Actor, dancer, writer, and Academy Award winner Christopher Walken — best known for his big-screen roles as edgy villains — went to pot on Friday (Feb. 15), Hasty Pudding-style.
The 64-year-old performer, in show business since the age of 14 months, faced a raucous audience in the crimson-walled New College Theatre.
He was in for a roast and a toast, as the Hasty Pudding Theatricals 2008 Man of the Year, an honor given out annually since 1967. (Hasty’s Woman of the Year goes back to 1951.)
Man of the Year recipients of the past include Bob Hope (the first award winner), Paul Newman, Warren Beatty, and — in 1982 — hoofer, ham, and film icon James Cagney. Last year’s honor went to Ben Stiller, whose skit included runway-style modeling in a big bra and wig.
Walken, subdued and quiet-voiced in a dark suit and tie, got the bra-and-wig treatment, too. But not before Hasty producers Joshua Lachter ’09 and William Teslik ’08 — Walken’s twin roasters, in black tie — panned a list of his films, including “Balls of Fury” and “Kangaroo Jack.”
But they praised him for “The Deer Hunter” (the 1978 movie that earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor) — and panned him for all his hits being from 30 years ago.
In the 1990s, said Lachter, Walken was in a fever for making films — “but the only prescription, apparently, was more crappy movies.”
The hot coals of undergraduate humor were one hurdle. Another was a challenge to the deadpan actor, whose trademark delivery — intense and eccentric — has been the target of impressions for years. Could he prove he was the real Christopher Walken?
“I have a birthmark,” the actor offered. Not enough.
Slipping on reading glasses, Walken had to sound like himself by reading a recipe for hasty pudding. Intense, but not enough.
How about singing? Walken had to reprise “You’re Timeless to Me,” the hilariously romantic serenade from 2007’s “Hairspray.” But this time it was not Wilbur Turnblad singing to his 400-pound wife (John Travolta, in drag). It was Walken, in reading glasses and with a score, singing a quavering serenade to temporary drag queen Adam Goldenberg ’08, a Hasty cast member temporarily pretty in pink tights and a poofy yellow dress.
“I knew,” quipped Walken, “I should have had a couple of drinks.”
The Oscar winner had to endure other spoof proofs, including evidence that he could (like his big-screen character in “The Dead Zone”) tell fortunes by touching someone.
Walken put a hand on Lachter’s shoulder and said, “You’re going to get an ice cream headache.”
When three more gorgeous Hasty drag queens sashayed out onto stage, Walken was ready. “They’re all going to get an ice cream headache,” he said. “A real bad one.”
Was it Pudding Pot time yet? “So give me the thing,” said Walken.
But first a final proof, a sign of his “defining talent,” said Lachter: a little dancing — the art that Walken first practiced as a boy and that defined his career until his 30s.
That was the signal for another Hasty tradition: the Man of the Year decked out in a wig, bra, and high heels.
The wig was red and high, the bra was big and bangled, but the heels didn’t fit. Still ….
“I feel good,” said Walken, looking down at his temporary self, and stroking his gray tie.
Less than 20 minutes into good-natured humiliation, Walken had the golden Pudding Pot in his hands. “I’ve been in show business most of my life and I’ve known about this award for a long time — I’ve watched people get it,” he said. “I’m amazed and thrilled.”
Sometimes being a great actor is just being a good sport. “Surprise is a big part of entertainment,” he ended, still in bra and wig, “and entertainment is what this is about.”
A few minutes later, in a press conference on the theater’s second floor, Walken eased into the room with trademark Hasty kiss prints still on each cheek. At one side was Lachter and on the other was Hasty Pudding publicity director Talisa Friedman ’10.
What did he think of the boys in drag? “I’ve only met two or three of the guys,” he said. “But I think they’re very attractive.”
What about his distinctive voice and delivery — and the games impressionists play? “You can always claim it’s not you,” he said. “Sometimes on the phone I do that.”
How did he feel on the Hasty stage? “When they asked me to sing, I was terrified,” said Walken, who kept his answers measured and short. “When they asked me to dance, I was terrified. Generally, I’m very nervous in front of people, unless I have a script.”
Dieting for roles? “Bananas and rice is not a good idea — my hair fell out,” he said. “That happened to me twice. I went right down to the lobby and ordered a steak. And my hair grew back.”
Cowbells were bound to come up — a running gag since Walken took a turn as music producer Bruce Dickinson on “Saturday Night Live.” (“I got a fever,” he said on the show, “and the only prescription is more cowbell.”)
At the end, Walken stood up with the Pudding Pot in his hands, in a lightning of camera flashes.
“Harvard,” he said, “has all the cowbell it needs.”