He started out working with big cats before becoming Hollywood’s go-to guy for menacing oddballs. He talks about The Deer Hunter, the perils of being a world-class dancer – and doing community service with Stephen Merchant

In between his early days as a lion tamer and his latest turn as an old lag doing community service in Bristol, Christopher Walken was Hollywood’s go-to guy for disturbed individuals. He was never quite as deranged as Dennis Hopper, perhaps, but those fixed staring eyes and a rictus smile more mirthless than Robert De Niro’s have helped convey instability and menace for more than half a century in more than 100 films and TV shows. “My whole acting career was a kind of accident,” he tells me down the phone from his home in rural Connecticut. “I guess you can blame Woody Allen. He must have seen something in me.”

In 1977’s Annie Hall, Walken played Duane Hall, Annie’s oddball brother. “Can I confess something?” Duane asks Allen’s character Alvy Singer in a darkened room. “Sometimes when I’m driving on the road at night I see two headlights coming toward me. Fast. I have this sudden impulse to turn the wheel quickly, head-on into the oncoming car … ” “Right,” replies Alvy, sensibly backing away. “Well, I have to go now, Duane, because I’m due back on the planet Earth.”

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