The Original WILLY WONKA Cast Reunites, Reflects on Gene Wilder’s Iconic Performance
By Movieguide® Staff
The beloved cast of the 1971 adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, recently reflected on actor Gene Wilder’s timeless portrayal in a virtual reunion.
Peter Ostrum (Charlie Bucket), Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca Salt), Michael Bolner (Augustus Gloop), and Paris Themmen (Mike Teevee) co-starred as the children in the movie and reunited to commemorate the movie’s 50th anniversary.
Wilder died in 2016 at the age of 83.
“I think people kind of want us to tell you that he was like Willy Wonka off set, but he wasn’t,” Cole told Yahoo Entertainment during the virtual event. “He was such a lovely, kind man, very unassuming.”
“He was just down to earth, not pretentious, he was just a wonderful person to be around and to work with,” Ostrum added.
Despite the four actors’ fond memories of working with Wilder, they recalled his real-life annoyance with Themmen, whom the late actor called “a handful.”
“I can corroborate that,” Themmen laughed. “I was younger than the others. I was 11, they were 13, and was naturally just sort of more high-spirited and rambunctious.”
Although many of the child stars did not continue a long career in acting, Themmen did recall a brief reunion with Wilder at an event fundraiser.
“I sat at the back of the room, and he gave his commentary, and then I went up to the front of the room afterwards with my poster in hand,” Themmen recalls. “I said, ‘Hi, Gene, how you doing? I’m Paris Themmen, I was Mike Teevee in Willy Wonka.’
He continued: “And he said, ‘Oh you were a brat!’ And I flashed all the way back 50 years, or 40 years at that time, and said, ‘Well, I’m 50-something now and maybe not as much of a brat.’ And he signed my poster, ‘To my favorite brat.’”
Although Wilder is not the only actor to play Wonka, the four cast members noted that his performance will always hold a special place in fan’s hearts and that a new adaptation won’t hinder mar his legacy.
In 2005, Tim Burton rebooted the story with Johnny Depp at the helm in CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. More recently, Timothée Chalamet was announced to play Wonka in an upcoming prequel movie.
“One nice thing for them is they don’t have to do a direct comparison because it’s a prequel rather than a remake,” Themmen said. “So he doesn’t necessarily have to be as good as Gene was, which obviously is a hugely difficult thing to do. But [Chalamet is a] talented actor. I don’t know if he has the wild eyes that Gene has, but he’s kind of got the hair. And a general look that’s kind of similar.”
“You can’t kill Wonka,” Ostrum added. “It just gets played over and over again, whether the original or the remake with Johnny Depp. And that brought attention back to our film. Kids saw Johnny Depp’s version, their parents said, ‘You need to see the original.’ Anything that talks about Wonka is good for the Wonka story. It’s a great story and it needs to be retold, regardless of who’s producing it or who’s making it.”