Kevin Pollak Talks Christopher Walken, The Usual Suspects, Impressions, and more

Categories: Interviews
Kevin Pollak.jpg
Kevin Pollak, impersonation impressario.
Stand-up superstar Kevin Pollak has starred in a slew of movies during his lengthy career. Sixty-four of 'em to be exact. And while some of these flicks have been good (The Usual Suspects, Casino, A Few Good Men), most of 'em are bad.

That's not due to a lack of acting or comedic talent on Pollak's part, however, as the charismatic character actor tends to light up the screen and make crappy movies (Juwanna Mann, Stolen Summer, 3000 Miles to Graceland) seem bearable with his acerbic wit, if only for a little while. 

Pollak's acted alongside some of the biggest names in Hollywood - including Jack Nicholson, Gabriel Byrne, and Kevin Spacey - and he can provide hilariously dead-on impersonations of every one of them. 

Between foul-mouthed quips and profanity-laced stories, the comedian is infamous for his sidesplitting send-ups of such hammy Hollywood stars as Christopher Walken and William Shatner. He also does a mean Johnny Carson, too.

We caught up with Pollak, who's appearing this weekend at Stand Up Live, and he explained his secrets behind such eerily accurate impressions, as well as how Walken and other stars reacted. 

You're famous for your hilarious impressions of such stars as Christopher Walken and Jack Nicholson. What's been their reaction?
Oh yeah. In fact a great deal of my act is comprised of these stories of meeting these a lot of people. It may be a surprise, but it was never part of my plan. I was only going to mock these people; I wasn't going to not meet them. They all, for the most part, seemed to like it, especially that there was an effort behind it to be clever and not just cutting.

Christopher Walken is a bit eccentric, to say the least. What was his take?
Walken was pretty tripped out about it. I tell a story about being present when he got his hands, feet, and signature in the cement in front of [Grauman's] Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. And I was asked to be one of the two speakers along with Quentin Tarantino, who directed him in Pulp Fiction. And I tell a story about how I'd never met Walken prior to this and the invitation was an honor and yet seemed quite odd. And I couldn't help but ask, "How far down the list did you have to go?" and proceeded to do my impression of Walken in front the press and him. Too see him out of the corner of my eye bending at the waist while laughing at my bit was one of those "you can take me now" moments. I'll save the impression for the stage since I don't think it would play well to print.

I guess we'll have to buy a ticket to see it, then?
Yeah, you son of bitch! Bring those dollars down to the club. 

Your most famous bit is impersonating William Shatner. How did Captain Kirk feel about your imitation?
You can find interesting moments on YouTube of him being asked about it. There's a famous interview he gave on camera where he responds to it in a very funny way. In short, I can tell you that he loves it. I'm in one of his books that he wrote about Trekkies called Get a Life! and I tell a story in my stand-up act about how bizarre it was to meet someone I've been mocking for 20 years.

So what's the secret of doing a good impression of someone?
You have to find something unusual and off-the-beaten path about someone. Christopher Walken is easy to do, and many have done him, but I would say there's a reason why if you Google [that phrase], I come up first. I'm kidding of course when I'm more special than anyone else, but I love pointing out that particular Google fact and it tickles me to no end. So forgive me.

You're forgiven.
Thanks. For any impersonation, the trick really is to find the one strange thing about their character. Not just the cadence of their voice or the musical rhythm in which they speak, which is also extremely important to nail. But there's always something peculiar about them. If you can find that, then you'll capture the audience. That's sort of the trick.

You've performed alongside such legendary actors as Nicholson, Gabriel Byrne, and Benicio Del Toro. Is it hard to not get intimidated?
You mean, how the hell can I hold my own against some obviously greater talent?

I wouldn't put it that way, no.
You'd better not, you son of a bitch! When you're acting opposite [Robert] De Niro or Nicholson, that's beyond daunting. And there's no attempt to try to hold your own, there's just a prayer not to embarrass yourself. But in the case of someone like Gabriel Byrne on The Usual Suspects, all I had to do was my Johnny Carson impersonation and he was crying like a little girl with laughter. Was I intimidated? No, because no one didn't know too much about him or Benecio or even Kevin Spacey at that point. In 1994 when we shot the film, the biggest name in the movie was Gabriel, but really only for smaller films like Miller's Crossing. There was great respect [for him], but he wasn't an icon yet. Plus, he was an very easy laugh, and once I'm able to develop that rapport with another actor, it takes away all the pressure of standing toe-to-toe with them.


Kevin Pollak is scheduled to perfrom at Stand Up Live, 50 West Jefferson Street, from Thursday until Saturday. Showtimes vary and tickets are $25. Click here for more info.

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