Even though his famous "More Cowbell" SNL sketch is several years old by now, Christopher Walken is still a bit of a walking punch line. He's been playing quirky - something of an understatement - characters, the dad in Todd Solondz's A Dark Horse being the latest example.
But in A Late Quartet, he plays the leader of a famous string ensemble who's dealing with his imminent retirement and he brings a kind of gravitas to the role that we haven't seen from him in a long time.
"This was a stretch," he says, at a round table sitting beside co-star Catherine Keener, "because I'm a show business kid, song and dance, little bit of pizzazz. I was raised by comics. So to be a cellist in a string quartet? This is a different kind of part for me. Usually it's someone cartoonish. This is a real guy."
Walken, speaking slowly and with Keener seeming almost protective with her arm behind him, talked about connecting to the film because he, too, is a New Yorker, familiar with the kinds of musicians plying their trade that are represented in the movie.
But he hasn't seen the film yet himself and knows enough not to assume anything.
"I've never made a movie that I wasn't surprised by when I saw it," he says. "Movies are funny. You have to get lucky a little bit. It's just as difficult to make a movie that's not so good as it is to make one one that is good."
Then he suggests that the experience on set can be a sign of things to come.
"When it's difficult it's not usually good news."