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That voice, those unusual characters, there's no one quite like Christopher Walken


This film image released by Roadside Attractions shows, Christopher Walken as Doc, left, and Al Pacino as Val, in a scene from "Stand Up Guys."


DETROIT — That memorable voice is bending syllables in its famous way as Christopher Walken explains why he hasn't seen the Web item that has a photo of his younger self next to one of a surprising but convincing look-alike: Scarlett Johansson.

"No, no, I admire her, but I don't think I've ever met her. And you know something? I don't have a computer. And I don't even have a cell phone," says the Oscar-winning actor, who plays magnificently unusual characters and sounds like no one else (except Kevin Pollak and Jay Mohr when they're impersonating him).

Walken would rather avoid the wired world, if possible. "Also, all that stuff on the Internet, there's so much stuff," he says. "There's a blog that says I'm a champion hot-dog eater. No, seriously. It says that I can eat a hundred hot dogs in three minutes or something. And it's just silly."

Let's hear it for old-school habits, which are at the heart of his latest movie, Stand Up Guys, an R-rated drama also featuring two more stars with Academy Awards at home, Al Pacino and Alan Arkin.

Walken plays Doc, an aging retired gangster who's living a quiet life of painting landscapes and going out to diners when his friend Val (Pacino) is let out of prison after serving nearly 30 years.

As Doc and Val celebrate his freedom, they eventually reunite with another buddy (Alan Arkin) from their unlawful past and become involved in echoes of their wild times. Doc and Val also have to face a hard truth that involves an angry mob kingpin bearing a massive grudge.

For Walken, the theme of old pros bonding is a reflection of what drew him to the film.

"The big attraction for me was to go and work with and be with and learn from Al Pacino and Alan Arkin; and the director, Fisher Stevens, is also an actor who's been a friend of mine for a long time. I'd known Al Pacino a long time from New York and the Actors Studio. We didn't work together, but over the years, you get to know people. To work with friends and have a good time is golden."

Remarkably enough, given their lengthy screen careers, Walken and Pacino have never had leading roles in the same movie before this.

"It was just fascinating to sit across from the table from him with the cameras running and we're playing a scene together," he notes. "It was like a dream come true."

"Stand Up Guys" is largely a character study that takes occasional detours into car chases and action scenes. "The movie was about capturing the old days a little bit. There's kind of a Butch Cassidy-Sundance aspect," he says.

For Walken, his current schedule is just as busy as the good old days. Last year, he appeared in "Seven Psychopaths" as a bizarre dog thief and "A Late Quartet," which cast him as a classical musician in a string quartet who's facing declining health.

Ever since his breakthrough roles in 1977's "Annie Hall" as Annie's hilariously morose brother and 1978's "The Deer Hunter," which earned him a supporting actor Oscar for his portrayal of a psychologically damaged Vietnam vet, he has been in demand for his ability to be quirky, ominous or poignant — but always memorable.

Walken admits those two early films defined his screen presence for years to follow. "I hadn't made many movies before that. In both of those movies, I was, I guess you'd have to say, suicidal. I think it got something started with me in the movies because for a long time after that, I played troubled or strange people. That can happen. Movies are so expensive to make, if an actor does something and it works, (and) people like watching him do that, there's a good chance you're going to be asked to do that again."

But even while he played dark characters in "The Dead Zone," "At Close Range" and "King of New York," he also popped up in the musical "Pennies from Heaven" (where he got to show off his musical theater training) and played flashy villains in "Batman Returns" and the James Bond thriller "A View to a Kill." In fact, Javier Bardem's hairstyle in the current Bond hit "Skyfall" has been compared to Walken's look in "A View to a Kill."

He hasn't seen "Skyfall" yet, but he thanks Bardem for the buzz it has brought to Walken's Bond baddie, Max Zorin. "Somebody said he's got kind of the blond hair that I had. When I did the Bond movie, nobody paid much attention to me in fact."

For all of his quirky credentials, Walken can be just as moving as an ordinary flawed guy. He played Leonardo DiCaprio's struggling father in "Catch Me If You Can" and a reticent farmer in "Sarah Plain and Tall," the first of three "Sarah" TV movies that he did with Glenn Close for the Hallmark Hall of Fame.

"It's interesting that more people have probably seen that than all of the movies I have made," he admits.

But his biggest television success is as the frequent host of "Saturday Night Live." In skits like the classic "More Cowbell" with a midriff-baring Will Ferrell, Walken's deadpan earnestness has translated into expert comic timing.

Of his "SNL" experience, he says, "It led to a whole bunch of movies that I probably would have never been in." Indeed, Walken has become a go-to guy for comedies like "Wedding Crashers," where he played a straight-laced presidential cabinet secretary, and "Joe Dirt," where he was a mobster with a new identity who put a bully played by Kid Rock in his place.

Back in 2009, Walken made his first visit to Detroit for the filming of "Kill the Irishman," a crime drama that drew an all-star cast of character actors to town. He kept a low profile, staying at the Westin Book Cadillac and catching movies at the GM Renaissance Center movie theater.

"I had a very nice time there. I used to take long walks. I walked all over the place. It's a real city. I know it's had some hard times, but I had a very good feeling there," Walken remembers. He was recognized sometimes, but not always. As he puts it, "When I go out, I put on a hat and I just walk around."

Walken is comfortable marching to the beat of a different drummer, whether onscreen or with his real-life avoidance of cell phones and computers. He says there are a number of actors who don't have cell phones, although he doesn't want to name them. For him, it's about privacy and practicality.

"My wife has those things," he says of high-tech gizmos. "If I need something, I can ask her. In fact, if I'm on the set and I have to make a phone call, one of the (assistant directors) will usually hand me a cell phone."

This stand-up guy isn't too proud to describe what happens next. "Then I'll say, ‘Could you dial it for me ?' because I don't even know how to work it."

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