The untold truth of Christopher Walken

Everyone has their favorite Christopher Walken moments, whether it's the monologue from Pulp Fiction, the end of The Deer Hunter, or that epic video for Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice." (Admit it, that's the only reason the song is stuck in your head now.) He's such a distinctive character in his own right, it's almost as if he's made a career out of playing himself. Has he?

His strange speaking style

Ask anyone to do an impression of Christopher Walken, and it probably involves his cadence more than any actual vocal resemblance. He's gotten away with doing that in pretty much all his work, and that's a good thing — it's actually how he talks.

When he spoke with Tracy Smith (via CBS News) in 2012, he explained why he'd learned to speak like that. He was born in Queens at a time most of his neighbors — and the customers in his parents' bakery — were immigrants. English was a second language to most of them, and those were the first voices he heard.

"Both my parents had heavy accents," he said. (His father was German and his mother was from Glasgow, according to The Guardian.) "It's a rhythm thing — people who speak English where they are have to hesitate and think of the right word. And I think it rubbed off." If that speaking rhythm has been ingrained in him since birth, it might be a lucky thing — he's been dancing since he was 3, and that's all rhythm.

He reads and writes like he talks

The Wrap got Walken talking about his odd speech pattern, but guess what? He doesn't think any of those popular impressions sound like him, and he also changes his own scripts to suit himself. That mostly involves removing punctuation and swapping around periods and questions marks, which has gotten him in trouble with some writers to the point where he's left.

"There have been times when I've just said, 'If that's what you want, that's fine, but you'll have to get somebody else because I can't do it. I have to do it the only way I know how,'" he says.

He also adds that he writes in much the same way. Since he doesn't own a computer or a cell phone, all his letters are handwritten. His writing is just as odd as his speech: all capital letters, no punctuation, and just a single sentence. And don't expect anything fancy because he never learned cursive.

He doesn't really prepare for a role

There are all kinds of stories about the insane prep work Daniel Day-Lewis does for a movie, including (via The Telegraph) spending a year and a half training to be a boxer. Walken is the complete opposite.

When he spoke to The Guardian in 2012, he noted that he was never in character. "No matter what character I'm playing, it's me. I'm the only person in my life that I can refer to." He goes on to explain that there are actors and then there are performers. Actors become the character, but performers don't. "I'm essentially a performer. … That's what I know. It's what I do."

Walken's preparation is basically memorization. To prepare for a role, he stands in his kitchen, reads the lines, and figures out what rhythm works for him. It taps into his first love — dance — and even when it's a little complicated, the process stays the same. He told The Guardian later that even the songs he needed to learn from The Jungle Book were memorized while he was just walking around the house singing, which is the worst part of the job for him. He's called it "a tedious, agonizing chore," and would opt to use cue cards if anyone would let him.

He's unambitious

When she talked to him in 2016, Guardian reporter Emma Brockes said Walken was so aggressively modest it made him seemingly immune to criticism. She isn't the first to notice. A few years earlier, he had also spoken to The Guardian on keeping sane through all the maneuvering of a cutthroat Hollywood, and he credited his long-term survival — and lack of an ulcer — to not trying too hard.

"Things have worked out better than I expected, perhaps because I didn't expect things to be good. I really didn't have any aspirations. I'm lazy," he said. "I don't chase stuff."

He said he doesn't panic if he goes for a while without working, and that his low-stress attitude has kept him healthy. He also doesn't get offended when someone doesn't want him for a part, giving him a different experience in Hollywood than most might expect: "I've always found it to be an honest place. They either want you for a role or they don't. It's pretty simple."

He changed his name because of a cabaret dancer

Anyone who didn't know about Walken's early training in dance found out about it in the most epic way possible with Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice" video, but less well-known is that his name isn't actually Christopher.

Salon says he — the second of three boys — was named Ronald after Ronald Colman, a British actor who made it big starring in American films. For the very first part of his career, he was still Ronnie. It changed, he told IndieWire, when he was dancing in a nightclub act behind the Belgian cabaret dancer Monique Van Vooren. At the end of the show, she would introduce all her dancers to the audience. "And one night … she said, 'You know, I'm going to call you Christopher.'" And I said, 'Okay." And I just kept it." For professional use, at least — his friends and family still call him Ronnie.

He's kept mum on the death of Natalie Wood

Walken is perhaps the most unlikely player in one of Hollywood's greatest mysteries: What really happened the night Natalie Wood died in the Pacific Ocean? She, husband Robert Wagner, and Walken had been out on the yacht Splendour, near Catalina Island. Wagner and yacht captain Dennis Davern radioed for help in the early hours of November 29, 1981, and her body was recovered from the water six hours later.

Walken was with them that night because he and Wood were filming the movie Brainstorm together. Vanity Fair says there were more rumors than answers, and the only confirmed events of that evening were a dinner party, lots of drinks, and what staff called volatile behavior. Walken has stayed officially mum on the topic, even telling People in 1986 it was "a conversation I won't have." In 1997, he told Playboy (via The Hollywood Reporter) he didn't know what happened but speculated it was just an unfortunate accident.

LA medical examiner Thomas Noguchi ruled the death an accidental drowning, and Walken publicly stated it was an accident. But when Vanity Fair got the original police report, they found Davern and Walken both told stories that seemed to point to two days of fighting, jealousy, and drinking. Davern later said it was a case of costars getting along too well for a jealous husband, and Wagner's rage prompted her to try to leave the yacht. Conflicting stories remain, though, and Walken refuses to talk about it.

He doesn't think he'd be good at directing or retirement

It's human nature to always be looking ahead to figure out what's next, and Walken has been asked that a few times. What isn't next for him is a voluntary retirement or a spot in the director's chair.

"They say you don't retire from acting, they retire you," he told The Wrap in 2015. "And I don't want to be retired because what would I do?" According to what he told Rolling Stone, he doesn't have any of the typical reasons most people look forward to retirement. He doesn't like to travel, doesn't play any of the typical sports, doesn't write or do anything artistic, doesn't have kids, and says he'd most like to be like John Gielgud, who couldn't attend his own 90th birthday party because he was filming a movie.

He's expressed a dismissive attitude toward the prospect of jumping into the director's chair, telling Interview, "If I were a director, I'd try to hire the best people I could and then leave them alone." He says he's not good at things like lighting, cameras, and angles, so he's happy to just keep doing what he's doing.

All his street clothes have been stolen from movie sets

In 2010, Walken showed up to an interview with The Independent wearing the same jacket he'd worn on screen in The Comfort of Strangers. He filmed that in 1990, and when he was asked about it, he freely admitted lifting the jacket from the set wasn't a one-time thing. "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."

He's apparently a bit notorious about lifting his clothes, too, going back years. When he was in Batman Returns, the clothing department did a preemptive strike and cleared out his dressing room while he was filming his last scene. He'd made a mental list of what he wanted, but it was gone by the time he got done filming. "They saw me coming."

Marlon Brando got in touch with him to make a variety show

When Walken talked to The Independent in 2010, he told the story of a television show that would have been all kinds of epic, probably in the same sort of way a train wreck is. It started when he was filming in the middle of Nova Scotia and Marlon Brando called him.

Brando had seen him dance in Pennies from Heaven and wanted to get in touch with his choreographer. Never has a more unlikely request ever been made in Hollywood. Brando wanted to start a musical variety show set in his own home. Brando himself would play the piano, and everyone — including Brando — would dance. This all came on the heels of Brando's claim he had lost around 100 pounds on a crackers-and-milk diet. Sadly, the Marlon Brando Variety Show never happened, and the world is worse off for it. As he told David Letterman, "That's something we all missed, I think."

His villainous characters are successful because of real-life experiences

Walken's real-life persona is somewhat inseparable from the dark, bizarre characters he plays, and he told Total Film (via GamesRadar) his ability to pull off threatening and scary comes from a very real place. He grew up in New York and said it was "like living in a horror museum because there are so many strange people walking the streets and riding the subways." The tough attitude was a survival skill he adopted to help make sure no one was going to mess with him on the streets, and it's served him well. In real life, he said, "I'm a pussycat!" He'd be bad at actual, real-life evil for a whole list of reasons: He doesn't think he'd be capable of even picking up a gun, and he's a major pacifist. "I think I smile and laugh more than most people," he said.

There are villains he won't play, and he told The Independent he'd turn down a role playing a character who has no morals whatsoever — and he has. "I have always refused to do something that has offended me. I have been offered potential roles that are totally vulgar," and he doesn't think twice about turning those down.

He hates it when scripts are written for him

Want to get on Christopher Walken's bad side? Write a script with a character that acts and talks the way you think he acts and talks.

He told Rolling Stone he gets frustrated when writers go back to revise a script for him, a process he calls Walkenizing. "They turn it into what they perceive my personality to be," he said, and he turns down a lot of the roles he feels are deliberately weird. He told The Guardian that not only does it happen, but Walkenizing happens a lot; usually in the form of rewrites that are done after he takes the role. It's one of the things that really, truly irritates him, so don't do it.

He has a whole list of physical fears

You can see any one of a number of Walken's weirdest characters could show up in your nightmares, so what's he afraid of? Apparently, it's quite the list.

We'll start with horses, and he told Total Film (via GamesRadar) it's not just that he can't ride — he's scared to. What about Sleepy Hollow, you ask? That was actually a mechanical horse — one with a pedigree, the same one used in National Velvet for Elizabeth Taylor. He admitted to The Guardian other horses he's had to ride were fake, too, including ones in A View To A Kill. "They always run away with me," he said.

He doesn't like to drive, and told The Guardian he'd rather have someone drive him. When he's in London, he doesn't even like leaving the hotel — and his wife doesn't like him to leave it, either. He said he can't get used to looking the opposite direction when he's crossing the street, so it's easier just to stay in. "I don't mind dangerous psychic things, but dangerous physical things are — I don't even go into crowds. I don't go to the airport." Also on the list of fears is swimming and flying, which he won't do if there's any other viable option. He chalked it up to having grown up in the city, never needing to experience some things, and just not being fussed to do it.