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Interview of the week: Christopher Walken

By KAREN BUTLER, United Press International

NEW YORK, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- When casting romantic leads, the command producers don't usually bark: "Get me Christopher Walken!"

But the veteran of some 100-odd films says he doesn't know why that is.

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"I actually wanted to be more romantic," confesses the 59-year-old "Deer Hunter" and "Pulp Fiction" star. "I could sort of see myself on a horse with a hat, sort of a cowboy, romantic."

An accomplished dancer and charming comic actor, the Oscar-nominated actor is better known for his portrayal of quirky, sinister characters, usually in crime or war dramas. However, his halting speech and serious facial expressions have fueled his image as a scary individual in real life, as well.

Asked if he is aware that some folks are actually afraid of him, Walken dismisses the question, noting," I hear that, you know, but I think that if that's true that it has to do with the movies that I've done."

And the nutty characters he has played?

"Yeah, you know, I've had guns and things," he remarks.

Reporters talking to Walken in Manhattan recently were surprised to hear that the big-screen tough guy hopes some day to engage in such warm and fuzzy activities as hosting a TV cooking show and appearing in a movie musical.

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Nathalie Baye, the French actress who plays Walken's wife in the new film, "Catch Me If You Can," even admits she was initially nervous about working with the actor. But says she quickly realized she had misjudged him.

"Christopher Walken is a star," Baye emphasizes. "I was very excited to meet him because he's very famous, and French people like him very much, and everyone is a little scared of him. It's like, 'That guy is a strange guy who came from another planet.' He's going to be my husband. I was a little afraid, and when I met him, he's a very sweet man. He was scared, like I was, the first day of shooting, and very anxious and has a big sense of humor and loves cats, like me. There were cats on the set, and he was talking to the cats all the time."

"Catch Me If You Can" is the mostly true story of Frank Abagnale Jr., a 1960s con man who posed as a doctor, lawyer, college professor and airline pilot and cashed more than $2.5 million in fraudulent checks by the time he turned 21. Leonardo DiCaprio portrays Abagnale in the comedy drama, while Walken and Baye play his divorced parents. His performance earned him an Oscar nomination for supporting actor earlier this month.

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Describing the Steven Spielberg film as "wonderful," Walken says he is pleased to hear a touching scene between DiCaprio and himself moved some audience members to tears.

"Oh, that's nice," he remarks. "It's so human, people relate."

In the film, the globe-trotting Abagnale is estranged from his somewhat shady father when he dies, but Walken says his bond with his own dad bares no resemblance to the Abaganales'.

"It was good, good," Walken says. "My father was really not at all like that. My father was very law-abiding, and he worked very hard. He worked seven days a week. It was all he really liked to do. He was a baker. ... He came from Europe, and ... he was very well-behaved.

"Not like this Frank Sr., in this movie; he really has a lot of nerve. Look, when I was growing up, people used to read books like 'How To Get Rich' or 'How To Become A Millionaire By the Time Your Forty', 'How To Win Friends and Influence People', and I think that he's like that. He believes that there is some little trick and then, everything is great."

Walken says he enjoyed playing the "Titanic" star's father.

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"It was great," he explains. "You know, Steven hired me to play his father, and I figured that he knew exactly why, and I never asked anyone anything. But also, when Leo and I stand together, we could be related."

One of the major themes of the film is the effect divorce has on a family. While Spielberg and co-stars DiCaprio and Tom Hanks are all products of broken homes, Walken is not, but the actor says he knows enough people who have survived it to know that family life is not as it is depicted in sanitized sit-coms like "Ozzie and Harriet."

"This was a family that had no problems and everyone loved it," Walken says of the classic 1950s TV show. "I used to watch it all the time... and everyone always looked clean and no one had any problems, but I don't know that I have ever met anyone whose family wasn't a little bit (odd.) Everyone has some crazy uncle or something."

Walken also differs from Spielberg and Hanks in that he himself has never been divorced.

"I've been married for almost 35 years," notes the actor, adding that teamwork is the key to his happy union. "So, I don't know (much about divorce), but a lot of people that I know are divorced. I do wonder many times, I see people who are very intelligent people get married and I think, 'Why?'"

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"Catch Me if You Can" is in theaters now. Walken is currently filming the horror movie, "Helldorado."

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