Being Christopher Walken

Correction Feb. 20, 2007

The audio of this story states that the Walken show features seven performers. The actual number is eight.

All About Walken is a stage tribute to Christopher Walken, perhaps America's most imitated actor. Eight performers — male and female, young and old — re-create scenes from the actor's considerable body of work.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.

(Soundbite of traffic sounds)

CHADWICK: Hollywood Boulevard on a February evening. This is the place with the sidewalk with all the stars and the names. I've just gone by Frank Sinatra and Alfred Hitchcock and James Cagney and Alex Trebek. And I've come along here to a little place, almost kind of a storefront, but it's a theater. And tonight there's the performance of a play called "All About Walken."

(Soundbite of stage play, "All About Walken")

(Soundbite of stage play, "These Boots Were Made for Walking")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Well, these boots are made for walking, and, well, that's just what they're going to do. One of these days these boots - well, they going to walk all over you. It's fast enough for you, old man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHADWICK: He's not a leading man. He doesn't drip movie star glamour, but there is something about the actor Christopher Walken. He won an Oscar in "The Deer Hunter." He is good at the craft, but it's that stilted speech, the hipster body language, the mocking self-awareness, the blazing wattage in the bulbs behind the eye sockets. He is so weird, so riveting. He's like a natural resource to be mined by comics and impersonators.

(Soundbite of play, "All About Walken")

Unidentified Man #2: Two little mice fell in a bucket of grease.

CHADWICK: So "All About Walken" at the Paul G. Gleason Theater in Hollywood is a show that is entirely an homage to Christopher Walken - seven impersonators doing scenes from movies, from "Saturday Night Live" skits, from those Walken moments that are embedded in the culture like small jewels.

(Soundbite of stage play, "All About Walken")

Unidentified Woman #1: I tell you this, because as an artist, I think you'll understand.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #3: I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell.

(Soundbite of cowbell)

CHADWICK: The show's writer, producer, director and one of the Walkens is Patrick Sullivan.

Mr. PATRICK O'SULLIVAN (Writer/producer/director, "All About Walken"): There were so many people that were good at it, but they were different. And it was becoming popularized by, like, Jay Mohr.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Simpsons")

Mr. JAY MOHR (Actor): (As Christopher Walken) Don't make me tell you again about the scootching.

Mr. O'SULLIVAN: And then you see Kevin Spacey do it on "Saturday Night Live."

(Soundbite of TV show, "Saturday Night Live")

Mr. KEVIN SPACEY (Actor): (As Han Solo/Christopher Walken) Chewie here tells me you're looking for passage to the Alderaan System.

Mr. O'SULLIVAN: And Kevin Pollak did one last year in "The Aristocrats."

(Soundbite of movie, "The Aristocrats")

Mr. KEVIN POLLAK (Actor): It involves my whole family. My uncle stopped him and said, crazy.

Mr. O'SULLIVAN: And you start to realize that it's kind of like this movement where everybody loves the attempt at impersonating him, whether they're good or not. So many people try to do it, you know.

(Soundbite of stage play, "All About Walken")

Unidentified Man #4: I'd like to do for you Macbeth, by William Shakespeare.

Unidentified Man #5: Hello, little man.

Unidentified Man #4: To be or not to be...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #4: ...it's a question.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHADWICK: When you say that so many people try to do it and do it well and they were all different, how could you possibly all be different and still all be doing Christopher Walken?

Mr. O'SULLIVAN: You know, there's so many things to study in his physicality, his voice, the pauses, that I think different people hit on different things. So it gives you this variety where you're going, wow, those are all in some way or another Walken.

(Soundbite of stage play, "All About Walken")

Unidentified Man #6: Like a virgin...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #6: ...touched for the very first time.

Mr. O'SULLIVAN: Over the course of the run, we've had two Asian Walkens, three female Walkens, one African-American Walken - you know, Walkens in their twenties, Walkens in their fifties. And I wanted that spectrum because I knew the joke would get old, so you had to have that much variation within the show.

(Soundbite of stage play, "All About Walken")

Unidentified Woman #2: Sometimes, when I'm driving on the road at night...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #8: Hello, little man. Boy, I sure heard a bunch about you.

Unidentified Man #9: She knows him.

Unidentified Man #10: What?

Unidentified Man #9: She knows him. She knows him.

CHADWICK: Some of the people in this performance have done Christopher Walken impersonations before.

Mr. O'SULLIVAN: Some of them hadn't.

CHADWICK: No.

Mr. O'SULLIVAN: They're just actors. So when they came in, I said don't worry about it. OK. I think the best example is probably Lily. (Soundbite of stage play, "All About Walken")

Ms. LILY HOLLEMAN (Comedian, Actress): I can anticipate the explosions.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. O'SULLIVAN: Because she came in, and she's, you know, a 20-something year old blond woman.

(Soundbite of stage play, "All About Walken")

Ms. HOLLEMAN: Sounds of shattering glass.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. O'SULLIVAN: She'd done impersonations before, but she hadn't done Walken.

(Soundbite of stage play, "All About Walken")

Ms. HOLLEMAN: The flames rising out of glowing gasoline.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. O'SULLIVAN: But she's a comedian, and she's an actress, so I said I look. Go home, pick three things that he does and do them so extreme that people will just appreciate that you even went there.

(Soundbite of stage play, "All About Walken")

Ms. HOLLEMAN: My name is Lilly Holleman. I play Christopher Walken. I'm actually five-foot-two.

CHADWICK: This is it about actors. Lilly looks about as much like Christopher Walken as she does James Carville.

(Soundbite of stage play, "All About Walken")

Ms. HOLLEMAN: And on the left side, I'm James Carville.

CHADWICK: She does him, too.

(Soundbite of stage play, "All About Walken")

Ms. HOLLEMAN: Joe, this war was inevitable, but did it go far enough? Does this administration have what it takes to finish the job?

CHADWICK: That is terrifying.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHADWICK: If you had never done a Christopher Walken impersonation, what led you to try out for the cast in this play, which is, you know, pretty much -that's the gig?

Ms. HOLLEMAN: Yeah. I knew so many people, that was their thing, Christopher Walken impersonations, you know, that it's just like this ongoing joke. And I just thought that would be funny if I did it.

(Soundbite of stage play, "All About Walken")

Ms. HOLLEMAN: Maybe it happened differently - what do I know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HOLLEMAN: Another interviewer quoted me by saying that I've done James Carville before. I just like to do weird, older men.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HOLLEMAN: I didn't mean it that way at the time, but that's how it came out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHADWICK: Yeah. And so, how did you get it? How did you get Mr. Walken?

Ms. HOLLEMAN: So I fessed up to Patrick, I was like, I don't know what I'm doing. He's like, it's okay. He's just like just go...

(Soundbite of Ms. Holleman making funny sounds)

Ms. HOLLEMAN: ...and I was like...

(Soundbite of Ms. Holleman making funny sounds)

Ms. HOLLEMAN: And he's like, yeah, you can do it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHADWICK: Is there more to Christopher Walken than...

(Soundbite of Chadwick making funny sounds)

Ms. HOLLEMAN: No, I mean, he's just one of those people who I was - actually talking to my therapist about him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HOLLEMAN: And she said, you know, I've met him before.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HOLLEMAN: And he's not trying to do anything. He's just truly bizarre. And he is truly unique, and just lives as himself. And people fight to do that everyday, you know, and the fact that he goes...

(Soundbite of Ms. Holleman making funny sounds)

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHADWICK: Part of the charm here is the lack of pretension. These are Hollywood actors, but the show runs just one night a week - Mondays - because they're all doing this around other things. And the show's creator, Patrick Sullivan, for instance, he's a waiter at a famous old showbiz restaurant. Monday is his only night off.

Can you teach me to do a Christopher Walken impersonation? Why...

Mr. O'SULLIVAN: I think I can.

CHADWICK: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. O'SULLIVAN: Tell me what you did when you woke up this morning.

CHADWICK: I get up and I tried to be quiet so I wouldn't wake up my wife.

Mr. O'SULLIVAN: I got up and tried to be quiet so I wouldn't wake up my wife.

CHADWICK: I got up and tried to be quiet so I wouldn't wake up my wife.

Mr. O'SULLIVAN: See, you've already got the pattern. Okay, now you got to add the rasp, so you say, I get up and tried to be quiet so I wouldn't wake up my wife.

CHADWICK: I got up and tried to be quiet, so I wouldn't wake up my wife.

Mr. O'SULLIVAN: All right. You're on your way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "These Boots Were Made for Walking")

Mr. O'SULLIVAN: (Singing) Well, these boots are made for walking and, well, that's just what they'll do. One of these day these boots - well, they'll gonna walk all over you. Okay, here we go. Are you ready, boots? Start walking. Hoa!

(Soundbite of cheering, clapping)

Ms. HOLLEMAN: There's more to come on DAY TO DAY.

CHADWICK: From NPR News.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: