The Life of Christopher Walken: From Child Star to Iconic Comedian

Christopher Walken is an iconic celebrity, and people of all ages love his work. We’ve seen him in everything funny from the role that inspired him working with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis to working with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. Walken started out studying dance, moved on to theater, and eventually made his way to movies.

Christopher Walken in Catch Me If You Can, 2002.
Photo by Andrew Cooper / Dreamworks / Kobal / Shutterstock

His parents owned a famous bakery in Astoria called Walken’s Bakery, and he was around delicious baked goods since he was a child. Walken has particular opinions on things in his life and is a huge cat lover. He has been in over 100 films and TV shows since his career started, and he has no plan of stopping anytime soon. Let’s dig deeper into the career and life of Christopher Walken from child actor to a comedic icon.

Growing Up and Starting Out

Christopher Walken was born Ronald and changed his name for his career. He was born in New York to two parents who immigrated over from Scotland and Germany. He was a child actor with his two brothers in the ‘50s. His mother had big dreams for them to become big actors, and this influenced getting them started in acting.

Christopher Walken with his brothers Kenneth and Glenn.
Source: Pinterest

Fun fact; Walken has had the same hairstyle since he was 15 and hasn’t changed it since. One of his girlfriends had a magazine with Elvis Presley in it, and Walken really loved his look. To start out his career after attending University, he trained as a dancer at the Washington Dance Studio. He then went on to taking dramatic roles on stage and in films.

Child Actor

Christopher Walken started modeling as a baby and appeared in a few shows when he was a child, mostly credited as Ronnie Walken. When he was a baby, he was photographed with two cats for a very popular wall calendar. One of the shows that inspired his career path is The Colgate Comedy Hour, where he did a sketch with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

Christopher Walken in a skit with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.
Source: Pinterest

Walken says that after he took that part, he decided to become an actor. During the ‘50s, he took part in the Golden Age of television who made a lot of other stars like Paul Newman. Walken got his education around his work schedule at the Professional Children’s School and didn’t spend too much time being a kid.

From Ronnie To Christopher

Walken dropped out of college to act alongside Liza Minnelli in the musical Best Foot Forward in 1963. After this, he got a job as a dancer and singer with Monique Van Vooren in a nightclub act. He was a dancer, and you can even see him add in a little dance move in some of his later films. She would introduce the guys at the end of her act and didn’t like the way Ronald sounded.

Christopher Walken when he was around 20 years old.
Source: Twitter

She said she thought of him more like a Christopher, and he just took the name on. This was a true diva move, but Walken really didn’t care about what he was called. You can see Monique later in Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein in 1973 and Greystone Park in 2012.

The Breakout Role

Walken starred alongside Paul Simon, Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, and Paul Simon in the romantic comedy Annie Hall. While Walken didn’t receive any award nominations for this film, it received five Academy Award nominations and won four. The film did so well that it brought the recognition Walken needed to advance his career.

Christopher Walken in Annie Hall with Diane Keaton in 1977.
Source: LMK

From Westerner Films to a romantic comedy seemed to be the right decision. Right before this role, George Lucas was considering Walken for the part of Han Solo in Star Wars, but of course, that part went to Harrison Ford. Could you imagine if he actually was cast as Han Solo instead of Ford? I love Walken’s voice, but I can’t picture Star Wars being the same.

The Deer Hunter

Christopher Walken’s role in The Deer Hunter got him his first Academy Award nominations and his Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He also got to work with some infamous actors and actresses like Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep. The movie itself received 9 Academy Award nominations and won 5.

Christopher Walken, John Cazale, Robert De Niro, and George Dzundza in The Deer Hunter, 1978.
Photo by Moviestore Collection / Shutterstock

Walken received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture and won a New York Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor for this role. This was the start of his nominations and Awards for movies like Catch Me if You Can, The Jungle Book, Hairspray, and even Funniest Male Guest Appearance in a TV Series for appearing in Saturday Night Live.

The Distinct Way He Speaks

Christopher Walken has a very distinct voice and body language that goes along with it. It has blended well with all of the different roles he portrayed until now. Which is great because that is the way he talks. I mentioned that his parents immigrated from Scotland and Germany, and they had heavy accents that Walken heard growing up.

Christopher Walken circa 1980.
Photo by Fotos International / Shutterstock

He was born in Queens, and he heard a lot of accents from neighbors and the customers who frequented his parents’ bakery. He explained in an interview once that it has to do with the rhythm of someone who is speaking English as a second language. They would hesitate, trying to figure out the right word to use, and it rubbed off on him.

The Deadpan Comedian

This unique way that he speaks has a name for it, Deadpan. This is an “impassive matter-of-fact manner, style, or expression” in the form of comedic delivery. It can be in an ironic way, stated bluntly, or unintentional. It is also called dry humor or dry wit. I can see why Walken’s work has moved to comedic roles instead of what he started with, Dance.

Christopher Walken and his wife at the Deer Hunter premiere.
Photo by Dennis Hart / Associated Newspapers / Shutterstock

I do appreciate the small moves he will throw into his movies, but I can’t see him taking on a role in a horror film. I would be laughing the whole time. This unique accent he has got him on the list of deadpan comedians alongside Tig Notaro, Bill Murray, and Aubrey Plaza.

Controversy of 1981

In 1981, Walken was in the middle of filming Brainstorm when he took a yacht off Catalina Island with Natalie Wood and her husband, Robert Wagner. He and Natalie were working on the movie together. There were rumors that she would fall for the leading men in her films. One night on the yacht, Wood drowned. There are only rumors surrounding what happened this night, but it is said that there was alcohol involved and arguments between the three of them.

Natalie Wood and Christopher Walken laughing together in Brainstorm.
Photo by Moviestore Collection / Shutterstock

The one thing Walken did say is that they did argue, but over something stupid at the restaurant and after a night of light partying, he slept and woke up to find out what happened to Natalie. She happened to shoot all of the bigger scenes in the movie already, and they took footage that they had of her to complete the movie so that her last film got released.

Reading and Writing the Way He Talks

Christopher Walken’s unique way of talking is mostly moving around periods and question marks and removing punctuation. He has actually had trouble with some writers when working on a project that he has left. In an interview with The Wrap, he said, “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.’”

Behind the scenes on the new Bai 'Jentleman' commercial
Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Shutterstock. Justin Timberlake and Christopher Walken. Behind the scenes on the Bai ‘Jentleman’ commercial. Feb 2017

He also writes in the same way, and you can see it in some of his handwritten letters. He’ll have all capital letters, and he’ll leave out punctuation. To give you more of a picture of what the letters look like, Walken doesn’t know how to write in cursive.

Role Preparation

A lot of actors will prepare for a role by taking crazy measures to make sure they understand the role. Like Daniel Day-Lewis, spending a year and a half training to become a boxer. Well, Christopher Walken is not like this. He refers to himself as a performer and not an actor as actors become the character, but performers don’t do this.

Christopher Walken was leaning out of a plane in the film A View to A Kill, 1985.
Photo by Danjaq / Eon / Ua / Kobal / Shutterstock

“No matter what character I’m playing, it’s me. I’m the only person in my life that I can refer to. I’m essentially a performer. … That’s what I know. It’s what I do,” Walken said in an interview. With the Guardian. He prepares by memorizing his lines, and if there are musical numbers, he walks around the house singing until he remembers it.

“I’m Lazy…”

Some will call this being a calm and patient person, and others will look at it like he’s crazy. Christopher Walken doesn’t take criticism to heart and doesn’t seem to try too hard. But this is his personality, and it really seems to work out well for him. In an interview with the Guardian, he said, “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; I don’t chase stuff.”

Christopher Walken with long hair in America’s Sweethearts, 2001.
Photo by Revolution / Face Prod / Shoelace Prod / Kobal / Shutterstock

If he doesn’t work for a while, he doesn’t freak out. Not only does it keep him healthier with a low level of stress, but it gives him a different kind of experience than you would normally have in Hollywood. “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.”

What’s Next?

We’re all probably wondering what the next step is for Christopher Walken in his career. Most of us have been following him since his role in The Deer Hunter and can’t wait to see what he comes out with next. Thankfully, it doesn’t seem like he’s going to retire anytime soon, or even become a director. “They say you don’t retire from acting; they retire you. And I don’t want to be retired because what would I do?”

Christopher Walken with his hands in his pockets in the film Touch, 1997.
Photo by Moviestore Collection / Shutterstock

When it comes to becoming a director, he didn’t seem to into it either. In an interview with Interview, he said: “If I were a director, I’d try to hire the best people I could and then leave them alone.” He isn’t interested in lighting, cameras, and angles, and just wants to keep doing what he’s been doing all these years.

Stealing from Sets

I’ve heard people say that rich people are cheaper with their money and it helps them stay rich. Walken must agree with this because he became known for taking his character’s clothing from the wardrobe. He showed up to an interview in 2010 wearing the same jacket that he wore in the movie The Comfort of Strangers, which was filmed in 1990.

Christopher Walken and Natasha Richardson in The Comfort of Strangers, 1990.
Photo by Erre Prod / Sovereign / Reteitalia / Kobal / Shutterstock

He said, “I never buy clothes. Whenever I do a movie, all my clothing is from that movie set. They don’t give me anything. I steal.” Apparently, word of this got around. When he was doing Batman Returns, they cleared out his dressing room while he was busy filming his final scene in the film. He was excited to get back and take what he wanted, but as he said, “They saw me coming.”

Almost Worked with Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando got in touch with Christopher Walken one day in the ‘90s. Walken claims it was to pitch him a musical variety show after Brando saw him dance in Pennies from Heaven. Brando was looking to start a show where he would be the pianist while everyone else would dance, and it would be called the Marlon Brando Variety Show.

Christopher Walken was dancing in Pennies from Heaven, 1981.
Photo by MGM / Kobal / Shutterstock

He wanted cameras set up around his house and have different guests on, and everyone would do choreographed pieces together. This would have been the greatest show, but as he said to David Letterman, “That’s something we all missed, I think.” The show never ended up happening, but that didn’t seem to affect Walken’s career.

Playing the Villain

Christopher Walken often plays the villain, and he does it really well. His ability to play these dark and unusual characters comes from a real place. Growing up in New York, he said it was “like living in a horror museum because there are so many strange people walking the streets and riding the subways.” He had to develop a tough attitude as a way to survive, just to make sure that no one messes with him.

Christopher Walken with Andrew Bryniarski and Michael Murphy in Batman Returns, 1992.
Photo by Warner Bros / Dc Comics / Kobal / Shutterstock

While he can play these characters well, he is a teddy bear in real life. He will even turn down certain villainous roles if he sees the character has no morals at all. Without thinking twice about it, he says, “I have always refused to do something that has offended me. I have been offered potential roles that are totally vulgar.”

How to Irritate Walken

A lot of times, Christopher Walken will get offers to take roles that were specifically written with him in mind. This is something that you should only do if you aren’t looking to work with him. Walken is very open about how he doesn’t appreciate a script being written for him, and it frustrates him. He even went as far as calling this ‘Walkenizing.’

Christopher Walken at the Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in 2003.
Photo by Alex Berliner / BEI / Shutterstock

In an interview with the Guardian, he said, “They turn it into what they perceive my personality to be.” He went on to say he will turn it down if it feels like it was too weird on purpose. This also happens to him when he will take a role on, and once they know it’s him playing the part, they will rewrite it.

His List of Fears

Christopher Walken is just like any of us; he is afraid of some pretty random things. One thing he is afraid of that a lot of us can relate to is horses. Not only can he not ride one, but he is also afraid to. In the movies that he has done, they’ve brought in mechanical horses for him to use in the scenes. In Sleepy Hollow, they used the same mechanical horse that was used in National Velvet for Elizabeth Taylor to ride.

Christopher Walken with Glenn Close walking into an event on The Stepford Wives, 2004.
Photo by Andrew Schwartz / Paramount / Dreamworks / Kobal / Shutterstock

Walken also doesn’t like to drive. He will always rather that someone drives him around. When he travels to London with his wife, the two of them prefer to stay in. He would rather stay in because he doesn’t like that he has to get used to looking the other way when he goes to cross the street. He doesn’t like crowds or going to the airport. Also, he is afraid of swimming and flying.

His Earlier Jobs

Walken was sixteen when he got one of his earliest jobs. There was an ad in a trade paper for helping the lion tamer’s son, working with a big cat. There was no experience needed, which is just crazy for a job like this. But he would be front and center in the circus, posing as the lion tamers son with Sheba, the lion.

Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter.
Photo by Moviestore Collection / Shutterstock

He had a part to do after the real lion tamer performed, but it was real enough. Walken talks about her like she was a house cat who acted more like a dog. He’s a pretty impressive person, and taking on something like this with no experience was crazy. I guess you have to start somewhere, and this is just where Walken started.

The Part That Got Away

Over the years, Christopher Walken has 50 years of experience with acting and has been in over 100 movies and TV shows. His early career was mostly theater and a few small roles in tv shows. Then he moved on to more popular films. But these roles were all a certain type of character that he’s known for playing, and he has gotten used to it.

Christopher Walken in Balls of Fury with his nails painted red and a black and gold robe on.
Photo by Gemma La Mana / Rogue / Kobal / Shutterstock

This doesn’t stop him from wanting something different. There is one kind of character he hasn’t had a shot of playing yet, and he wants a chance to do it. He said, “I haven’t played a regular guy. You know, a dad with kids. But I’m not sure I’ll ever get that part.” He has been able to host Saturday Night Live seven times now, though, which is a pretty big accomplishment.

He Loves Animals

Some people walk past animals and just think how cute and move on, and others can’t walk past an animal without stopping to say hi to them. Christopher Walken is one of the people who just love animals and even spends some of his free time watching wildlife from a large window in his Connecticut country home.

Christopher Walken behind the counter with a cat and Kevin Spacey and Malina Weissman are standing by in the movie Nine Lives.
Photo by Moviestore / Shutterstock

He loves all kinds of animals, from turkey to deer to snakes. His favorite animals are cats, and he said something that shows us just how much he loves them. “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.” I, for one, wouldn’t mind being Walken’s cat, I’m sure they got the best treatment.

A Man Who Can Cook

Christopher Walken can cook, and he takes it very seriously. He comes from a family of bakers, and he would learn his lines by reading through them while he was cooking. He luckily got to spend his childhood around delicious pastries and baked goods at the bakery and classic home-made food at home. Since they were immigrants, he got to experience meals his mother would make from home.

Christopher Walken in an apron and matching chef hat with a carrot and its roots held in his mouth like a cigar in the film Pa. Scotland, 2001.
Photo by Chris Reardon / Abandon Pics / Paddy Wagon / Veto Chip Prod / Kobal / Shutterstock

In general, Walken doesn’t really eat out at restaurants. When he does eat out, he won’t order dessert as he was around the sweets too often growing up. But he has a real reason for preferring to cook for himself, and its because he doesn’t like people touching his food. He had his own “cooking show” called Cooking with Christopher Walken, which started off as an SNL skit and was also a skit with Richard Belzer with Funny or Die. He has been known to post videos of himself cooking on the internet since then.

Home Sweet Home

Christopher Walken grew up in Astoria, Queens, and will always consider it his true home. He has been lucky enough to travel around the world, but after all that he has seen, Queens will always feel like home. He took The New Yorker back to his hometown and into his old apartment to see what it was like there for him.

Christopher Walken photographed at the kitchen table in his house in Connecticut.
Photo by Benedict Evans / The Guardian

They even got to visit the hardware store that is now where his family’s bakery used to be. He loved always being one subway ride away from Times Square, where he said, “Television was all live, and it all came from New York.” His mother passed away at the age of 104, and she also couldn’t let Astoria go.

Body Conscious

Have you heard the saying that the camera adds ten pounds? Well, according to Walken, this is true. Being worried that you will look bigger on camera leads to being extra conscious about what you eat. That’s hard to do when most movie sets have buffets set up for the actors to indulge in while they are in between scenes.

Christopher Walken was sitting on a tan leather couch in the film Dark Horse, 2011.
Photo by Double Hope Film / Kobal / Shutterstock

He did an interview with the Observer and said, “A lot of actors I know gain 15 pounds when they make a movie. 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.” Walken had a rule for this and only liked to have one meal per day around 7 PM.

Against Guns and Sport Hunting

Christopher Walken is a known animal lover, and his beliefs extend to his opinion on guns. Even though a lot of the roles he took on have guns involved, he has never actually fired a real gun or been to a shooting range. “I’ve done it a lot in movies, but there are too many guns in the real world,” he said.

Christopher Walken was standing by Ellen Albertini Dow, holding a shotgun up on the front porch in the movie Wedding Crashers.
Photo by Richard Cartwright / New Line / Avery Pix / Kobal / Shutterstock

“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.'” He hates the Hunters Channel and has his own way of hunting. He’ll leave a pizza tray out in his backyard with scraps so that the possums and raccoons that set up their homes there will have what to eat. They are pretty smart animals, seeing they are taken care of and making their home there.

Almost Had His Own Cooking Show

While we joked about him having his own cooking show before, he actually thought seriously about having his own cooking show. Walken’s love for cooking came out when he got to film the short with Richard Belzer, where the two of them would cook together. He was in negotiations with three different networks at one point with an idea he had.

Christopher Walken was cooking with Lidia Bastianich.
Source: Twitter

Walken was looking to create a cooking show that would be “a little like Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” mixed with “maybe a showgirl…chopping my vegetables.” After disagreements with the networks on what they wanted, he passed on the idea, but that didn’t stop him from filming himself every once and a while for YouTube. He would have just preferred to do something more improvised than scripted. That’s Walken, only taking on what he knows he wants.

Fake Twitter Account

It isn’t as easy now to fake this kind of thing. Now you can usually believe the blue checkmark next to the username verifying that it is a legit celebrity account. Christopher Walken was one of the celebrities who had a fake account made in his name by a random person. They were so good at it that reporters would occasionally get quotes from there.

Christopher Walken was sitting at a desk with an American flag behind him in Fade to Black.
Photo by Moviestore Collection / Shutterstock

There were some funny ones 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.”

Walken For President

Not only was he the victim of the fake Twitter account, but he also had a fake website made for him. Walken was also someone who ended up a part of the candidacy hoax in 2006. Someone created a fake website for him claiming that he’s running for President of the United States. Like most rumors that are put out there, true or false, this was believed by a few reporters and ended up in the news.

Christopher Walken with Conan on Late Night with Conan O’Brien.
Photo by NBC-Tv / Kobal / Shutterstock

His publicist quickly dismissed the rumors, and Walken ended up talking about it when he appeared on Conan O’Brien in September of that year. They joked around about it, and O’Brien asked Walken to come up with a campaign slogan. Walken came up with “What the Heck” and “No More Zoos!” Two great choices.

Not A Fan of Technology

At the end of the day, you won’t find Christopher Walken’s Twitter account, as he just won’t ever have one. He isn’t a fan of technology at all. In an interview with Men’s Journal, he was asked about technology, and he answered, “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.”

Christopher Walken and Al Pacino in ‘Stand Up Guys,’ 2014.
Source: Shutterstock

He goes on to say that his wife told him about the option of looking yourself up, and he just doesn’t feel tempted to Google himself. I mean, if he did, he wouldn’t be too disappointed with what he finds. He is loved by fans of all ages from all over the world.

Bad Girl, Featuring Christopher Walken

In 1992, Madonna released her album Erotica with the song Bad Girl on it. She released it as a single and came out with a music video for it. Who better to cast as her guardian angel then Christopher Walken? He appeared in several scenes together with him watching over her and making sure she doesn’t do anything self-destructive.

Christopher Walken and Madonna behind the scenes on the set of ‘Bad Girl.’
Source: todayinmadonnahistory.com

At one point, Walken reads out a note to her that says, “thank you whoever you are.” He comes back at the end to deliver the kiss of death and then again when the police are taking her body to the morgue. He might not be dancing in it, but he really is a man of many talents. He isn’t the only one to appear in a music video. Tom Hanks also appeared in a music video with Carly Rae Jepsen.

We Are Our Own Worst Critic

Celebrities are just like us; we are our own worst critic. This is no different when it comes to Christopher Walken. In an interview, he said, “I have one of those satellite things on my television, and there are maybe 40 channels of movies, so once a day I’ll surf those. I just go from one movie to another, watching 10 minutes of this, 10 minutes of that, and often there’s something I’m in. With every movie I make, there are some scenes where I’m good and somewhere I’m not. With me, it’s always hit and miss.”

Christopher Walken with Alan Arkin and Al Pacino in ‘Stand Up Guys,’ 2012.
Photo by Lakeshore Entertainment / Kobal / Shutterstock

He should really get on Google to see some of the good stuff people have to say about his work. While you don’t really see him in this kind of role, he is a huge fan of zombie films. One of his favorite movies is “Night of The Living Dead.”

Loves His Fans

Bill Murray is another deadpan comedian, but he isn’t a fan of the love he receives from fans and feels that it is a burden. In an interview, once he explained, “It’s a lot of pressure. You’re expected to love back, and hell hath no fury like a fan scorned!” Christopher Walken has a different view on the love he receives and wants this constant attention.

Christopher Walken is signing an autograph for a fan outside of his hotel in 2005.
Photo by Dan Callister / Shutterstock

Walken said, “If I walk down the street and nothing happens… I get sad. And, then, you know, like a miracle, an angel, somebody will say, ‘Hey, Chris!’ And then I go, “Ah! Well, it’s okay.'” I would love to be able to meet Walken, even more after hearing he enjoys it.

“Weapon of Choice”

Christopher Walken’s dancing is fun to watch in the different movies he’s in and has been known to take part in musicals. Fun fact, at Liza Minelli’s sixteenth birthday party, he danced with Judy Garland. He takes it to another level when he appears in Fatboy Slim’s song Weapon of Choice.

Christopher Walken was walking on the wall in the music video for Weapon of Choice.
Source: YouTube

He really wanted to do it and said that one day he’d be too old for this. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, he said, “You think, ‘Well, do it now!’ You know you get too decrepit to dance.” He also choreographed his entire dance. The video went on to win six MTV awards, and Walken was awarded Best Choreography with an MTV ‘Moonmen.’

Walken’s Family

Christopher Walken married Georgianne Walken in 1969. She is a casting director, and you probably recognize one of the many shows she has worked on like The Sopranos and Entourage. They now live in Wilton, Connecticut, and also own a vacation home on Block Island, Rhode Island.

Christopher Walken and Georgianne outside of the St. James Club in Park Place in 1987. / Christopher Walken was holding an umbrella for him and his wife, Georgianne Walken, on the red carpet at the Tony Awards in 2010.
Photo by Bill Lovelace, Associated Newspapers, Shutterstock / Dave Allocca, Starpix, Shutterstock

The two don’t have any children, and Walken spoke about how he believes this had a lot to do with him having such a productive career. The two have a cat now named Bowtie. They had a cat before him, who was named Flapjack. He loves cats so much that he joined the circus to be a lion tamer, so it’s no surprise that he always has a pet cat.