It took a fax and omelettes to convince Christopher Walken to star in The Outlaws

Christopher Walken occupies a special, somewhat unnerving, place in the collective pop culture consciousness.

The triple-threat New Yorker and his commissioned-by-committee collection of physical traits - strangled voice, orangutan-shadow-boxer limbs, electric-chair hair, inscrutable squint - transcends whatever project he's attached to without his planet-sized charisma polluting the audience's perception of that project.

Yes, we're watching an actor play a role (or sing a jazz standard or dance a soft-shoe) and, yes, we're also watching Christopher Walken ... carry on.

Walken, left, plays a redemption-seeking deadbeat dad/fraudster in The Outlaws. Picture: Amazon Prime

Walken, left, plays a redemption-seeking deadbeat dad/fraudster in The Outlaws. Picture: Amazon Prime

Pulling off this sleight of hand, this mass hypnosis, is no mean feat and Walken, along with a select group of fellow enigmas (Bill Murray comes to mind) can conjure the same magic.

And if we're the product of our choices, Walken is a unique product, indeed.

From being partly responsible for one of the funniest scenes in movie history (Annie Hall), to producing Oscar-winning intensity (The Deer Hunter), to creeping us out (The Dead Zone, The Comfort of Strangers), to creating cult cameos (Saturday Night Live, Pulp Fiction, True Romance), to dancing in uber-cool music film clips (Weapon of Choice), Walken has displayed an amazing ability to choose the right path.

Yet, for all his successes, he's also made some questionable decisions (Heaven's Gate, Click, being on that boat with Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood) but even amid all those bad calls, maybe even because of them, his ineffable appeal has remained intact.

Thankfully, the 79-year-old made a sound decision agreeing to appear in Stephen Merchant's series The Outlaws, now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Along with Apple TV's Severance, it's the second time in recent months Walken has popped up to remind us just how lucky we are he's still out there, plying a trade perfected across two centuries - but securing his involvement wasn't easy.

Because, like Bill Murray, Walken is notoriously difficult to get a hold of via traditional means of communication, ie: the phone. Merchant (who, along with Ricky Gervais created the original British version of The Office) reportedly had to fax Walken to woo him over to the gig, then sit down at the star's home and eat an omelette with him to seal the deal.

It might've seemed a bit of a risk for a pop culture icon to join a cast of unknowns in a dramedy set in the British criminal justice system, but Merchant obviously had faith his presence would enhance, rather than overwhelm, the project.

Good call (or fax).

First screening on BBC One in Britain, but now enjoying a wider airing via Amazon Prime, The Outlaws is a not entirely successful mash-up of ensemble workplace comedy, against-the-odds romance, heist caper, gritty drama and culture/class commentary. Merchant co-created the six-part first series (a second is on the way) with Elgin James, who made Mayans M.C. and takes writing and directing credits and has an on-screen role (Merchant is also showing his acting chops over on SBS's Four Lives). His show introduces us to a group of people from various backgrounds whose flirtations with low-level crime have landed them with community service convictions, which means no jail time but 100 hours of cleaning up a disused government building in Bristol while wearing demeaning high-vis vests.


As if to quickly temper our expectations that the reliable premise of thrusting strangers together will this time produce something original, we're let down early on by helicopter-parented-Asian-kleptomaniac-good girl Rani (Rhianne Barreto) who declares "everyone here's a type", before going on to compile the exact same list of stereotypes we've just spent the past few minutes identifying ourselves.

Not surprisingly, among these stereotypes (right-wing businessman, left-wing activist, social media lesbian starlet, protective big brother) Walken's redemption-seeking deadbeat dad/fraudster is one of the most magnetic and he has us eating out of his hand well before we're told - just to clear up the whole American accent issue - his character was a Vietnam War draft dodger who married a British girl.

Other than Walken's welcome contributions, The Outlaws works best when it focuses on the crime and punishment component of the story, rather than the peripheral gangland suspense generated by various baddies, including a group of young men who drive Range Rovers and talk like Ali G.

Merchant's parents were both community service supervisors in Bristol and he mines this valuable resource to produce the most authentic moments ("If you find a deceased animal over 10 kilos do not touch it, that is the council's business").

As with Merchant's previous solo creation, Hello Ladies, it's the wry, gentle humour he injects into The Outlaws which compensates for the series' failings, but even failing is memorable when Christopher Walken is on your side.

Especially when he dances.

This story Sometimes it takes a fax and an omelette to get what you want first appeared on The Canberra Times.