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Walken, McDonagh Make Perfect Broadway Fit
With more than a dozen roles to his credit, the 66-year-old Walken is no stranger to the stage. But this time, his quirky demeanor seemed like a perfect match to the sardonic wit of playwright Martin McDonagh's "A Behanding in Spokane."
Throughout his extensive film career, Walken portrayed psychologically unbalanced characters. McDonagh, meanwhile, writes shockingly humorous plays that can make an audience laugh at things in which they ordinarily wouldn't find much humor.
And the collaboration between writer and actor, Walken says, is "a funny combination."
The dark comedy is McDonagh's first play set in the United States. He's nominated for the best play Tony every time he's been on Broadway, for "The Beauty Queen of Leenane," "Lonesome West," "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" and "The Pillowman," the latter a grim account of the line between a children's story and murder. He also wrote the film "In Bruges," which won him an Oscar nomination.
This time, his play is about the pursuit of a lost hand.
"I play a guy who, when he was a teenager, had his hand chopped off by some terrible people," Walken says of his role as Carmichael. "He devotes the rest of his life to getting, not only a payback to those people, but getting his hand."
Director John Crowley, who previously worked with McDonagh on "Pillowman," was impressed by the quirky Academy Award-winning actor.
"His instincts on the floor are consummate. It's astonishing to watch him," Crowley says.
That feeling spread to the rest of the cast, such as Sam Rockwell, who says Walken is perfect for the part.
"It's very befitting for Martin's first play in America that Chris is the heavy, so to speak," Rockwell says.
"The Hurt Locker" star Anthony Mackie says working with Walken has been a learning process. "He brings that relaxed focus, professional aspect to the rehearsal room," Mackie says.
And Zoe Kazan describes Walken as "one of the more playful actors I've ever seen on stage." She is the granddaughter of director Elia Kazan.
That spirited nature carries over from the rehearsal room, where Walken shares a glimpse of the process.
"It's a little bit like kids in a sandbox," he says before describing the therapeutic aspect of sitting around, gossiping and revealing things. "I've never gone to a shrink, but I always think it's probably something like that. You know you sit there and you kind of confess stuff."
One thing his co-stars have not done is imitate their elder star. Walken, best known for his deadpan looks and hesitant speech pattern, says he's never aware when people impersonate him.
"I have no idea what they're doing. It's like, 'What's that? Why are you talking like that?'"
Walken was born into show business, appearing on stage and live television, reading lines, singing and dancing.
"I think that kind of background definitely makes you different," he says. "The way I talk, I've been tap-dancing since I was 6 years old. It affects you."
As for "Behanding," Walken first learned of the play through his agent, but doesn't know if he was the producer's first choice for the role.
"It would be interesting to know what other actors they were thinking of," Walken says before breaking into a wry laugh. "I'm going to ask them."
Copyright 2010 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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