Since the age of 3, Walken has appeared in more than 100 stage roles, and 30 films, one of which, The Deer Hunter, won him an Oscar. Critics have described him admiringly as chilling, psychotic, reptilian, sinister, ruthless, spooky, surreal, haunted, dangerous, cold to the touch and vulnerable menacing...
"I'm lucky there's something they want me for in Hollywood," he said. "The one advantage I have is that if you're looking for a Chris Walken type, you have to get Chris Walken."...
"I always felt I would do okay, but I assumed I would be fairly anonymous," he went on. "The fact that I get some respect in my craft is something I didn't anticipate. I am financially better off than I ever thought I would be. I've already done more than I thought. That amazes me." Walken, 54, attributes his acting success to his religious beliefs (he was raised Methodist) and his lifelong resilience.
"God is very mysterious to me," he confided, "but I know the power of belief. It's my source of strength." He said he prays for harmony and humility...
He was born Ronald Walken in Queens, N.Y., on March 31, 1943... Walken is the second of three sons of Paul and Rosalie Walken.
"My parents were classic immigrants," Walken said. His father is from Germany and his mother is from Scotland. After working in bakeries, Paul Walken saved enough to open his own bake shop in Queens, where his boys worked after school.
"My father was the hardest-working man I ever knew," Walken recalled. "I think I inherited that compulsion. That's the frustrating thing about being an actor: the hiatus between jobs."
Hard work paid off for the elder Walken. "All he talked about was owning a home," his son recalled. "And he did too." (Now 95, Paul Walken lives in Florida with Rosalie.)
It was Walken's mother who wanted Ronnie and his brothers, Kenneth and Glenn, to enter show business. Catalog models as toddlers, they graduated to TV during its golden age, playing bit parts on live shows. On weekdays they attended the Professional Children's School, and on Saturdays - like children of other blue-collar families in Queens - they took tap-dancing classes.
"I grew up with singers, dancers and comics," said Walken...
At 15, he discovered Elvis Presley. A girl whom he wanted to take to the prom showed him a magazine clipping of her "boyfriend." It was Elvis.
"This guy looked like a Greek god," Walken said. "Then I saw him on television. I loved everything about him."
Walken became a fan, changing his hairstyle to be more like The King. Years later, Walken wrote a play about Elvis, Milk-Cow Boogie. Walken made his professional acting debut in 1959 in Archibald MacLeish's J.B., a reenactment of the Book of Job.
...Walken met his wifre, Georgianne Thon, while dancing in a summerstock production of West Side Story. She played his girlfriend. They were married in 1969. Today she is a casting director. They have an apartment in a Manhattan brownstone and a home near Westport, Conn. "She is my best friend," Walken said. The couple have no children...
In the '80s, his roles delved deeper into the mysterious and the macabre. He played a soldier in The Dogs of War, a pimp in Pennies From Heaven, a gunfighter in Heaven's Gate, a scientist in Brainstorm, a man with second sight in The Dead Zone and a gangster in At Close Range. He danced on film for the first time in Pennies From Heaven. In a hilarious scene, Walken strips to his boxer shorts, revealing a huge, absurd valentine tattoo on his chest.
In the '90s, Walken is still refining his portrayal as the scariest of gangsters.
"I'm the Antichrist," he says to Dennis Hopper in True Romance. In Things To Do in Denver When You're Dead [based on the song by Mormon musician/songwriter Warren Zevon], he played a paraplegic mafioso. After watching that film, a friend told him he had just seen the most terrible man on earth. "Thank you," Walken replied modestly. Does he tap into a darker side to play those dark roles?
There's a certain tongue-in-cheek at play here," he said. "Anybody who knew me for five minutes wouldn't think that's my persona. One reason I can play the people I do is I have such a distance from them. I'm not neurotic or any of those things. I'm very positive."
He paused. "Oh, I know I look strange, and strangeness equates into villainy through the camera. If you saw pictures of me when I was a kid, I always looked pretty strange. But I really don't feel strange. It's hard for me to play the guy next door. But it's an advantage too, because other actors don't have it."
How does he feel about violence in movies?
"I don't particularly like violence unless it's a good movie and the violence fits," he said. "What I find strange are people living in a society where teenagers have automatic handguns. Serial killers patrol highways. Crack cocaine is everywhere. That's real violence. The whole world would be a lot better off if we melted down every gun."
Walken takes care of his health. He rises early, jogs daily and, even when on location, shops for and prepares his own food. Besides acting and cooking, Walken has few interests.
"My favorite hobby is working," he said. "I go on vacation every time I work."
What advice does he offer to young people?
"You've got to want whatever you go after," said Walken. "Work at your craft or career every day. You have to respect yourself and others. If you fix your own life and take care of your family, you will make a contribution."