeway on Columbus Avenue and buy a big bag of chicken thighs,” he said, recalling his lifestyle during this time.
“I’d get a jug of Gallo red burgundy and mix it with juice and we’d have sangria. We lived simply, but we lived well.”
Walken also stated that he was never bored or aimless while unemployed. “I was busy. I would be doing workshops […] Not to mention just trudging around going to auditions. I may have been working harder than I was when I actually had work.”
7. He prepares for roles by mumbling his words over and over again
Many actors go to extreme lengths to prepare for their roles, with some even putting their health at risk.
Take Ashton Kutcher, who ended up in hospital after following Steve Jobs’ fruitarian diet in preparation for his role in 2013’s Jobs.
Or Natalie Portman, who lost a staggering 20 pounds to play the lead role in Black Swan.
But Walken’s approach to prepping for a role is a lot more low-key. Instead of taking method acting to extremes, Walken just mumbles his lines to himself.
“Basically I prepare in the same way every time,” he told the Guardian in 2012.
“I take the script, I stand in my kitchen and I quietly mumble it to myself. Over and over. […] I keep doing that until I hear something in there.”
6. He calls learning lines an “agonising chore”
As established, Walken hates the fact that his job requires a lot of travelling – but that’s not his least favourite thing about being an actor.
Instead, Walken’s pet peeve when it comes to prepping for a role is simply learning his lines.
Speaking to the Guardian in 2012, he said that the worst thing about being an actor was “learning lines, for sure.”
“I don’t know how people learn their lines quickly,” he said. “It’s always been a tedious, agonising chore for me.”
“I hate it. It takes me ages to know my lines. I just wish I could do movies with cue cards.”
He continued: “That way, it’s easy. Not lazy, but easy. You know what? I wish I could live my whole life with cue cards. I really do.”
5. He was once pitched a musical variety show by Marlon Brando
Speaking to David Letterman in 2013, Walken recounted a crazy time when an acting legend came to him with a proposition.
According to Walken, he received an out of the blue phone call from Marlon Brando while on set in Nova Scotia.
“I thought it was a joke,” Walken recalled. “A minute later, I picked up the phone and it was obviously him. Nobody could do him that good.”
“He wanted to do a musical variety show from his house,” Walken said, explaining the Godfather’s pitch on The Late Show.
“He’d be the host and he’d have guests and he’d do numbers with them and stuff.”
“I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to watch that!'” – but sadly, it wasn’t meant to be, and Brando’s idea for a variety show never came to fruition.
4. He based his look on Elvis Presley
Walken’s distinctive hairstyle was inspired by the king of rock and roll himself: Elvis Presley.
Walken was just 15 when his then-girlfriend showed him a photo of Presley in a magazine.
The future actor was instantly drawn to the singer’s stylishly quiffed hair and later said that he thought Presley “looked like a Greek god.”
“I saw him on television, I loved everything about him,” he recalled, recounting the profound impression Elvis made on him as a young man.
Walken then adapted his hairstyle to match the King’s and has kept it the same ever since.
Walken went on to write the 1995 play Him, which was essentially an imagining of Elvis’ afterlife. Naturally, Walken also played the starring role.
3. He doesn’t own a computer or a mobile phone
Amazingly, Walken doesn’t own a computer or a mobile phone. Speaking to Men’s Journal, he called himself a “Luddite.”
“I don’t have a cell phone and I don’t have a computer. But I can see what is happening.”
“That’s the way it is right now, and I don’t think there’s going to be any turning back,” he said.
He elaborated when speaking to Newsweek in 2016. “It’s kind of nice and peaceful not to have it. I live out in the country, I don’t see a lot of people.”
“My wife always says to me, because she has a computer—apparently, you can look yourself up.”
“You can do all sorts of masochistic things. I never have that temptation,” he explained.
2. His acting advice to Benicio del Toro was “don’t do anything”
A number of Hollywood actors have expressed admiration for, or have admitted to being influenced by, Christopher Walken.
These include greats such as Johnny Depp, Bradley Cooper, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mickey Rourke and Colin Farrell.
Another fan is Benicio del Toro, who revealed that Walken gave him the best piece of acting advice he has ever received.
This was: “when you’re in a scene and you don’t know what you’re going to do, don’t do anything.”
Speaking to Crave Online in 2012, Del Toro said: “I thought that was such great advice for acting because whenever you’re in front of a camera you want to do something.”
He continued: “I love Walken. He’s one of the great actors, a big influence on me, I love him.”
1. He’s got no plans to retire
Walken may well be in his late 70s, but he’s got no plans to take a step back from working just yet.
Speaking to The Wrap in 2015, Walken said: “Acting is one of those things, you can keep doing it as long as they ask you to do it.”
“They say you don’t retire from acting — they retire you. And I don’t want to be retired, because what would I do?”
He continued: “You know, I went to the same dentist for 30 years, and the last time I went to see him he said he was retiring.”
“I said, ‘What are you going to do?’ He said, ‘Oh, I’ll play golf, I’ll travel…'”
“I’m not going to play golf. If I retired, I wouldn’t have anything to do, and I think it’s the same for most actors.”