In about six hours, Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell will be on stage at the Ryerson Theatre, along with Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson and writer/director Martin McDonough, to introduce Seven Psychopaths to the TIFF Midnight Madness audience.
Seven Psychopaths casts Rockwell and Walken as a pair of Hollywood eccentrics whose dognapping scam puts them and Colin Farrell's blocked screenwriter in serious danger when they abduct a cockapoo belonging to Harrelson's hair-trigger mobster. Farrell, of course, starred in McDonough's first feature, In Bruges, but this isn't Rockwell and Walken's first rodeo with the guy either.
"We did a play together, one of Martin's plays, on Broadway," Rockwell explains. "A Behanding in Spokane; Anthony Mackie and Zoe Kazan were in it too. We knew each other very well, and I think that informs the relationship in the film. Life parallels art a little bit."
I ask whether McDonough specifically wrote the characters for the two actors, and they're not quite sure.
"Well, he never talked about that," Walken says in that instantly recognizable cadence. "But writers, you know, use what stuff is around."
So do actors, at least when it comes to wardrobe. Walken's character wears an ascot throughout Seven Psychopaths, and he and Rockwell have turned that ascot into a private joke, playing up its importance beyond all reasonable measure.
It does figure in the plot, oddly enough, but they've apparently decided to convince people it's the most important thing in the picture. What the hell, they're cooped up in a hotel suite all day, they might as well have some fun.
"There was a big debate about, you know, what ascot," Walken says. "Was it gonna have a floral pattern, or what? I fought. I fought for the ascot. ‘I hate this ascot. I don't like the pattern.'"
Rockwell cackles. "Yeah, it's true. Sometimes the look gives you the character."
"Laurence Olivier said..." Walken begins, and I have a sudden out-of-body moment where I realize and fully appreciate that I am in a room with Christopher Walken, the guy from The Deer Hunter and Annie Hall and Heaven's Gate and Pennies From Heaven and The Dead Zone and At Close Range and King Of New York and True Romance and Pulp Fiction and another dozen other movies that are a part of my own personal history.
"It was some part, and he calls it the green umbrella. And I can't remember what part it was, but he said he couldn't play the part all through rehearsal, he couldn't do anything. And then the director said ‘Why don't you carry an umbrella?' And that's what did it. Then everything was okay."
"I heard a similar story with Gary Oldman doing State Of Grace," Rockwell says. "After the table read, he was afraid he was gonna get fired, and then he went to the wardrobe and he put on this black leather jacket, and all of a sudden that was it."
"That was it!" Walken says. "And it goes the other way, too - the wrong pair of shoes, the wrong hat, you're gonna be lousy in the part. I remember once I worked for a director; two movies, and it was just delightful, and I was very good in both those movies. And then, the third one, he said, ‘Chris, we've worked so well together,' and he said, ‘but I want you to have a [specific] look,' and I thought, ‘Uh-oh.'
"So he took me to a hair salon, and he sat there while he had it styled and then tinted and everything. And then he got me my outfit, right down to the shoes, and I don't think I've ever been as bad as I was in that movie. Because every second on screen, I was uncomfortable."
"Interesting," Rockwell says.
"You know, he did a makeover," Walken says, exactly as you would imagine Christopher Walken would say those words. "And he shoulda just let me alone."
Seven Psychopaths screens again today (Saturday, September 8) at 3:30 pm, Scotiabank 1