Christopher Walken in Conversation - A Journey Through American Cinema

Christopher Walken on stage in Rome
Hot on the heels of the encounter with Debra Winger at the end of March, yesterday evening saw another important milestone in the Viaggio nel cinema americano (A Journey Through American Cinema) discussions – an encounter with iconic American actor Christopher Walken. The excitement in the air was palpable at the Auditorium Parco della Musica before the event, with considerably more people than usual hanging around the foyer and, unusually for Roman audiences, ticket holders taking their seats early in what turned out to be a sold-out Sala Petrassi. When the lights finally dimmed, we were treated to a montage of best movie moments on the big screen, followed by the surprise entrance of the man himself - an imposing figure, dressed all in black - who rather than appearing from the wings, walked down the side aisle through the audience, before climbing onto the stage to enormous cheers and applause.

The success of these encounters, in which informal conversation and questions are interspersed with film clips, relies very much, of course, on the complicity of the star, and in Christopher Walken regular hosts Mario Sesti and Antonio Monda found a generous and humorous raconteur, willing to share numerous anecdotes. A constant throughout the entire evening was Walken's respect for other actors and directors with whom he has worked and indeed, the evening began with a tribute to recent losses to cinema, two previous Viaggio nel cinema americano guests – Sidney Lumet, whom Walken remembered as a great director and the man who had given him his first screen role in The Anderson Tapes, and Arthur Penn, another great director whom he admired as a fine teacher at The Actors Studio.

With a career as prolific as that of Christopher Walken before them, choosing a handful of representative movie clips must have been a daunting task for Sesti and Monda, but the selection made was spot on and gave us a taste of all facets of the man's career, allowing us to hear his insights on working with directors as diverse as Woody Allen, Stephen Spielberg, Michael Cimino, David Cronenberg, Abel Ferrara and Quentin Tarantino, to name but a few of the directors on the roll-call last night. Clips from Annie Hall, King of New York, Catch Me If You Can, The Dead Zone as well as the Italian movie Celluloid, were all shown, but his memorable gold watch monologue from Pulp Fiction, a clip from his Academy Award winning performance in The Deer Hunter and his dazzling dance routine in Spike Jonze's award winning music video for Fatboy Slim's Weapon Of Choice, inevitably garnered the biggest cheers of the evening. Walken, in fact, trained as a dancer in musical theatre prior to his cinema acting career – when asked if it was true that he would always insist that directors allow him to dance in every film he made, he smiled: I used to – but not any more […] people started to mention it in reviews...they would say “Christopher Walken danced for no reason!” Later, he declined the invitation to dance for us live on stage, joking: I'm not going to dance for you tonight...because my leg is broken!

My favourite anecdote of the evening occurred after the wonderful final scene of Tim Burton's Gothic horror film Sleepy Hollow. When approached by Burton to play the part of the Headless Horseman he warned the director that: I don't do dangerous stuff – I don't ride motorcycles, jump out of a planes... or ride a horse! Burton solved the horse riding problem by providing the actor with Elizabeth Taylor's robotic horse from the movie National Velvet. I rode Elizabeth Taylor’s horse! he recounted with obvious delight.

Answering half a dozen or so questions from the audience at the end of the encounter, the evening closed to final rapturous applause and he even stopped to sign a handful of autographs for a few lucky fans! A fantastic evening with a superstar!