Pudding Roasts Walken

Actor remains calm during performance with Theatricals

Even when asked to dance wearing a pointed brassiere, a wig, and heels, actor Christopher Walken kept his cool at the Hasty Pudding Theatrical’s Man of The Year award ceremony Friday evening.

On stage at the New College Theatre, Pudding producers Joshua E. Lachter ’09 and William M. Teslik ’08 said that before they could award Walken the prize, he would have to prove his identity.

“I have a birthmark,” Walken said. “So gimme the thing!”

But Teslik and Lachter, egged on by raucous cheering from the audience, insisted that Walken dance, sing, tell fortunes—à la his role in the film “The Dead Zone”—and read out a recipe for hasty pudding in his “best Christopher Walken voice.”

As the actor attempted to serenade a cast member with a number from his recent performance in the movie “Hairspray,” a student dressed as a cow burst onto the stage ringing a bell, in a reference to one of Walken’s most famous skits on Saturday Night Live, where he plays a music producer obsessed with adding “more cowbell” to songs.

After his performance, a cast member dressed as a buxom bumblebee produced the “Pudding Pot” trophy and presented it to Walken with a kiss on the cheek.

Walken was soft-spoken. He said that he was genuinely honored to be chosen by the Pudding.

“I’ve actually known about this award for a long time,” he said. “I’m amazed and thrilled.”

Before taking the stage, Walken was subjected to a “roast,” in which Teslik and Lachter poked fun at his career, singling out his roles in flops like “Gigli” and “Balls of Fury.” They noted his 1978 Academy Award for “The Deer Hunter,” then joked that, “like most of his major successes, that occurred 30 years ago.”

Talisa B. Friedman ’10, the Hasty Pudding spokeswoman, said that Walken had been chosen not only for his dignified career, but specifically for his comedic skills.

“We look for people who are fun to roast,” Friedman said. “We had no idea what to expect from him. He plays so many characters. We weren’t sure if he’d be crazy.”

But during a press conference after the event, Walken was calm and reflective, despite the smears of lipstick on his cheek. He spoke of his love for the atmosphere of university towns and his appearance in a play at Harvard years earlier, as well as his early jobs as a lion tamer and a professional dancer.

Despite his varied resume, Walken said he was completely unprepared for the roast.

“I was terrified! I’m not comfortable in front of people without a script,” he said. “I probably should have had a couple of drinks.”

Friedman added that she was surprised that Walken was so different from many of his on-screen personas. “He was remarkably normal,” she said.

Attendees to the black-tie event filed back into their seats after the ceremony for the opening performance of the Hasty Pudding’s newest show, “Fable Attraction.”

Gabrielle M. Domb ’11 said she had come to the play mainly to see Walken.

“I am president of his Harvard Fan Club,” she said, adding, “if there is one.”

After the roast, Lachter said that Walken had been an extremely interesting guest, if very shy.

“He was different than Charlize in many respects,” said Lachter, referring to the Pudding’s 2008 Woman of the Year, Charlize Theron, whose appearance was particularly boisterous.

As the press conference ended, Walken posed with his Pudding pot. Asked about his experience at Harvard, the actor responded that he loved the College and didn’t think it was lacking in a certain musical instrument.

“Harvard has all the cowbell that it needs,” he said.

—Staff writer Cora K. Currier can be reached at ccurrier@fas.harvard.edu.