Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell make everything better. They just do.
Not that Martin McDonagh necessarily needed the help – the playwright-turned filmmaker already had a wickedly funny script in Seven Psychopaths, which opens Friday. But adding those guys just makes it an even bigger must-see. There’s really little need for preamble here – we got invited to interview Walken and Rockwell at the same time, and if you don’t know why that’s practically the coolest thing ever, you’ve got some nerdy homework to do. We got some questions in, as you’ll see, but really, once these two got going, all that was necessary was to hit record…
Nerdist: In all the varied roles I’ve seen you guys do, it really seems like playing a psychopath is the most fun for both of you. Is that fair to say, or no?
Sam Rockwell: Well, we don’t think the characters are psychopaths, necessarily.
Christopher Walken: I’m not a psychopath.
N: I was looking at your IMDB credits, Sam – is it true you played Christopher Walken in a movie?
SR: Oh, that was a long time ago. That was a short film. I did; I did a thing… but you only see the back of my head.
CW: I never heard of that! What is that?
SR: Yeah, you only hear the voice. And I do some horrible impersonation, but you don’t see my face.
CW: Now I find out!
SR: [laughs, loudly]
CW: Soooo, now I find out. Traitor.
SR: I can’t do it any more, though. I used to do it before I met him.
CW: I’ve known him a long time and I never knew that, either. He’s been keeping it from me.
SR: I don’t do the impression… I don’t do it as much any more because ever since I got to know Chris, it’s not the same, you know, because the nuances that human beings have are so…
CW: Yeah, keep goin’.
SR: He thinks I’m tryin’ to avoid… No, but it’s true.
CW: It’s like that police interrogation room, you know, when the guy starts to crack?
SR: (laughs) Never mind, forget it. I’m not gonna dig myself in a hole. But it’s true: having a conversation with him is different than when you see him in the movies. It’s just different; there’s a different vocal quality. And so anybody who does impersonate Chris, I think they would have to – whether it’s Kevin Pollak or whoever it is – some of the conversations I’ve had with Chris, it’s different. He doesn’t sound like that. Yes.
N: Does it get tedious being impersonated so much? I bet people come up you to all the time and want to do it.
CW: No, no, it’s sorta fun. Yeah, I mean, obviously I’m very easy to imitate.
SR: There’s a reedy thing in his voice. It’s interesting because he’s got the… uh… he’s from Queens, there’s a trace of that, but what’s really there is this – all this theater, his body of work. Playing Hamlet, playing Romeo I think has altered your speech a little. Right?
CW: I think it’s ’cause I come from a part of New York where everybody’s – where English wasn’t anybody’s first language. I really think that’s what it is.
SR: But you’re kinda street, and you’re eloquent at the same time.
CW: But where I came from, everybody had an accent.
N: Another thing that really comes through in this movie is that you’ve got such a perfect sense of timing, especially comedic timing. Do you think really carefully about the way you’re going to time things, or does it come naturally, instinctively?
CW: It has to do with – in a piece like this – has to do…It’s like music, and you play. You go to work and you play. And a different take, somebody reads their line a different way, then it changes the way you read it, and that’s what it… that’s the fun of what we do.
N: So the scene where you refuse to put your hands up – which I think is going to be a classic one for the ages – how many different ways did you play that before you settled on the one that’s there now?
CW: Hah! No, that’s interesting. No, really, it was simple, we didn’t have a lot of time that day. I’ve always been, um… I’ve always thought “I don’t want to” was a very good answer. Take this job, do this, do that, go over here, do this… No. Why? I don’t want to. Seems like a perfectly good answer.
N: Like Bartleby, out of Melville.
CW: Huh? Oh yeah, that’s right! “I would prefer not to.”
SR: Who said that?
N: “Bartleby the Scrivener,” the short story by Herman Melville? They did a movie with Crispin Glover.
SR: Oh, is that right? Okay.
N: His answer to everything is, “I would prefer not to.”
CW: Yeah, I think that’s what that scene is.
SR: Yeah, well the scene with he and Woody [Harrelson] – you guys did a couple takes where you just paused a lot. [Director] Martin [McDonagh] said, “Just pause a lot.” Or you suggested that, I think.
CW: Well, yeah, we did. It was a scene without a lot of dialogue. It was very short. All we did was take big… beats.
SR: I think that added to the menace of it, you know.
N: How much is Martin like the Colin Farrell character in the movie – is it autobiographical for him?
SR: Yeeeeah, you know…That’s kind of a Martin question, but yeah, there’s a little bit there.
N: From what you know of him, at least.
SR: I think it’s a little bit.
N: You guys have worked with him together before on the stage. Is there a different energy there, or does the chemistry just fall right back exactly the same way it was?
SR: It does with us, but he wasn’t the director.
CW: Yah. He was there every day, and so we…you just get to know people by osmosis after a while, I guess. He didn’t say a lot, but he was there, definitely.
N: Maybe I’m reading too much into the interracial relationships in the movie, but in your read of it, is your character’s wife the same woman who was with Tom Waits’ character before?
CW: Um… no. She would be the woman… My wife is, in the earlier section, you see us young. So that would be the same wife. Tom Waits’ wife is somebody else. Right?
SR: Uh… Tom Waits is…
CW: It’s not his wife, it’s his lover, his partner. And she leaves him.
SR: She leaves him because he doesn’t want to continue being a serial killer, right? Is that the idea?
N: Yeah. I was wondering if she ended up being your character’s wife as well.
CW: I don’t think so.
SR: No, no it’s just two interracial relationships in the same movie, I think, yeah. It’s just a coincidence. It’s coinkydink.
N: So in real life, are you guys dog people?
SR: I have a dog, yeah. I have a German shepherd.
CW: I like dogs, and I love the dog in this movie. It’s the nicest, best dog.
N: Was it easy working with all the animals?
CW: Yeah. Well, there weren’t a lot…There was only one scene where there were a lot of them, but there were lots of scenes with this particular dog, who was like an angel. I can’t stop talking about how great this dog is. Just…every scene, it was perfect.
N: So Sam, you may not see it this way, but in a cast of heavy hitters, how do you stand out as the craziest one of all? How challenging is it?
SR: That’s just luck of the draw. I dunno, we’ve all played crazies. Colin played crazy a little bit in In Bruges, and he’s [indicates Walken] played some crazies, I’ve played some crazies, Woody’s played some crazies, and I think Martin just collected, like, the all-star crazy team. We have a few people missing, maybe. Al Pacino and James Woods, maybe, but yeah, we got some pretty good crazies here.
N: I also noticed you’re eating in a whole lot of scenes when you’re talking. Was that something Martin came up with?
SR: That’s a cheap trick that actors can do – a very cheap trick, and it just takes the attention off of what you’re saying sometimes, and makes it more real, I think. [to Walken] You ever eat and act?
CW: Yeah, business, too, is good.
SR: Business, right?
CW: You’re cleaning up the table when you’re talking. Yeah, it’s very handy.
SR: It activates the text, so it makes it more…
CW: So it’s tasty.
SR: It’s tasty. Exactly.
CW: And the sound man is usually upset.
CW: “Would you please put down that bag of potato chips?” Right?
CW: They get very upset. They always want you to put down the potato chips, and also take off the jewelry.
SR: Yeah. And they’ll put a cloth on the table, if you got teacups and shit like that making banging.
CW: And sometimes they put felt on the bottom of your shoes.
SR: Yes, anything, like then you can’t dance. You can’t slide.
CW: But then you say, “No you don’t have to put the felt, I’m going to put baloney inside my shoes.”
SR: [laughs] Anything to make it – it’s almost like they’re all against you to make it more real. Film can be – it’s like you’re trying to make it as real as possible, and there’s all these things coming at you to make it less real, stuff on the bottom of your shoes, and it’s like, you wanna hear all that clinking and stuff, ’cause that makes it feel more real.
CW: Absolutely, and during your scene, you know, a helicopter goes over, or an ambulance goes by. They say, “Ack! Can’t use that.” But helicopters go by all the time in life.
SR: I agree. Cassavetes wouldn’t give a shit, I mean, in film-making, they smooth it over a little too much, make it too glossy.
CW: It’s all the fault of the continuity ladies.
SR: Yes! Continuity! Sissies.
CW: They say, “the last scene, your cigarette had much longer ash; we have to do it again.”
SR: But nobody cares how long the ash is at the end of the day; hopefully they’re watching Chris’ eyeballs, or whatever – Colin’s muscles.
N: What would they be watching on you, then? If we’re singling out traits.
SR: Um, you know. I don’t know. I don’t have an answer for that. I don’t have a joke there.
N: When you worked on Galaxy Quest, could you tell that Rainn Wilson had what it took?
SR: A lot of guys: Enrico [Colantoni], there’s a lot of guys on that. Patrick Breen; a lot of great actors in small parts. Missi Pyle.
N: Chris, just a quick one: are you going to be in Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio? There’s rumors on IMDB that you are, voicing the fox.
CW: No, I never heard that, honestly. Not even a hint.
SR: That’s cool.
CW: When is he doing that?
N: I don’t know.
CW: Is it an animated, or…?
N: Yes. You’re on IMDB as “rumored.”
CW: Oh! Cool!
Seven Psychopaths opens Friday. If you enjoyed this article and would like to be the first to receive more like it every morning, consider signing up for Nerdist News. It’s free, and there are good giveaways.