Walt Kowalski
Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Walt Kowalski

Gran Torino

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About Him

Grew Up… during the Korean War, where he served in the United States military. His intense, life-changing experiences as a youth during wartime shaped his bitter personality and his hatred for the Asian race.

Living… in Highland Park, Michigan, where more and more Asian immigrants are moving every day, especially the Hmong, from what was formerly the Kingdom of Laos. Walt hates to see his once-pure town become a land of foreign dialects and “rice burners,” a term Walt uses to refer to the “low quality” Asian cars that he can’t stand. He’s the kind of self-styled tough guy who needs things hard and heavy. And that’s why he built his very own Gran Torino car himself. No immigrant can take that pride away from him.

Profession… retired. He used to be an autoworker at Ford. He appreciates a good American car more than most.

Interests… cars, tinkering with machines, cigarettes, and his old M1 Garand rifle, which was standard weaponry during the Korean War. He keeps it in case he needs to threaten some noisy Asian gangsters, who start to make his peaceful life on his block a living hell. He’s also got a bad smoking habit that’s really starting to take a toll on his health.

Relationship Status… widower. His wife Dorothy has died, and now he’s alone with no one to calm his anger or control his more negative characteristics.

Challenge… overcome his bitterness for Asians – and the world in general. The recent death of his wife is no help when it comes to pacifying his demons. When he comes between a violent neighborhood gang and a Hmong teenager named Thao, Walt starts to realize that he may have to embrace his neighbors in order to finally be at peace with himself and his past.

Personality… curmudgeonly, grumbling, and racist. He constantly refers to Asians as "zipperheads” and other racist slurs. He has a habit of pointing a finger-gun at the Hmong gangsters in his neighborhood, a goofy yet serious threat from an old man who has killed before and has the potential to kill again. He does have a soft side, though, and when there’s a weaker party truly in need, he will rise to the task of helping ward off oppressors for the good of himself and his neighborhood.

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