"I don't need to be made to look evil, I can do that on my own," says actor Christopher Walken. During nearly five decades in show business, the actor has certainly delivered more than his fair share of compelling turns as evil characters and tragic victims haunted by unnameable terrors.
One such was his brilliant depiction of a war-ravaged Vietnam veteran obsessed with playing Russian Roulette in Michael Cimino's 1978 film The Deer Hunter which earned him a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award.
Prior to that he portrayed Diane Keaton's psychotic brother in the hilarious Woody Allen movie Annie Hall in 1977, and went on to essay the campy nemesis to Roger Moore's James Bond in the 1989 007 outing, A View To A Kill. Despite the malevolent parts that have made him famous, however, Christopher started out at the other end of the acting spectrum as a child actor/dancer appearing in live musicals in America's so-called golden age of television in the Fifties.
Christopher was born Ronald Walken in Astoria, New York, on March 31, 1943, the second child of Paul and Rosalie. He began his career at the age of seven when his mother landed him and his brothers, Kenneth and Glenn, jobs as catalogue models. By the mid-1950s he was starring in the CBS daytime serial Guiding Light a role he often swapped with Glenn while training as a dancer.
As far as the actor was concerned, his future always lay in showbiz but his original choice of path was that of a dancer. He studied dance from an early age and has managed to work some sort of routine into practically every one of his major roles, and in 2001 he won an MTV Video Music Award for choreographing his own moves in Fatboy Slim's music video Weapon Of Choice.. Acting was to cast its spell, however, and since his 1959 Broadway debut in JB, Christopher has never looked back.
"I was in showbiz since I was a kid," he says. "My mind, the way it works, is in show business, always has been. People talk to me about things, income tax, real estate, plumbing I have no idea what they are talking about... Acting is all I know."
After a spell as a lion tamer, the actor returned to Broadway in the mid-Sixties with the new name "Christopher" where he started out with chorus roles in Broadway musicals such as Baker Street. Before long he was earning glowing reviews for turns in historical dramas such as 1966's The Lion In Winter, and a lead in Shakespeare's Measure For Measure in the same year, building a reputation as a galvanising stage performer. In the Seventies, he wowed critics with such diverse fare as the title roles in Macbeth and Kid Champion, for which he received a Village Voice OBIE award in 1975.
With theatrical success came the jump into cinema. Christopher had made an impression in the 1971 Sidney Lumet thriller The Anderson Tapes, but it was not until Annie Hall in 1977 that his film career really began to take off. Then came The Deer Hunter and an Oscar, and suddenly he was a major player.
He surprised audiences in 1981's Pennies From Heaven with a show-stopping dance routine, and two years later was perfectly cast in The Dead Zone as a man cursed with the ability to see into the future. In his role as the oddball drill sergeant in 1986's Biloxi Blues Christopher exhibited his rarely seen comic ability, but by the end of the decade he was back to his old malevolent acting self as a mobster/philanthropist in the ultra-violent King Of New York.
Despite a set of warm portrayals opposite Glenn Close in the Sarah: Plain And Tall TV film series, feature film casting directors still seem to favour him as the bad guy. He was particularly effective as the flamboyant villain Max Shreck in 1992's Batman Returns and will be well remembered for the small but pivotal role of a war veteran explaining the strange history of a gold watch in Quentin Tarantino's seminal work Pulp Fiction in 1995.
While he may play the bad guy on screen, Christopher's personal life is far more tranquil. He met his wife Georgianne, an award-winning casting agent, in the Sixties and the couple have been happily married since 1969. "Off screen, I'm ordinary, predicable, and very conservative," he said in 1997. "I have two houses, a station wagon, cats, the same wife of 28 years, and I like to save money."