As an actor, Christopher Walken is unique. From his voice and delivery of lines to his undeniable screen presence and quirky nature, when he’s on form there’s something hypnotic, vulnerable and somewhat frightening about him.
Indeed, he’s given some mesmerising performances over the years, sometimes for the whole film, sometimes just for a scene or two. And like the cinephiles we are we’ll take what we can get, because on his day, full-on Walken is a sight to behold.
Here’s my pick of performances I’ll cherish as classic Walken:
King of New York (1990)
Frank White, a drug lord fresh from prison looking to rebuild his empire, was one of the first Walken performances I saw as a youngster and it got me hooked. Playful menace doesn’t come much better in the Abel Ferrara directed crime thriller.
True Romance (1993)
One of my all-time favourite scenes. Walken is astonishing as Sicilian gangster Vicenzo Coccotti. ‘You tell the angels in heaven you never saw evil so singularly personified in the face of the man who killed you.’ If there was ever a spin-off to be made with Vicenzo hunting down Clarence and Alabama again, I’d be first in line at the cinema.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
One scene comprising of a monologue about a gold watch. That is all. Ok, a little more. From his off-kilter delivery of lines and wavering voice through to intelligent menace and perfect dramatic and comedic timing, this scene has it all, and provides a crash course in his appeal.
Catch Me If You Can (2002)
God, which scene do you pick? From ‘Two little mice’ to ‘Where you going Frank?’, Walken’s star shines oh so bright in this film and he practically steals each scene, overshadowing DiCaprio with a twinkle in his eye. A raw, tender performance to be cherished.
Seven Psychopaths (2012)
Back to his best? After years of languishing in mediocre films – particularly god-awful comedies – he pulls this out the bag. Going toe-to-toe with Woody Harrelson’s gangster, Walken just grins and turns on the malevolent menace, with some juicy lines delivered with typical gusto ‘dream sequences are for fags but…we all gotta dream don’t we?’
So there we go. Where’s The Deer Hunter you ask? Or even his sexy dance in Wayne’s World 2? Whilst the former is clearly a career-high, it felt out of keeping with the rest of my list in some ways. I suppose I just prefer Walken in playful menace mode – far more appealing. As such, I’d like to finish with this ‘motivational’ scene from Poolhall Junkies…
I do like an intense character and performance when I’m watching a film. Someone who literally rivets and welds you to the screen, look away at your peril. Some people probably like their films bright and breezy. I don’t mind those too, but there’s something about intensity that leaves a lasting impression. You remember those performances.
As such I thought I’d offer a couple of lists of actors and actresses that have had me mesmerised, entranced and – at times – a little frightened. I’ve most likely left off a lot of vintage performances and characters, but this is MY list so I’m allowed. Let me know your thoughts. Who would you have liked to have seen included?
In these lists I’ve put links to clips from some performances you might not have seen before, or maybe just want to revisit. Remember though, best not watch alone though, these lot are intense!
Famke Janssen (Xena Onotopp, Goldeneye; Jean Grey, Xmen: The Last Stand)
Noomi Rapace (Lisbeth Salander, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
So, there’s my list. You’ll notice there’s more men than women, I’m not sure why. I think, perhaps, there’s a tendency – particularly in Hollywood – for studios to shy away from films with intense, female leads. I wonder if they are more of a risk commercially? I don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s more to do with a lack of decent scripts for women, ones that don’t play to stereotypes.
One thing I’ve noticed is how top actors portray intensity – for me – it’s in the eyes. I think it’s what separates great actors and actresses from the rest. If you allow yourself to be drawn into their gaze, there’s so much depth there. Depending on the character they’re playing, it can be equally exciting, captivating and terrifying. Watch Pacino in The Godfather, making the decision to kill with his eyes. A lesson in intensity.
Right, I need to go watch some comedy now to level out. It’s all got too much. I’ll finish with artwork of Marion Cotillard, not because it’s intense, but because it’s simply beautiful – and that’s all the reason you need.