actor: gene wilder

20 facts about Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
  • The cast wasn’t allowed to see the Chocolate Room set until the scene where they first emerge into the room was shot, so their reactions are genuine.
  • Charlie’s reaction to Wonka declaring he would get nothing due to defying the contract (“Good day sir!”) is also genuine; in rehearsals Peter Ostrum (Charlie) was not told that Gene Wilder (Wonka) would be shouting at him. Since Wilder and Ostrum had become friends on the set, Wilder desperately wanted to tell Ostrum that he would be shouting so that Ostrum wouldn’t think that they had stopped being friends.
  • For the riverboat scene, Wonka’s ranting poem was not in the script (it’s a lift from the novel), hence the disturbed looks on the actors’ faces, who thought Wilder was actually losing his mind.
  • During the scene with Wonka’s somersault, Denise Nickerson (Violet) genuinely thought that Gene Wilder had injured himself.
  • Mel Stuart deliberately ran Paris Themmen (Mike) through the lines when Mike explained the technicalities of television to Wonka in the Wonkavision Room so often that Stuart got the right “nasty and pissy” attitude from Themmen he wanted for the scene, as that was how Themmen naturally felt at that point.
  • Paris Themmen  mentions in the DVD Commentary that he and Denise Nickerson (Violet) “hung around Julie Dawn Cole  (Veruca) too much” and Julie’s British accent rubbed off on them as a result. Paris points out certain lines in the film where he and Denise affected British accents for no good reason, and the takes were kept. He also discussed that loved ones watching the film could not recognize that the lines were spoken by Violet or Mike and not by Veruca.
  • Julie Dawn Cole swiped a few props from the set, including a Golden Ticket and an Everlasting Gobstopper. However, she lost the mink coat that was made specifically for the movie, having apparently left it on the back of her chair when she went to lunch. The director yelled at her until she cried when he found out- it was real fur.
  • Julie also got a peek at the Chocolate Room early (the other children only saw it during the main filming).
  • On a darker note, Denise Nickerson made her scenes and returned to school… and then, after two days, her face and hands start to turn blue! It turned out that the paint used to make her face and hands blue went deep under her skin, and then slowly resurfaced during next few weeks. Talk about art imitating life!
  • Julie Dawn Cole and Denise Nickerson both had a crush on Peter Ostrum, so they would hang out with him on alternating days.
  • Roald Dahl reportedly wanted Spike Milligan to play the part of Willy Wonka. The fact that Milligan was not cast as Wonka was allegedly one of the reasons Dahl refused to allow Charlie And The Great Glass Elevator to be made into a movie, even writing that decision into his will. (Dahl also would have been happy with Peter Sellers, but Milligan was his first choice.)
  • The “I Want it Now” sequence took thirty-six takes to perfect. 
  • To achieve the look of becoming a blueberry,  Denise Nickerson was sandwiched between two halves of a giant Styrofoam ball (a centrepiece in the shape of her body had been cut out beforehand) so that only her head, hands and feet were poking out.
  • Paris Themmen was cast as Mike because Mel Stuart thought that he had the perfect brattiness for the Mike Teavee part. The later consensus on set was that this was true. ‘Four of them are wonderful,’ said Wilder in a television interview during filming, 'and one I’m going to throw through a window tomorrow.’)
  • Denise Nickerson got the role of Violet partly for her acting and partly for her round, baby cheeks. Mel Stuart thought she looked just right for someone destined for life as a blueberry.
  • Julie Dawn Cole actually lied about how much acting experience she had. She also had to read the book - which she hadn’t before - overnight between the first audition and recall.
  • Gene Wilder and Peter Ostrum would often have lunch together and walk back to the set sharing a bar of chocolate.
  • Mel Stuart saw the set for Wonka’s office - which was then perfectly normal - and decided that this didn’t suit the eccentric confectioner at all. So he ordered everything to be cut in half. 
  • During the third rewrite of the script, they brought in twenty-five year old writer David Seltzer to do some additional work on it. They ended up flying him to Munich for two weeks, where has was locked in a hotel room to every day and only allowed out for meals. At the end of the fortnight Seltzer flew home exhausted, he later said that his two weeks there was the best training a young screenwriter could have had. 
  • The actor playing Slugworth stayed away from the children as much as possible so that they were indeed a little bit afraid of him. 

In 1970, when originally offered the lead role in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory by director Mel Stuart, the great Gene Wilder accepted on one condition. “When I make my first entrance,” he explained, “I’d like to come out of the door carrying a cane and then walk toward the crowd with a limp. After the crowd sees Willy Wonka is a cripple, they all whisper to themselves and then become deathly quiet. As I walk toward them, my cane sinks into one of the cobblestones I’m walking on and stands straight up, by itself; but I keep on walking, until I realize that I no longer have my cane. I start to fall forward, and just before I hit the ground, I do a beautiful forward somersault and bounce back up, to great applause.” Asked why, Wilder said, “Because from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.”