With his slow Queens drawl, high forehead and even higher hair, Christopher Walken has never been anything less than distinct. But in a career that spans (according to IMDB) 121 TV and movie appearances, the Oscar winner is most widely known for a specialty portfolio of volatile antagonists, unhinged protagonists and generally obsessive types (one of whom memorably keeps demanding "more cowbell" from Blue Öyster Cult on Saturday Night Live, a show he's hosted seven times).
Yet Walken remains a versatile performer capable of mesmerizing subtlety. In contrast to the likable dognapper he plays in the recent Seven Psychopaths, his character in this week's new release A Late Quartet is a veteran cellist forced to leave his popular string quartet when he develops Parkinson's.
In a telephone conversation with The Pitch, Walken explains what it's like to defy audience expectations and what it's like to be a viral-video star without Internet access.
Your father came here from Germany, and your mother was from Scotland. Did growing up as a first generation American affect the way you speak?
Walken: Absolutely. Both my parents came over as adults. I think in the neighborhood I came from, there were people from all over, mostly Europe. My friends were all first generation. My father had a bakery. Everybody who worked there spoke German. The people in the neighborhood generally had strong accents from some place or other, and sometimes they spoke more of their original language than they did English.
They didn't really have to speak a lot of English because they brought their food and their culture and their music and their language with them. I grew up with a lot of people who spoke English as a second language. I'm sure that's got something to do with the way I speak.
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