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.

He was a teenage lion tamer

Everyone has to get their start somewhere, and Walken's show biz roots go to a deep, weird place. When he talked to IndieWire about When I Live My Life Over Again and the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, they also talked about one of his earliest jobs. It was definitely a different sort of performing, and Walken said he was front and center in the circus. He was 16, masquerading as the lion tamer's son, and working with a big cat named Sheba. It was real enough, he said, and the gag was that after the "real" lion tamer did his thing, Walken was left with "this one old girl." He had nothing but fond memories of her, too, saying, "I would come in with my whip and … she'd sit up. But she was really more like a dog. … She was very sweet. … She'd come and bump your leg. Like a house cat."

A very, very large house cat.

Walken said he got the job by answering an ad in a trade paper. Presumably, there was no experience needed. Different times.

There's one role he's still chasing

Walken has more than 130 acting credits to his name (via IMDb), and it's no secret that most of those characters are a certain type. He's known for playing the oddballs, and he's had a long time to get used to that. But according to what he told Vanity Fair, he'd be open to other kinds of roles. In particular, there's one character type he wants a shot at playing. "I haven't played a regular guy," he said. "You know, a dad with kids. But I'm not sure I'll ever get that part."

He's a major cat- and animal-lover

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who love animals, and those who sort of vaguely acknowledge they exist. Walken is definitely in the former category, and he told Parade that one of his favorite things to do is just watch the wildlife outside the window of his Connecticut country home. Deer, turkey, birds, even snakes are all welcome at the Walken homestead.

He also talked a bit about his views on animal rights. He's not a fan of captive animals, saying he wishes the world would do away with things like zoos, circuses, and animal entertainment. He's also done some work with the Best Friends Animal Society celebrity campaign, and is a huge believer in adoption — no matter where the furry friends come from. At the time, he had a cat they just called "the Cat," a friendly stray who showed up on his porch one day with her kittens in tow. She never left. Walken described his cats as his children, and said, "Frankly, if there's such a thing as reincarnation, it would be wonderful to come back as my cat. … I'm not sure you could do better than that."

He's an accomplished cook

Walken once told The New York Times Magazine he learned lines by reading through them while he cooked, calling it "the power of distraction." But Walken takes the cooking seriously, too. He comes from a family of German bakers (on his father's side), and when he gave an interview to Observer, he also cooked them a meal.

His childhood was a strange mix of sweet deliciousness that came from his family's bakery and strange dishes he called "peasant food." His parents both immigrated to the States, so the dishes they were familiar with where things like head cheese and oxtail soup. Walken himself is a little more mainstream in his tastes (although he does like a bit of molasses in his morning coffee) and loves cooking everything from Mexican to Thai. He said he prefers cooking at home to eating out, and he almost always skips dessert. His dislike of sweet things is a holdover from being surrounded by cakes, pastries, and vats of chocolate growing up, and his time spent filling jelly doughnuts by the dozen. He described that particular process as "rather sensual," but still prefers to give dessert a miss.

Astoria is still 'home'

Walken has traveled the world, but he still considers his boyhood home in Astoria, Queens, to be his true home. In 2010, he headed back there with The New Yorker, and gave them a tour of his favorite spots, like his old apartment building (and even his old apartment, thanks to a gracious current resident), and the hardware store now taking up the space that once was his family's bakery. He talked about how it shaped him, growing up in a small town just a stone's throw (and a subway ride) from Times Square: "Television was all live, and it all came from New York."

The interview was only a few weeks after his mother's death, and she lived to the ripe old age of 104. His walk down memory lane was partially hers, too, and he said, "She could never really break with Astoria. I'm kind of the same way."

He's very conscious about his weight

Walken might love cooking, but he holds back when it comes to indulging too much. He says that's mostly because what they say about the camera adding 10 pounds is absolutely true, and the same actors that are worried about how they look are faced with serious temptation in the form of on-set buffets. He's spent enough time on movie sets to know there's a lot of really good food. Coupled with a lot of inactivity, sitting around, and waiting for the cameras to roll, it's a recipe for weight-related disasters.

"A lot of actors I know gain 15 pounds when they make a movie," he told Observer. "I was in a movie once — I don't want to say which — that took eight months to make. Movies are not shot in sequence, so you could watch it and see the people in the movie getting bigger and smaller."

While he says there's "some primitive thing" that happens when people are in front of a buffet, he's careful. But when he's not shooting, he regularly breaks Rule Number One of eating healthy: He prefers a single meal a day, around 7 p.m.

He's seriously thought about a cooking show

Walken might be a serious-looking actor who's more than a bit terrifying in many of his roles, but he's never been bothered to take himself too seriously. It's allowed him to combine his love of acting and his love of cooking a couple times, filming a short (above) with Richard Belzer for Funny or Die that's hilarious no matter how many times you see it. But he was almost in a fully fledged cooking show, and told Observer he was in talks with three different networks. The basic idea was a kitchen he said would have been "a little like Pee-Wee's Playhouse," with "maybe a showgirl … chopping my vegetables."

Talks ended when they couldn't agree on the format. Walken said the networks wanted something carefully scripted, and when that didn't sync with what he had in mind, he gave it a pass. He has, however, thought about doing another totally watchable idea:

"I thought I'd get a couple of those cameras and put them in my kitchen in Connecticut and just, you know, turn it on whenever I felt like it. … I thought I would have a hotline — you know, a red telephone. And [viewers] could call and I could give them advice about their love life. … I could provide services like that. Or just talk while I'm cooking." Seriously, next time you see him, tell him this is the internet show the world needs.

He's strongly against guns and sport hunting

Walken is a confessed animal-lover, and that love extends to his beliefs about guns. He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that in spite of what some of his on-screen personas are known for, he's never fired a real gun — not even at a shooting range. "I've done it a lot in movies, but there are too many guns in the real world," he said. "I know people with guns, and they always say the same thing. 'If somebody breaks into my house, I have to be able to defend myself.' But what they're really saying is, 'I hope somebody breaks into my house so I can use this thing.'"

That was in 2012, and he predicted then there would be metal detectors installed in public places like movie theaters. By extension, he's also expressed his horror at sport hunting. He called the Hunters Channel the most obscene thing he'd ever seen, both because of the hunting itself and the hunters' gleeful reactions at killing a beautiful, living creature. He added, "Guns are out of control." He prefers to do his hunting with a pizza tray, like the one he told The New York Times Magazine he leaves out in his backyard. He fills it with scraps for the possums and raccoons that have set up a home there, obviously knowing a good thing when they see it.

He was the target of an impressive fake Twitter account

You've seen that little blue checkmark next to some Twitter accounts, which basically means it's been verified as belonging to the person you think it belongs to. That system wasn't always in place, and in 2009 there was a very real debate about how to keep imposters from ruining the reputation of various celebrities. Walken was one of the celebrities targeted with a fake Twitter account, and Adweek said @cwalken had around 100,000 followers when it was suspended. It was so popular — and so good — that mainstream media even picked up the occasional quote.

The account and the Tweets are unfortunately gone, but some have been saved for posterity by How Stuff Works. They include gems like: "There's a kid on a Pogo stick in front of my house. It's nearly midnight so let's assume he's been drinking. This should end well for him," and "I claim to be frightened of horses but do so only to get out of attending parades. It's peculiar but has served me well. The horses get it." And you read those in his voice, didn't you?

He's majorly anti-technology

Don't bother looking for Walken's real Twitter account because he doesn't have one. He doesn't even use much in the way of any technology, as The New Yorker found in 2010. Walken gave his driver specific instructions as they toured his old stomping grounds in Astoria because he didn't have a cell phone.

That hasn't changed, and he told Men's Journal, "I'm 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 there is a good side effect of technology: the idea that "the business is actually getting bigger," thanks to things like Netflix. But when it's about things that are closer to home, he's staunchly against it. In 2016, he told Newsweek, "It's something I missed. I think I'm of a time where I just kind of skipped over it. … My wife always says to me, because she had a computer — apparently, you can look yourself up. You can do all sorts of masochistic things. I never have that temptation." He does still have to communicate with the world outside his slice of heaven in the Connecticut countryside, and said his landline works just fine for that.