See how Wonka made his dreams come true in a magical new prequel…

His scrumdiddlyumptious chocolate factory has delighted fans in two films. Now see how he made his dreams come true in a magical new prequel… WONKA’S BONKERS BEGINNINGS

  • Timothée Chalamet stars new Wonka film, with British director Paul King at helm
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As an imaginative child who dreamt of other worlds, film director Paul King read Roald Dahl’s Charlie And The Chocolate Factory so obsessively that ‘the pages fell out of the spine’. 

Even back then he was as intrigued by the mysterious figure of magical chocolatier Willy Wonka as he was by the story’s hero, Charlie Bucket.

So when Paul, who’d seen tremendous success as the co-writer and director of the Paddington films, was asked what he wanted to do next, a prequel exploring how Willy Wonka came to be the man he did seemed the obvious choice.

‘He’s this extraordinary creation,’ says Paul. ‘This unknowable magician, inventor and chocolate-maker who can make dreams come true, and extraordinary things happen around him. 

‘So I thought about what would happen if you put Willy Wonka at the heart of the story and explored what happened to him before he was the man in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.’

Starring as Willy Wonka, Dune actor Timothée Chalamet had intensive song and dance workshops before filming started 

The film, which is likely to be one of the biggest treats of the festive cinema season, stars a raft of British A-listers from Rowan Atkinson and Olivia Colman to Sally Hawkins. 

In a scene-stealing role, Hugh Grant plays Lofty, one of the pint-sized Oompa Loompas – Willy Wonka’s workers.

‘When I went back to the books I realised there was so much more to the Oompa Loompas,’ says Paul. ‘In the 1971 film with Gene Wilder they sing but there isn’t much dialogue – but in the books they have these great long poems and they’re incredibly sarcastic and cruel.

‘There’s something very Roald Dahl about these creatures, they really don’t hold back. So I was thinking about this character who’s a real s**t and then I thought of Hugh. 

‘He’s the funniest, most sarcastic s**t I’ve ever met, and I was so pleased when he said yes.’

Hugh got some of the greatest acclaim of his career playing the villain Phoenix Buchanan in the Paddington sequel, and Paul says he loves having the former heart-throb play against type. 

‘I now have a track record with Hugh of asking him to perform these incredibly embarrassing characters. But he does it with such bravado and humour, it’s so funny to see him 18 inches tall and completely full of himself.’

Rowan, Olivia, Matt Lucas, Paterson Joseph and Matthew Baynton all play baddies determined to stop the idealistic young Willy fulfilling his dreams of doing something special with chocolate, while Sally, another Paddington star, plays the mother who inspires him.

A-listers Olivia Colman and Hugh Grant both feature in Wonka, with Colman playing Mrs Scrubbit, one of the villains, and Grant playing Lofty, one of the miniature Oompa Loompas – Willy Wonka’s workers

Dune actor Timothée Chalamet is at the centre of it all as Willy, who enlists the help of young orphan Noodle (Calah Lane) as he attempts to break the cartel running the world’s chocolate industry and set up his own shop. 

He has called the role ‘a dream come true’ as he grew up watching the 1971 version of Roald Dahl’s tale, starring Gene Wilder.

‘The film is about why he’s so driven to become this extraordinary chocolate maker; I want to answer the question of how he became what he did,’ says Paul. 

‘We couldn’t have a better leading man than Timothée – he’s irritatingly young, successful, charming and kind. He’s a special talent, and he can sing and dance too.’

The film is a musical and takes some of the most memorable tunes from the 1971 movie (the later Johnny Depp version is not apparently on the radar). New music has also been written for it by Neil Hannon from the Divine Comedy and Timothée had intensive song and dance workshops before filming started.

‘I love that while so many people his age would have been tempted to put on a superhero outfit and go and save the world, he was happy to put on a pair of leaky leather boots and do some tap dancing,’ says Paul. ‘I think that’s a tribute to how he wants to do different sorts of movies.’

Because the film was made during the pandemic, a huge set was built at Leavesden Studios in Watford to create the magical world of Wonka. 

‘My original plan was to make a sort of companion piece to the 1971 movie. I looked at the places where they filmed [Germany and Switzerland] with the plan of capturing that vibe,’ says Paul.

Rowan Atkinson and Matt Lucas both play baddies determined to stop the idealistic young Willy fulfilling his dreams

The Shape of Water star Sally Hawkins plays Willy’s mother in the new Wonka film directed by Paul King

‘But it was impossible to go abroad at that point so we said, “We’ll just build the city!” I think that really works because Dahl’s books are not entirely set in the real world. And so it was fun to make this a storybook world which feels cohesive rather than a place where magic just drops into a more mundane world.’

With magic, music and lots of chocolate, Wonka will hopefully be as well-received as the previous Chocolate Factory films. 

‘When I went back to Dahl’s archive it made me realise why I loved his work so much,’ says Paul. 

‘He was definitely interested in taking Willy Wonka on – there are all sorts of drafts of stories about him that don’t go anywhere. To be able to have a look at that and play around with the character has meant so much to me.’

  • Wonka is in cinemas now.

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