What Writers Can Learn from Gene Wilder
Every year has its collection of well-known people that die, but that doesn’t make the loss any less significant. Recently we heard news of the passing of Gene Wilder, an actor that manages to remain in the spotlight even though he has stayed out of the public eye. I had to look on IMDB to see what his latest project had been.
In 2015, he did some voice work for a movie based off a children’s show, and then before that he had a role in two episodes of Will and Grace back in 2003.
So what is it about Gene Wilder that keeps him in our heart and minds after such a long absence?
He taught us to dream
Most people remember Gene from his iconic role as Willy Wonka, but Gene had a wide variety of roles that allowed him to explore his craft and expand upon the dream he had of being an actor. As a writer, each of us should dream big and pursue those dreams no matter how unlikely they may be.
Maybe you want to write a 20-book series or just the longest novel ever written. Perhaps you just want to focus on a collection of poetry or a graphic novel, no matter what that goal is, figure it out and then work out how to move in the direction of making it happen.
Many of you have participated in NaNoWriMo. Perhaps it is time for you to look into what the next stop for your projects might be.
He showed us you can have a career and have fun too
When I watch Gene Wilder playig characters in his movies, I don’t see a person trudging through the role. Instead, I see an actor that is having fun. Go back and watch Young Frankenstein and watch the scene where he “accidentally” stabs himself in the leg with a fork and tell me he isn’t enjoying that moment. (Better yet, check out this GIF from See no Evil, Hear no Evil with Richard Pryor. Gene is a deaf man trying to direct Pryor’s character who is blind as they drive.
He demonstrated how to make the world a better place.
Blazing Saddles may not be as well known as his performance as Willy Wonka, but this was the first movie where he teamed up with Mel Brooks on one of his projects. Wilder plays a gunfighter who has lost his nerve and is sitting in jail when the main character, a black sheriff that has been sent to a small Western town. The sheriff isn’t accepted by the people in the town, but Wilder’s character isn’t afraid to accept this stranger.
He explored his characters.
I’m sure you recognize this scene. It’s an important and defining moment for the character of Willy Wonka. We see Wonka limping his way to the gates of the chocolate factory. Perhaps this is why he sent everyone away. Is there something wrong with him? Suddenly he turns a somersault and he’s perfectly fine.
This was not in the script, but when Wilder was approached about the role, he said he would only take the role if they would let him perform the scene this way. Wilder had explored his character and knew this would be the kind of performance the candy maker would choose to present his audience.
He showed others the way.
After his role as Dr. Frankenstein, Gene Wilder was asked by Mel Brooks to take a role in a third movie, but Wilder had other projects he was committed to, so he suggested that Brooks do the role himself. Because of that moment, we have many classic roles from Brooks that would not exist with out that encouragement.
You should also look for opportunities to help other writers as you work on your own projects. Who knows what might come from those simple moments.
I know that I could glean many more lessons from the life of Gene Wilder, but I’m hoping that you will take some time to explore those on your own. Take some time to celebrate the life of an actor that brought so much happiness and joy into the lives of others.
(Look I found that GIF with the fork.)