Hollywood actor Timothée Chalamet, who steps into the iconic shoes of Willy Wonka in director Paul King’s fantasy adventure, describes his latest film as a “delicious treat of a movie”.
“It’s super hopeful, it’s colourful, it’s family-friendly, it’s fun. And this isn’t the Wonka from the movies, which are legendary. This is a much more hopeful, naive, ambitious, unrealised Wonka. A Wonka that is still in formation,” said Chalamet in an interview.
This film, which is playing in UAE cinemas now, is a prequel to the story first written by Roald Dahl. This new musical-prequel origin story for Willy Wonka, the reclusive and eccentric chocolatier from Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, sees Chalamet play the younger version of the titular role.
The film boasts a stellar cast, with standout performances from talents like Calah Lane, Olivia Colman, Keegan-Michael Key, and Hugh Grant.
According to a report in AP, Wonka, which cost about $125 million to produce, is billed as the first big Hollywood release to launch following the end of the SAG-AFTRA actors’ strike. Industry experts have called Wonka as the go-to choice from families over the Christmas holidays.
As Chalamet invites you into his enchanting world, here is the actor’s take on …
His thoughts while he first read the script for Wonka
I thought, “Oh, how wonderful that in this origin story, Willy Wonka’s full of hope and joy.” I didn’t have the music to A Hatful of Dreams, the opening number, but I just saw the lyrics, where Willy’s losing sovereigns the day he arrives in this new city, but he concludes every thought with, “I’ve got diminishing sovereigns, but a hatful of dreams.” And you immediately get a sense of the character’s unrelentingly, optimistic, hopeful, won’t-let-anything-get-him-down attitude. I thought, “Oh, this is really clever …” To tell the story of the Willy Wonka we know from the movies at his origin.
Whether Willy Wonka meant much to him before this film
Willy Wonka meant equal things, magic and fantasy, conquest and magical realism, as much as he was mercurial and enigmatic. And I think in this version, he’s more hopeful, starting out naïve, ambitious and playful.
His first meeting with director Paul King
Paul and I met a couple years ago about a different project that never happened, but I didn’t get the opportunity to work with him. He’s truly a magical director with a wicked sense of humour. He has a unique worldview, not only in his life, but his movies — they have this unpretentious style and, nonetheless, achieve a sense of magic that a few people are able to achieve.
His legwork including nailing the vocals and the dancing
For vocal prep, I worked intensely with both James Taylor — who was the music supervisor on the movie — and with Eric Vetro — a Los Angeles-based vocal coach who’s legendary in getting an actor ready for their musical projects. I worked a lot with the film’s choreographer, Chris Gattelli, first in New York, then in Leavesden, and had a three-month lead-up in prep. Dance rehearsals at Leavesden, vocal rehearsals at Leavesden, and sometimes Zoom lessons with Eric Vetro, Monday through Friday, nine to five, in the three months leading up to the film.
Working with an amazing cast including talents like Calah Lane and Olivia Coleman
Noodle is an orphan in the wash house that Willy comes across. She’s beautifully played by Calah Lane, who did an incredible job in the movie, and who is able to play Noodle equal parts being hurt by the way her life has gone so far as much as she’s hopeful … but also wise beyond her years because of her circumstance.
Olivia Colman’s tremendous in the movie and totally gave herself over to the tone of the film and to the evilness of playing her character, Mrs Scrubitt. That was very helpful for me playing Wonka — to see her give herself over to that tone so freely, because I realised we were very much telling a story with a certain style. And she’s just fantastic. One of my favourite actresses working in the past few years and she has an incredible energy. She’s just a total joy to work with as well.
His chemistry with Keegan-Michael Key and Hugh Grant
Keegan probably made me laugh harder than anybody in this movie. He’s just infinitely talented, makes you realise — there are funny people in your life. Everyone has their funny friends, but some people are professionally funny the way Keegan is. He’s a true gem of a human … Hugh Grant is a cinematic legend and had a wonderful take on the Oompa Loompa character. I didn’t get to work with him as much as I would’ve loved to, because he was able to knock out a scene so easily. But just a really great guy, tremendously talented actor with a good sense of humour.
Being a part of the fantastical world of Wonka
Basically, we shot no scenes with a green screen. Everything was practically built, which was amazing. Every day, getting on the set in Leavesden, then shooting in London, where I’d never shot before — it felt like entering this magical world that Paul King had realised and that David Hayman had stewarded — who famously stewarded Harry Potter, Barbie and these other movies that have very distinct palettes, sets and feelings to them. So, this was one of these incredibly magical sets to walk on. Every set you walked on offered something new. Production designer Nathan Crowley, who’s worked on movies like Interstellar, just did a fantastic job.