Americans have an inferiority complex when it comes to many things British, from the royal family to Shakespeare. But not Christopher Walken.
Jeffrey Wright: We as Americans I think really struggle with finding our own identity within Shakespeare. I think we generally have this inferiority complex relative to the English. There's still this adoration for the idea of monarchy, and the English represent civility and intelligence and divinity even.
When we, American actors, try to take on Shakespeare it’s a real challenge to find our own voice within it, to find an American voice within it, to personalize it, to resist all of the reverence and the preciousness of it and really break it down, destroy it, recreate it in our own image.
The person who was most effective at that for me was Chris Walken. He played Iago to the late Raul Julius, Othello. Chris is a highly intelligent guy, but the way he was able to craft that language was like nothing I had ever seen. He didn’t give into anyone else’s idea about what this language was or who Shakespeare was. It was vicious and improvisatory and just brilliantly his own, and it’s a very rare thing that American actors are able to do that. You hear people and it’s like this kind of these faux British intonations or this middle American, whatever that is, but it doesn’t speak to a real persona.
So that’s the real challenge I think for us as performers, but also as readers of Shakespeare, really to claim it for our own.