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Christopher Walken (born March 31, 1943) is an Academy Award-winning American film and theatre actor. In 1979, Walken won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for The Deer Hunter, where he played a disturbed Vietnam veteran alongside Robert De Niro. Walken was nominated again in 2002 for Catch Me if You Can. He won the Clarence Derwent Award for his performance in The Lion in Winter in 1966 and an Obie for his 1975 performance in Kid Champion. He has played the main role in the Shakespeare plays Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Coriolanus.
Walken, a prolific actor who continues to work non-stop after more than 50 years on stage and screen, has appeared in over 100 movie and television roles, including The Deer Hunter, The Dead Zone, A View to a Kill, At Close Range, King of New York, Batman Returns, True Romance, Pulp Fiction, The Funeral and Catch Me If You Can, and in TV's Kojak and The Naked City. Walken gained a cult following in 90s as the Archangel Gabriel in the first three The Prophecy movies, as well as his frequent guest host appearances on Saturday Night Live. In the United States, his films have grossed over $1.8 billion.
Walken debuted as a film director and script writer with the short five-minute film Popcorn Shrimp in 2001. He also wrote and acted the main role in a play about Elvis Presley titled Him in 1995.
Walken was born Ronald Walken (named after actor Ronald Colman) in Queens, New York. His father, Paul Walken, was a German immigrant, and his mother, Rosalie, was a Scottish immigrant; both of his parents were bakers. Walken worked in the family bakery Walken's Bakery was situated on Broadway and 30th Street in the Astoria Section of Queens, NY after school. He was raised in the Methodist religion. Influenced by their mother's own dreams of stardom, he and his brothers Ken Walken and Glenn Walken were child actors on television in the 1950s. He studied at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York but did not graduate. Walken initially trained as a dancer in musical theatre before moving on to dramatic roles in theatre and then film.
Walken first appeared on the screen as a child extra in numerous anthology series and variety shows during the Golden Age of Television. After appearing in a sketch with Martin and Lewis on The Colgate Comedy Hour, Walken decided to become an actor. At ten years old, he landed a regular role in the 1953 television show The Wonderful John Acton as the show's narrator. During this time, he was credited as "Ronnie Walken". Over the next twenty years, he appeared frequently on television, landed an experimental film role in Me and My Brother, and had a thriving career in theatre. In 1964, he changed his name to "Christopher" at the suggestion of a friend who believed the name suited him better. He nowadays prefers to be known informally as "Chris Walken".
Walken made his feature film debut with a small role opposite Sean Connery in Sidney Lumet's The Anderson Tapes in 1971. In 1972, Walken played his first starring role in The Mind Snatchers. He plays a borderline sociopathic American soldier stationed in Germany, in a science fiction film which deals with mind control and normalization.
Woody Allen's 1977 film Annie Hall has Walken playing the strange and suicidal brother of Annie Hall (Diane Keaton); This Academy Award-winning film is often cited as the first film that brought the actor to the attention of the mainstream viewing public. 1978 saw the release of a western, titled Shoot the Sun Down, which was filmed in 1976 and co-starred Margot Kidder just before she rose to fame in the Superman films. Along with Nick Nolte, Walken was considered by George Lucas for the part of Han Solo in 1977s blockbuster, Star Wars. The part eventually went to Harrison Ford.
Walken won an Academy Award for best supporting actor in the controversial 1978 film, The Deer Hunter. He plays a young Western Pennsylvania steelworker who is emotionally destroyed by his experience during the war in Vietnam. Walken's performance is notable for his transformation from a gentle young man to a Russian-roulette playing tragic figure. To help achieve a gaunt appearance for the role, Walken ate nothing but bananas and rice for a week.
In 2000, Walken was cast as the lead, along with Faith Prince, in James Joyce's The Dead on Broadway. A "play with music", The Dead was directed by Richard Nelson. The show featured music by Shaun Davey, conducted by Charles Prince with music coordination and percussion by Tom Partington. James Joyce's The Dead won a Tony Award that year for Best Book for a Musical.
Walken had a notable music video performance in 2001 with Fatboy Slim's Weapon of Choice. Directed by Spike Jonze, it won six MTV awards in 2001 and also won best video of all time in April 2002, in a list of the top 100 videos of all time, compiled from a survey of musicians, directors, and music industry figures conducted by a UK music TV channel VH1. In this video, Walken performs a tap dance around the lobby of the Marriott Hotel in Los Angeles. Walken also helped choreograph the dance. Also in 2001 Walken played Clem in David Spade's comedy Joe Dirt and a very eccentric film director in America's Sweethearts who kidnaps the movie he's working on, from a worried movie studio head (Stanley Tucci).
Walken played Frank Abagnale, Sr. in Catch Me If You Can, a film directed by Steven Spielberg. It is inspired by the story of Frank Abagnale, Jr. (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), a con artist who managed to pass himself off as several identities and forge millions of dollars worth of checks, with an FBI agent (played by Tom Hanks) hot on his trail. Walken plays Frank Jr.'s father. His portrayal earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Walken also had a part in the 2003 action comedy film The Rundown starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Seann William Scott, in which he plays a ruthless despot who pays people very small amounts of money and deliberately makes sure they get in debt with him. Envy (2004 film) is a film starring Ben Stiller and Jack Black. It features Walken as The J Man. Man on Fire (2004 film) is a film directed by Tony Scott, starring Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Radha Mitchell, Giancarlo Giannini, and Walken. It is a remake of the 1987 film of the same name. The film was originally based on a series of books by A. J. Quinnell. It loosely follows the first of the series about a former Marine and Foreign Legionnaire turned mercenary. Another film released in 2004 Walken has starred in was a remake of Ira Levin's The Stepford Wives. He played the role of Treasury Secretary in the 2005 comedy Wedding Crashers.
Most recently, he played the role of Morty, a sympathetic inventor who's more than meets the eye, in the comedy Click and also appeared in Man of the Year with Robin Williams and Lewis Black, as well as in the 2007 film adaptation Hairspray where he is seen singing and dancing in a romantic duet with John Travolta.
Walken is currently acting in the movie Five Dollars a Day in which he takes the role of a conman proud of living like a king on 5 dollars a day.
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