He danced in Fatboy Slim’s video for "Weapon of Choice," was the lead for arguably the most famous SNL skit of all-time, and is maybe the most meme-d actor ever. That’s why we’re a bit taken aback to learn that he’s an honest to god luddite, clinging to the old ways much like the character he plays in The Family Fang, his movie which was recently screened at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. We sat down with him in New York — at the appropriately eccentric Soho Grand Hotel — to talk about the new project, former ambitions, and his avoidance of all things online.
The Family Fang was shot in your hometown, right?
We shot all over New York, mostly outside of the city. We were at Bear Mountain. The house that we lived in for the movie was wonderful. It was very special. Then we had a great time at Rye Playland. I was born in New York, and I’d never been there actually.
Speaking of things you never got to do, were there any other roads you considered going down in your career?
I had a fantasy when I was younger about doing stand up. I’ve always been impressed by people who can go up on a stage and do jokes, but I never got the chance.
You mostly get cast to play very complicated, usually deranged characters. Do you enjoy playing them?
Early in my career I played a lot of disturbed, mental people, and I may have crossed a line there and done too much of it, because it’s pretty much all I get offered now. I’m not going to complain about work though.
Do you consider yourself an artist?
When people talk about art, I get nervous. It’s more like something that you hope for. It’s serendipity. I don’t think I’ve ever really intended to make anything like “art.” But once in awhile in a movie, something happens that has emotional power. How that happens, I do not know. You hear athletes talk about “the zone,” where they can’t make a mistake with the ball. On set, sometimes it can feel like that.
How do you feel about audiences increasingly watching movies on phones?
I’m a luddite. I don’t have a cellphone and I don’t have a computer. But I can see what is happening. That’s the way it is right now, and I don’t think there’s going to be any turning back. I heard somebody say on one of the business channels that there has never been more content. Because there are so many outlets, like Netflix and YouTube, that needs stuff to put on. It’s a bit of a Golden Age for creators. So the screens may be getting smaller but it feels like the business is actually getting bigger. Who knows what is next. I was just in Orlando, at Epcot Center, and I watched a hologram exhibit. There’s not a screen, and the action is happening right in front of you. I though, “Maybe this is what is going to happen to movies.” People are going to come to these places and have these immersive experiences.
Aren't you a hologram?
I am a hologram. It’s at a theme park right now. I come on a stage, and for five minutes I do a demonstration. When I finished the filming of it, they let me sit in the audience and watch one of the showings. Except for the fact that you can pass your arm right through me, it’s pretty amazing how incredible it looks.
I have to share that I recently went to a barbershop, and they had a sign with your face on it that said “No Walkens” allowed.
There are signs all over Northern California that say “Walkens Welcome,” I hear. I hear about them from friends. People have advertised “Walken Closets,” that sort of thing. My wife likes to tell me. Whatever you do, never look yourself up on the Internet.
So I’m going to assume you don’t google yourself?
No, I’d never dream of it.
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