Christopher Walken Discusses Hairspray

Christopher Walken in Hairspray. © New Line Cinema

Christopher Walken tweaks his famous voice and wraps it around a Baltimore accent in the movie musical Hairspray directed by Adam Shankman and based on the John Waters movie. Or at least audiences might think Walken's doing a little something different to his voice, but the actor didn't even realize he was doing it. "I didn’t know there was a Baltimore accent," said Walken. "People have told me it was a good Baltimore accent, but I had no idea." And speaking of his famous voice, who does Christopher Walken believe does the best Christopher Walken impression?

"I don’t know," answered Walken. "My wife says it’s Kevin Spacey."

A Real Leap of Faith: Walken says he jumped right in once he learned who had been cast in Hairspray. “I heard the music first and I hadn’t seen the musical, but I had seen the John Waters movie. And I had the script. You know, it seemed like a good part. But mostly, when they say that John Travolta is in it, Michelle Pfeiffer is in it, there’s all these really good kids, Queen Latifah is in it… Right away you think, ‘I must pay attention.’”

Playing John Travolta’s Husband: Travolta dresses in drag to play Edna Turnblad, the mother of Tracy and a supporter of equal rights for all. Travolta lavished praise on his onscreen partner and Walken is equally complimentary about Travolta. “It was great. It was me and John rehearsing a few weeks for the dancing and of course, sitting around and getting to know each other,” said Walken.

“Then when it came to do it, he put on that outfit and it was stunning to see that. But in 5 or 10 minutes, he was just John again. I think that he and I in the movie were more Chris and John more than Wilbur and Edna. I liked him a lot and we got along very well, and I think that comes off.”

The Styles of the 1960s: Walken’s not a huge fan of the ‘60s fashions.

“No, I like my current outfit [black blazer, black tee under it]. But I had that clothing and outfits, sure. When this movie happened, I would have been about 18, right about out of high school. The cars had the big fins and the people had huge hair. Hair was a big deal. Hair has evolved into something else. People in my neighborhood had…everybody had big hair. Hairspray back then wasn’t pump hairspray; it was that aerosol thing that has been banned. But that all really was.”

Christopher Walken’s No Stranger to Dance: Walken’s been a professional dancer since he was a teenager and has been in many Broadway shows. With the musical genre making a comeback, Walken was happy to get the chance to show off his dancing skills on the big screen. “Of course,” said Walken. “They make a musical movie now every few years. They used to make them every week in Hollywood. Absolutely, the chance to do a movie musical is pretty rare.”

Walken doesn't sound eager to return to Broadway. “I’ve been on the stage much more than I’ve ever been in movies, but I did that the first 35-40 years of my life. I’ve been on the stage a lot. I’ve played some of the great roles – twice or three times. I didn’t play them well (laughing), but I played them.

I’ve learned a lot of lines in my day. And to be honest, nowadays if you work in the theater, people are taking your picture, they’re answering their phones. The bloom is off the rose for me a little bit. I remember the old days… I have a friend who [went to] a play and had good seats in the orchestra. The curtain went up and 10 minutes into the play, it was a big star in the play and hadn’t come on yet, and this woman answers her phone and my friend heard her say, No, he hasn’t come on yet, but when he comes on I’ll call you.’ So this is what it is.”

Tossing in an Occasional Comedy: Walken’s not interested in sticking to just dramatic fare. But the actor's approach to roles doesn't differ no matter whether he’s starring in a comedy or drama. “You know, I don’t mean to get heavy but I always thought that there was a real serious link between what’s funny and what’s scary,” revealed Walken.

“It’s just my theory. I think that the fact is they’re related.”

Walken has a sense of humor about himself, but he admits that sense of humor doesn’t make him fearless. “I’m not that fearless. In fact, I’m scared of everything and consequently I’m not really very scared of anything. But I only do that by being very scared of everything, especially of mundane things. I get very nervous sitting in a car; I’m the guy with the seatbelt on. I’m the guy who says, ‘Put your seatbelt on.’ I’m the guy who doesn’t like to go out of the hotel and wander because I’m always looking the wrong way (laughing). I’m like that. I’m afraid of germs (laughing).”

Catch Me If You Can – The Musical? Yes, one’s supposedly in the works. “I heard that. That sounds like it could be good, depends on the music and all that.” Walken might even be interested in revisiting his character from the film in a musical version. “I’d have to read the script and hear the music. Musicals, as you know, to me, the first thing I say is, ‘Well, let’s hear the music.’”

Up Next - Balls of Fury: Walken’s next film is another comedy, Balls of Fury. “It’s bizarre, for me anyway. I play a Chinese war lord who has an international ping pong championship to the death. So there you are.” Walken didn’t need to adopt a Chinese accent for the role. “No, I don’t. I’m all dressed up that way but I do my usual. Yeah, picture it…”