The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Christopher Walken’s character was fake. The Banksy graffiti art he destroyed was very real.

An image from a story by the Independent shows actor Christopher Walken painting over Banksy graffiti art in a scene for his BBC series “The Outlaws.” (Independent)

Frank Sheldon was painting over graffiti as part of his community service when he pulled a piece of wood off the wall and found something strange behind.

He told his probation officer about it.

“Diane, look at this rat I found.”

Diane didn’t look. Instead, she told him to do what government officials had ordered him to — paint. With a final shrug, Frank took his roller and blotted out the graffiti rat with thick, beige stripes.

He didn’t tell his probation officer about the word above the rat — BANKSY.

In seconds, Frank had found and then destroyed a piece of art from one of the world’s most famous artists.

The thing was: Almost all of it was fake. Frank Sheldon isn’t a real person but a character played by Christopher Walken in the BBC series “The Outlaws,” a show about seven criminals bound by the community service they have to do together.

Two things were real, however. The graffiti rat was, in fact, created by the artist Banksy, and Walken actually painted over it while filming the show’s season finale, which aired Wednesday. Banksy made the painting — a rat getting ready to press down on the nozzle of a spray paint can — for the show in his hometown of Bristol, England. Rats have been a common motif for Banksy throughout his career.

A spokesman for the BBC series told the Guardian: “We can confirm that the artwork at the end of The Outlaws was an original Banksy, and that Christopher Walken painted over that artwork during the filming of this scene, ultimately destroying it.”

Over the past three decades, Banksy has become one of the most famous and successful artists in the world. His paintings sell for millions, often appearing suddenly in unassuming places across the globe. The artist, who has fiercely protected his anonymity, legitimized street art as a form of expression and political commentary in what’s been called “the Banksy effect.”

Banksy art creates tourism. His hometown features a walking tour of his outdoor works. When he did a month-long residency in New York in 2013, tourists and native New Yorkers alike rushed around the city to spot any Banksy pieces that might have cropped up overnight.

“Like Andy Warhol before him, Banksy has almost single handedly redefined what art is to a lot of people who probably never felt they appreciated art before,” Marc Schiller of the Wooster Collective wrote in a 2007 blog post.

Banksy tried to destroy his art after it sold for $1.4 million. The shredded version just went for $25.4 million.

Last month, one of Banksy’s pieces, “Love is in the Bin,” sold for $25.4 million at auction, a record for him. Its predecessor, the painting “Girl With Balloon,” had sold for $1.4 million three years earlier at the same auction house. As soon as the gavel slammed down, however, a secret shredder hidden in the bottom of the painting’s frame whirred to life. Onlookers watched — eyes widening, mouths dropping — as “Girl With Balloon” slid down into the shredder’s blades, slicing the bottom half of the canvas into dangling strips.

Thus, “Girl With Balloon” was destroyed and “Love is in the Bin” created, all at the same time.

“The urge to destroy is also a creative urge,” Banksy wrote in an Instagram post after the event.

Christopher Walken must have gotten the message.