In the extremely violent, wildly funny and aptly titled “Seven Psychopaths” (opening Friday) Christopher Walken plays one of the titular characters.
If you want an actor who can do it all, can make you laugh just as easily as make you squirm, you call on Christopher Walken. Comedy, drama, song, dance, stage, screen, television, Walken, 69, has been at it since he was about 10. One of his first jobs was working opposite Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis on NBC’s “The Colgate Comedy Hour.”
He later did theater, guested on many TV shows, got noticed by movie audiences for his brief “confession” about late-night driving impulses in “Annie Hall,” nabbed an Oscar for his part in “The Deer Hunter,” struck uncomfortable fear into the hearts of anyone watching “Pulp Fiction,” exuded warmth in “Blast From the Past,” and showed his smooth and romantic side – opposite John Travolta as his wife – in “Hairspray.”
In the extremely violent, wildly funny and aptly titled “Seven Psychopaths” (opening Friday) he doesn’t sing or dance, but he does just about everything else. Walken plays one of the characters of the title, but his is sort of a pacifist psychopath.
“I’m pretty harmless in this movie,” said Walken. “I don’t hurt anybody.” In fact, Walken’s dog-loving Hans does most of the movie with a soft, lilting voice, one that hints at, but doesn’t show, any malevolence.
“He’s a little scary,” admitted Walken. “But I think he’s pretty decent, as far as psychopaths go.”
The movie’s blend of very different genres centers on the stories of a struggling alcoholic screenwriter, a couple of dognappers (who immediately return the dogs for the rewards), and a gangster who owns a Shih Tzu and was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Walken admitted that he didn’t comprehend how comically complicated the film was while he was making it.
“The movie’s got this kind of mixture of funny and scary, stuff that I didn’t realize until I saw it,” he said, then referred to a key sequence with a bunny-loving psychopath named Zachariah, played by Tom Waits. “Having a scene with rabbits walking all over the place is a great idea. I never saw that before, and there’s no reason to have 20 rabbits walking around. But it makes you kind of want to see more of that.” Walken also made sure to point out that he’s been laughing a lot lately due to a YouTube phenomenon called “Henri, le chat noir” (Henri, the Black Cat”).
“He’s an existential French cat,” he said, chuckling. “He speaks French, he’s bored, he’s lonely, and he lives with a white cat who he loathes.” Then he was back to explaining how, even though the “Seven Psychopaths” script is funny, you can’t go out of your way to try to be funny when the cameras are rolling, that you just go to work and hope it comes out right.
Page 2 of 2 - At that point, one of his co-stars, Sam Rockwell (a dognapper in the film) walked in on the interview and said, “Chris has great comic timing because he was around a lot of musical theater and comedy when he was a kid. And he’s been one of my dramatic influences.”
Rockwell and Walken got to know each other pretty well a couple of years ago when they co-starred on Broadway in the darkly comic play “A Behanding in Spokane,” which was written by “Seven Psychopaths” writer-director Martin McDonagh.
Asked what he thought of being an influence on other actors, Walken smiled at Rockwell, basked in the compliment for a moment, then said, “You know, if you’ve been an actor and you’re lucky enough to work ... I’ve made good movies and terrible movies, stuff I’m proud of and stuff I run away from. It’s just an accumulation of stuff. There’s a certain thing that happens if you just manage to stick around.”
He brought up the Martin and Lewis sketch he performed in all those years ago, and said, “I saw a kinescope of it, and it was fascinating how little I’ve changed. I was 10 years old and I’ve hardly changed. I look the same, I sound the same, I have the same moves and the same attitude. It could be that we don’t change as much as we think we do.”
He looked over at Rockwell, who had taken a seat, and said to him, “Martin (McDonagh) says he’s going to write a father-son play for us.”
Rockwell said, “Maybe it should be dancers. You can be a Baryshnikov-type and you force me into dance even though I’ve given it up.”
Walken jumped right in, and suddenly improvisation came to life in the interview room.
Walken: “You gotta dance, kid, you gotta dance! Life is dance. Dance is life.”
Rockwell: “I’ve given it up, pop. I’m done with dancing!”
Walken: Dance, kid, dance!
Rockwell: “I never wanted to be a dancer. I want to be a doctor.”
Walken: “Dance, kid! Or I’ll kill ya. I’ll chop your foot off! Try dancing now!”