• Golden Globe Awards

Happy 80th Birthday, Christopher Walken

Christopher Walken’s breakthrough was with The Deer Hunter, followed by many iconic characters in cult films, many with a jig in each role. He is also known for loving his cat, as well as his quiet life in Connecticut. At 80, he can look back on one of the most varied and interesting careers in film.

He can cook, he can dance, and he can sing, skills that fans of his more dramatic movies would not automatically assume about the man who has made a career out of playing mostly unstable characters. People who confuse him with his roles, however, are in for a treat when they meet him in person, as he is known to be the nicest man. After Rosie O’Donnell called him the scariest man alive on her show, he appeared as her guest, brought flowers and chocolates and charmed her by singing “Getting to Know You”.
The singing and dancing started early in his life. His mother Rosalie was from Glasgow, Scotland, his father, Paul Wälken an immigrant from Germany who opened a bakery in Astoria, Queens, where Christopher, then known as Ronald, was born. He has two brothers, Glenn and Ken. His parents loved theater and soon their influence made him recognize his calling. But not before he briefly worked as an assistant to a lion tamer in a circus, joking years later that the big wildcat could not have been very good since it had huge scars on its back. (Perhaps it was then that his love for cats began. He has taken in strays that live with him and his wife in their country home.)
Pets aside, after Walken made a name for himself on stage and had done many musicals, he got noticed by Hollywood. After appearing in films with Sean Connery (The Anderson Tapes, 1971) and as Diane Keaton’s suicidal younger brother (in Annie Hall, 1977), he got the role of a lifetime when Michael Cimino cast him in The Deer Hunter (1978), for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe and won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. “The Deer Hunter was obviously very important to the rest of my life”, he told the HFPA in 2020. Its success was the reason for a bit of financial stability, too. “It enabled me to buy this house and I still live here. [It] changed my life and had a powerful effect on me. The Deer Hunter for me was enormous.”
He followed up with The Dogs of War, survived Cimino’s disastrous Heaven’s Gate, played the villain in the Bond film A View to a Kill, picked critically acclaimed films like The Milagro Beanfield War, cult films like True Romance and Pulp Fiction, and continued to mix up genres, appearing in blockbusters as well as indie films. Along the way he beat out a slew of other famous actors for the parts and lost a few: he was George Lucas’ second choice for Hans Solo in Star Wars and lost the lead in Love Story to Ryan O’Neal. Even though he has made 139 films to date, he also spent time on a few hobbies.
“Actors, even if they work a lot, have a certain amount of time on their hands that most people don’t. I have painted, and I have written plays and screenplays. But the problem is that when I read the things that I’ve written or look at the pictures that I’ve painted, they’re just not very good. So, I’m probably very lucky that I was an actor. One of the things that was to my advantage is that I am very determined, that I persevere, that I keep going. And I certainly have done a lot of acting that wasn’t that good and I’ve done some acting that was very good,” he said.
When he is not filming, he lives a quiet and healthy life in Connecticut with his wife of over 50 years, Georgianne, a casting director whom he met in 1963 while touring with “West Side Story” in Chicago. And he has a very philosophical take on getting older: “Aging is of course inevitable. I try to take care of myself, to slow down the process of disappearing. I prefer to be young, but what are you going to do?”