Christopher Walken and Linda Bright Clay in "Seven Psychopaths."
Updated: November 12, 2012 11:13AM
Oak Park actress Linda Bright Clay was having what some call a Christopher Walken moment.
As Walken’s wife in the new film “Seven Psychopaths,” she had the task of getting to know the eccentric screen legend.
“I was told that he was a great dancer and a practical joker,” she says. “So, I checked out [his 1981 film] ‘Pennies from Heaven.’
“I expected him to be dancing and joking around the set.”
It wasn’t exactly that way.
“Eventually, he warms up to you,” Clay says. “The first conversation we had was about some still shots where we had buttons on our costumes. He looked at them and said, ‘I don’t think we need buttons ... do you?’
“That was my ‘in,’ ” she says with a warm laugh. “We had our buttons.”
“Seven Psychopaths” (opening Friday) is about Los Angeles criminals who kidnap dogs and pick the wrong pooch in the form of gangster Woody Harrelson’s beloved pup.
“[Walken’s Hans is] the most gentle psychopath of the mix,” she says of her screen hubby, who is dealing with his wife’s cancer.
“Her husband is trying to help to her navigate those moments when she is not sure if she will recover. He does it in a very unique fashion.”
Getting cast in the movie came with a Chicago twist. “Back in October of last year, I got a call from Jackie Taylor of the Black Ensemble Theater,” Clay says. “We go way back to the ’70s. Jackie told me, ‘Linda, somebody called and said they’re doing this film and they want me to put some people on tape. I think you should audition.’”
After submitting a tape, she was flown to Los Angeles for a callback with director Martin McDonagh and was hired.
Says Walken, “She did an amazing job in the role. I really enjoyed working with her.”
Clay grew up in Chicago. “I kind of bounced back and forth between the West Side and the western suburbs.”
She knew she wanted to act. “I used to stand in front of the mirror at age 8 and practice my lines,” she says.
At Proviso East High School, Clay was shy, but she had friends. “A very outgoing friend who was a cheerleader dragged me to an audition,” she says. “Otherwise, I used to go to high school plays and sit in the audience by myself wondering, ‘Is there a magic wand that goes ding and you’re cast in a play?’ ”
She began her career doing theater and then voiceover spots and commercials. In 1996’s “Original Gangstas,” she played Fred Williamson’s sister. “I didn’t even audition,” she recalls. “Fred’s wife was looking through a handful of resumes and said, ‘She looks like your real sister.’ ”
The accomplished Clay has worked with Writers’ Theatre, Victory Gardens, the Goodman Theatre and the Chicago Theatre Company, where she received the best actress award” from the Black Theatre Alliance for her performance in “Home.”
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