Fangs for the memory

Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett on The Family Fang.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Christopher Walken: "When people talk about art, I get nervous."
Christopher Walken: "When people talk about art, I get nervous." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Jason Bateman's impish The Family Fang, screenplay by Rabbit Hole playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, adapted from Kevin Wilson's novel, stars Nicole Kidman, Christopher Walken, Maryann Plunkett with Jason Butler Harner, Kathryn Hahn, Marin Ireland and Michael Chernus (memorable in Noah Baumbach's While We're Young and James Strouse's People Places Things).

When I ran into Vincent Lindon at Félix in SoHo and told him I had just talked with Christopher Walken at the Tribeca Film Festival, he asked "has he stayed in touch with Robert De Niro?" since they made Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter. Meeting Jeff Goldblum, a Key Largo Humphrey Bogart, Joe Papp, Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book, playing a cat lover in Barry Sonnenfeld's Nine Lives with Kevin Spacey and Lil Bub of Lil Bub and Friendz fame - Walken connected Francis the Talking Mule and Mister Ed, the talking horse, with his usual inimitable style and grace.

Jason Bateman, Nicole Kidman, Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett in The Family Fang
Jason Bateman, Nicole Kidman, Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett in The Family Fang

Patriarch Caleb Fang (Walken) still holds the reins. His performance art is meant to shock the world out of everyday complacency and his life is all about control. Using his own small children in a bank robbery piece or handing out fake chicken wing vouchers, Caleb makes his own rules. His wife Camille (Plunkett) has seemingly made peace with living under his spell. Any conventional longings need to bloom in the shadows. The Family Fang is ultimately a study about the longterm effect of wanting approval from a parent whose love went elsewhere instead.

Annie Fang (Kidman) has become an actress in not so very interesting looking movies and struggles with alcohol while her younger brother Baxter (Bateman) is a troubled author, unable to finish his latest book.

Maryann Plunkett had a secret to share with Chris and feels her paintings are intense.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Both of your characters are very interesting. Both of them have a secret. The mother's secret is that she paints, the man's secret is that he has another family. That's quite a difference! Did you discuss that gender difference in the secrets?

Maryann Plunkett: "They are very dark, intense."
Maryann Plunkett: "They are very dark, intense." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Maryann Plunkett: No. But my secret is the secret from Caleb as well.

Christopher Walken: We are sharing a secret. You know, very often when I make a movie, there's a lot about it I have no idea until I see the movie. I don't know how I missed it, but when we were making the movie, I didn't know you painted!

MP: You were in the room. You were packing the bags in the car!

CW: You're good! They're so little. You should make bigger paintings.

MP: And they're not sort of little flowers. They are very dark, intense.

CW: They are very interesting. You really must make a big one.

Both Fang parents are played by younger actors for parts of the film. Maryann said she met Kathryn Hahn once, Christopher had the following to say:

Christopher Walken loves a good shrimp burrito: "I read about the movies in the old days …"
Christopher Walken loves a good shrimp burrito: "I read about the movies in the old days …" Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

CW: The guy who plays me [Jason Butler Harner], I never saw him. Very often that happens in movies. I pulled up to a stoplight in Los Angeles once. And this car pulled up next to me and the guy is yelling at me. And I thought - oh man! And I looked over and it was Jeff Goldblum and he said "Chris, we've been in five movies together and I've never met you!" So that's how I met Jeff. That happens a lot.

Anne-Katrin Titze: There's a nice line in the film: "Is it art or is it a joke?" Do you ever ask yourself that question about anything you've done?

Maryann Plunkett: Not everything you do, you go in thinking it's art in the first place. You're doing a job, you're working, you're doing your best but it's not necessarily something, whatever art is.

AKT: Jokes can be good too - that's not the point.

Christopher Walken: When people talk about art, I get nervous. Somebody said to Joe Papp once that a play that he was doing … We were in this play and he came to see it before it opened. Somebody said to him: "Joe, you don't understand, this play is a metaphor." And he said: "Metaphors close on Saturday night." … Art for me is something you hope for, once in a while. It's more like serendipity. Once in a while, something happens and it has emotional power. Sometimes things have power and how that happens, I don't know.

Walken's love for the theatre has something to do with time and moviemaking isn't what it used to be.

Little Fangs - Baxter (Jack McCarthy) with Annie (Mackenzie Brooke Smith)
Little Fangs - Baxter (Jack McCarthy) with Annie (Mackenzie Brooke Smith)

CW: Movies are broken up. You shoot it this way and then that way and then you go and sit for an hour. And then it starts to rain. All that stuff. Whereas the theatre - you know what you're doing! You're doing two of them on Wednesday, you're doing two of them on Saturday. You get to the theatre and whatever happens, it's going to be over in two and a half hours. It's a nice life, the theatre. It's more like a job, like a real job.

I read about the movies in the old days when all the scenes - night, day, storms - you know, Humphrey Bogart on his boat leaving Key Largo - it was all on a soundstage. So that you got there in the morning and you went home at six o'clock at night. That's really nice. That's the way I'd like to be a movie actor! You don't have to worry about clouds or rain, loud noises. When you're making a movie, a lot of stuff can mess it up.

Chris on his role in the animal kingdom.

Lil Bub will co-star with Christopher Walken in Nine Lives
Lil Bub will co-star with Christopher Walken in Nine Lives Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

CW: You know, I'm in The Jungle Book. It's amazing - the forest, the animals, the hair! That's all digital and very convincing. It's beyond anything I've seen. The animals talk and usually that's sort of comical. Like the talking mule [Francis], the lips, they said they used to put peanut butter to get the horse to go [Mister Ed] … I'm in a movie called Nine Lives.

It's about cats. I play the guy who talks to cats. I like cats. I've always had cats. That was fun to be in too. Most of my stuff was with this cat. It's about a guy [Kevin Spacey] who has to live in the body of a cat and I'm kind of in charge of him … Actually, the cats were really nice to me.

The cat lover has neither cell phone nor computer.

CW: My wife always says to me - whatever you do, never look yourself up on the internet.

Coming up -The Family Fang director and Fang family member Jason Bateman.

The Family Fang opens in the US on April 29.

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