When people discuss the biggest stars of MTV’s heyday, names like Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Nirvana come to mind. But for a period in 2001, the music video everyone was talking about starred Christopher Walken.
Walken appeared for a solo and virtuoso performance in the video for “Weapon of Choice,” a track by musician and DJ Fatboy Slim that featured Bootsy Collins. Catchy as the song may be, it plays second fiddle to Walken, who counters his idiosyncratic screen image by showing off dance moves honed in his theatrical background. Walken dances across the screen, partners with a luggage cart, taps on an escalator, and eventually flies (on a harness).
Made for Walken
For people familiar only with Walken’s film work, where he played intense or sinister characters in movies like The Deer Hunter, King of New York, and True Romance, the fleet-footed performance came as a surprise. But Walken has an extensive history with dance.
“In the Queens where I grew up, you didn’t go bowling on Saturday; you went to dancing school,” he told The New York Times in 1992. His mother shuttled Walken and his brothers to tap-dancing lessons; he later trained in musical theater dance at the Washington Dance Studio and was part of the touring company for West Side Story, where he met his wife and fellow dancer, Georgianne. Film success came later, with 1977’s Annie Hall and an Oscar win for 1978’s The Deer Hunter.
So how did that translate to a four-minute music video directed by Spike Jonze? During an interview with The Nine Club podcast in 2018, Jonze recalled that he had seen Walken dancing on Saturday Night Live years earlier, so when the director settled on doing a dance video for “Weapon of Choice,” the concept started to come together. He just had to hope Walken would be on board.
“I wrote up the idea into a letter, and mailed him the letter and the song,” Jonze said during an interview with NPR. “And he called me back a couple of days later and said that he thought it would be fun to do.”
Jonze filmed at a Marriott hotel in Los Angeles, with Walken presenting as a traveling and lethargic businessman who is suddenly moved by the music. Although Walken had danced in several of his films, most notably doing a tap-dance striptease in 1981’s Pennies From Heaven, the video was the most concentrated dose of his abilities to date.
An Award-Worthy Performance
The response was overwhelmingly positive. “Weapon of Choice” entered heavy rotation on MTV and sister station MTV2 and was nominated for nine MTV Video Music Awards in 2001. Overall, the video won six Moonmen, including one for Best Direction (though Best Dance went to NSYNC's “Pop.”)
Walken went on to appear in a television production of Peter Pan Live! in 2014, where he again tap-danced and even sang as Captain Hook.
That show’s producer, Craig Zadan, told Entertainment Weekly that Walken could have had a very different career: “I think that if he had been around in the heyday of MGM, he would have been a big star of musicals on film.”