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Christopher Walken (center) joins Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell in 'Seven Psychopaths.'
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BY ROGER MOORE
McCLATCHY-TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE
ORLANDO, Fla.--A few years ago, that national treasure known as Christopher Walken saw something happening. To himself. And he was not pleased.
Every standup comic had a killer Christopher Walken impression.
His "Saturday Night Live" appearances had become the stuff of legend--and T-shirts. ("Gotta have more Cowbell!")
His image, his halting, mannered way of delivering a line, was overwhelming the actor behind it. Walken was fast becoming a punch line.
He might be a beloved icon of big and small screen cool, but "icon" in his case was becoming "baggage." He's an Oscar winner, an actor's actor. And that was becoming a memory.
"Christopher Walken is to his co-stars what he is to me --a god of acting, of the American cinema," says the Irish playwright-turned-filmmaker Martin McDonagh. "He's a serious actor.
Some people tend to forget that."
So Walken, now 69, had to "step back from all that."
No, he can't talk without halting, without seeming to consider his words, even when they're scripted and he committed them to memory months before. In person, the effect is exaggerated.
But he can control how often you hear it.
"With television, an actor has to be careful," Walken says. "So many people will see you doing something, that you become identified with that image, that version of yourself. I suppose if you do one performance on 'Saturday Night Live,' more people will see it than see you in 10 different movies. Particularly if you're doing the sort of small movies that I do. It's all-pervasive."
And if you poke fun of your image on "SNL" and elsewhere, there's a danger an actor could become a self-parody.
"It's like comics. They do TV, and they can't use those jokes again,"
Walken says. "So I had to stop doing it.
Sometimes, it's better to be a little mysterious."
Walken is anything but a mystery this fall. He has three films due. In "Late Quartet," he plays the ailing leader of a popular string quartet, a man whose retirement sets off a tug of war over who will replace him. In "Stand-Up Guys," he teams up with fellow screen legend Al Pacino.
And in "Seven Psychopaths," he lets writer-director McDonagh turn that recent image on its head, using Walken's natural charm and funny way with a line in a movie that is like every gonzo Chris Walken movie of yore.
It's about a screenwriter (Colin Farrell) writing a script about "seven psychopaths," and the ways he invents, or meets, characters who match that description.
"He's such a great actor that the comedy is never funnier than when he's doing comedy," McDonagh ("In Bruges") says. "He can be sinister and menacing just as brilliantly."
McDonagh says screenwriters of all stripes should love writing for Walken, famous for going over and over and over a script.
"You go home, at the end of the day," McDonagh says. "You close the door, remember every line he said that day, and you go, 'I cannot believe I get to have Christopher Walken say my lines!'"