Christopher Walken Had The Wildest Job Before Hollywood

By Jeffrey Rapaport | Published

christopher walken

It’s hard not to love Christopher Walken, and now fans have even more reason to adore the Hollywood icon—the actor worked as a lion tamer before getting his start in films. 

Christopher And Sheba

christopher walken

That’s right: long before embodying the peerless slot as Tinseltown’s quintessential oddball–prior to exhilarating film fans the world over with performances in movies like The Deer Hunter and Batman Returns–the guy who demanded more cowbell tamed big cats. 

A picture forms of an extraordinary life defying stereotypes and preconceptions, commencing—in its peculiarity—with Christopher Walken spending the summer of his 16th year training as a lion tamer.

Walken’s lion, for those taking notes, was actually a lioness named Sheba. Ever the cooperative coworker, Sheba would sit obediently until cued, at which point the lioness would let loose a small roar. 

The Lion-Tamer’s Origins

While this sounds like the perfect premise for a comedy—maybe Adam Mckay and Will Ferrel should get working on a circus-centric comedy with Walken taking the lead—it’s wonderfully true.

If anything, Christopher Walken’s unusually dangerous (and unusual) job partially prefigured the intense and sometimes draconian portrayals the actor would later take on.  

Walken-Stans might already know this, but the actor was born in Queens, New York, the region responsible for his unmistakable accent, in 1943.

His parents were immigrants from Scotland and Germany who encouraged their children to pursue showbiz. Thus, by the advanced age of three, young Walken was involved in dance—a skill he actually drew on throughout much of his career. 

An Actor And A Dancer

As Walken pointed out, dancing was actually a common (or at least more common) pursuit for working-class kids back then, whose parents would enroll them in lessons to learn ballet, acrobatics, and tap dancing. 

However, though Christopher Walken’s dance moves are probably stellar, the actor earned his first big break when he accidentally caught none other than Woody Allen’s eye.

The director placed him in his 1977 classic comedy, Annie Hall–Walken played the wonderfully disturbed Duane Hall, Annie’s brother. Blending the comedic and the unsettling, the role launched Walken’s career. 

He Was Almost Han Solo

His star rose so dramatically in the ‘70s, in fact, that apparently the actoe was even considered for the role of Han Solo in Star Wars. Let’s keep it real: that is insane as that is to envision. Even Walken admits Harrison Ford was obviously the best choice to handle Solo. 

Soon, Christopher Walken played Nick Chevotarevich in Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter; many consider the film the finest output of New Hollywood, if not the finest film ever made—and Walken’s performance is a thing to behold.

Deservedly, he nabbed an Academy Award for his work. Fans adore, however painful it is to watch, the movie’s harrowing Russian roulette scene in the jungle of Vietnam. 

Walken In Real Life

King of New York

Like many great actors, several who might have been inspired by Walken, the actor confined himself to a diet of rice and bananas for a week prior to the shoot to achieve Nick’s gaunt appearance. 

It should be said that, despite his amazing first gig as a lion tamer, and the dark nature of his many celebrated roles, Christopher Walken is not the characters he plays on screen; fact differs from fiction.

At least according to Walken, who pointed out he lives a quiet rural life and has been married for over fifty years. 

Who could believe he once tamed lions? 

Source: The Guardian