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The Oscar winner, native New Yorker, passionate cook, L.A. aficionado—and terrible driver—enjoys the city one step at a time
Photograph by Chuck Zlotnick
I took my first trip to Los Angeles to visit my older brother, Ken, who was an actor working in Hollywood. I was 16, and he was in his early twenties, which felt like a big difference at that age. One of the first nights he took me to the Sunset Strip. This was the late 1950s, so there were these coffeehouses where people played drums, drank coffee, and read poetry—that kind of beatnik stuff. We walked into a place, and there was a young Marlon Brando—at the beginning of his fame—playing the bongos with people gathered around him. It was one of my first impressions of L.A., and it was quite an impression. My brother also took me on a tour of one of the big lots—it might have been Paramount—and it was really like a studio from an old movie. We’d walk around, and a bunch of Indians and chorus girls would go by. It was very Hollywood.
Around the time of The Deer Hunter, in the late ’70s, I began coming here regularly. I’ve never permanently lived in L.A., but for over 30 years I’ve spent a lot of time here, sometimes for months in rented houses for movies that took a long time to shoot. For Batman Returns I lived in an area known as the “Bird Streets” because all of the streets are named after birds. I think I lived on Skylark Lane, just off Sunset Plaza, right up in the hills. That’s the kind of place I’d live in if I ever moved here full-time. But I live in Connecticut now and am kind of set in my ways.
I’m not a very good driver, so when I’m in L.A., what I usually do is walk around by myself and go to the movies. I always go to the movies in the afternoon. You have the place to yourself. It’s funny—when I’m not working, I never go to them because the Academy sends them to you on DVD so you can watch at home. But when I’m making a movie, on my day off that’s what I do. I walk down Sunset to the ArcLight, and I heard they’ve redone the Laemmle 5 near Crescent Heights, which I’m happy about. The last time I was in Los Angeles, I walked from the Chateau Marmont down La Cienega, like I have a million times, to the Beverly Center. I went in, took the elevator to the top to their theater complex like I always do. I wanted to see a movie; it didn’t matter what. But when I got there, all the movies had left. The multiplex had closed down, and I was unhappy about that, so I’m glad places like Laemmle are reopening.
I love the Chateau Marmont. I’ve been going there for decades. I’ve been staying in the same room for years. It’s reassuring that there’s still a crack in the tile in the bathroom that’s been there and never fixed. My room also has a kitchen because I like to make my own food. They have good kitchen stuff, which they automatically put in my room before I get there. I get a big pot, a small pot, a good-size frying pan, and a tea kettle. There’s even a toaster, which I don’t use. It’s their stuff, but it’s good stuff. One dish I like to make is scallops à l’orange, but that might be because I just like saying “à l’orange.”
» Get Walken’s scallops à l’orange recipe.