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Famous movie villain Walken can sing, dance too

Actor Christopher Walken, best-known as a movie villain, tells TODAY cast about his work early in his career, when he danced and sang.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Christopher Walken can dance and sing. Who knew?

“When I was a kid, that’s what I did,” the villain of so many movies told the TODAY Show cast Thursday, with his patented deadpan delivery. “Chorus boy. Showboy.”

At the age of 64, Walken’s finally returned to his roots, playing Wilbur Turnblad opposite John Travolta in drag as Edna Turnblad in the newly released musical “Hairspray.”

As outtakes from the movie show, he’s still got all the moves.

Travolta suggested Walken for the role, and the prolific actor accepted it as he says he does almost every part offered to him: “I pretty much do what comes next.”

His talents as a song-and-dance man were first displayed on the stage at the beginning of his career and demonstrated on the big screen in the 1981 film “Pennies from Heaven.” But he became cast as a villain — first and perhaps most memorably as the evil megalomaniac Max Zorin in the 1985 James Bond film “A View to a Kill” — and thrived in that role.

“I played villains for a long time,” he said. But after six appearances as the guest host of “Saturday Night Live,” producers realized he could do more.

“That got me into the comedy thing in the movies,” Walken said.

“Hairspray” is a musical comedy set in Baltimore in 1962. Walken and Travolta play the parents of the movie’s Cinderella-like heroine, Tracy Turnblad, an oversized teenager with dreams of winning the big dance competition on the Corny Collins TV show. Along the way, she becomes involved in the successful campaign —led by Queen Latifah as Motormouth Maybelle — to integrate the show.

The villain’s role falls not to Walken but to Michelle Pfeiffer, as the deliciously evil Thelma von Tussle.

Working with Travolta, Walken said, “was wonderful. We had a very good time rehearsing.”

Then filming started and Travolta was transformed by a lot of makeup and a “fat suit” into Edna. “Ten minutes later, you just forgot that and he was John again,” Walken said.

“You guys got to share a kiss,” TODAY co-host Matt Lauer interjected.

“Almost,” Walken corrected him. “It was gonna be a kiss, but then it would be X-rated; we wouldn’t be able to keep with the PG.”

New York rootsWalken was born Ronald Walken in 1943 in Queens, N.Y., the son of immigrant parents who owned a bakery. He got his start as a child as an extra in the then-emerging medium of television. His first regular role, on “The Wonderful John Acton” TV show, came in 1953 when he was 10.

It wasn’t until he was 21 that he changed his name to Christopher, reportedly because a friend told him it had a better ring to it than “Ronnie,” which was the name he had been working under.

He already had an impressive stage career when he played Annie Hall’s brother in the 1974 Woody Allen movie of the same name. And he attained true stardom in 1978 with his role in “The Deerhunter,” for which he won an Oscar — his only one — as best supporting actor alongside Robert De Niro.

In addition to his movies, he’s played the lead role in a number of Shakespearean productions, including “Hamlet,” “Macbeth” and “Romeo and Juliet.”

“You play weird and quirky,” TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira observed. “Are you weird?”

“Simple answer,” replied Walken. “ I grew up in show business, so I think that makes me weird — Queens plus show business.”

Most of the cast of “Hairspray,” but not Walken, will perform on the plaza at Rockefeller Center during Friday’s TODAY Show.