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Film Actor Christopher Walken often plays the bad guy, but he has also proved himself in comic roles and has been a repeat guest on Saturday Night Live.
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Walken delivered a gut-wrenching performance in 1978's The Deer Hunter, co-starring Robert Di Niro and Meryl Streep. Directed by Michael Cimino, the film followed the impact of the Vietnam War on a group of friends from a small town. Walken's character goes through a brutal transformation during the course of the movie, starting out as a laid-back steelworker and ending as a man tormented by memories of his time in a prisoner-of-war camp. For his efforts,
Walken won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Walken followed up his performance as the star in Cimino's next effort, Heaven's Gate (1980). The Western historical drama proved to be one of the most legendary flops of all time. Costing around $36 million to make, the film was savaged by the critics and earned little at the box office. That same year, Walken received a warmer reception for his starring role in The Dogs of War, playing a mercenary mixed up with an African dictator. After such serious roles, Walken surprised audiences with his tap-dance routine in the Steve Martin musical comedy Pennies from Heaven (1981).
Walken experienced turbulence in his personal life later that year, as a guest on the boat of actress Natalie Wood and her husband Robert Wagner. On November 29, 1981, Wood accidentally drowned while the boat was moored off Catalina Island in California. Walken and Wood had worked together on what proved to be her final film, the science fiction thriller Brainstorm (1983). Speculation about Wood's death lingered for years.
Cementing his reputation as a top-notch bad guy, Walken starred in A View to a Kill (1985) as the latest villain to take on superspy James Bond (played by Roger Moore). He then paired up with another intriguing actor, Sean Penn, for the crime drama At Close Range (1986). As critic Roger Ebert enthused about Walken's performance, "there is nobody to touch him for his chilling ability to move between easy charm and pure evil."
In 1991, Walken garnered his first Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Special for his work on Sarah, Plain and Tall. He starred opposite Glenn Close as a widower who solicits a new wife to help raise his two children. Back on the big screen, Walken turned in another memorable performance as an evil businessman in Batman Returns (1992), starring Michael Keaton as the Dark Knight.
Despite being often typecast as edgy characters, Walken also displayed a great sensibility for comic roles. He has been a frequent guest host of the late night comedy series Saturday Night Live, as well as a popular target for spoofs and satire. Numerous comedians have been known to imitate his unusual cadence. "I think my rhythm is a bit like someone whose first language isn't English. I could get away with being a German commandant and not really have to do a lot of accent, because I already sound like I don't speak English that well," he told Entertainment Weekly.
In True Romance (1993), Walken again made the most out of a smaller part.
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