In 1960, Wilder was cast in a play called “Mother Courage and Her Children,” in which he starred alongside famous actress Anne Bancroft. As it turns out, Bancroft was dating legendary comedy director Mel Brooks at the time, and she arranged a meeting between him and Wilder in 1963, not knowing how pivotal that meeting was going to be for Wilder’s life. The two guys immediately got along.
Little did Wilder know that this meeting was going to be the start of an incredibly successful Hollywood career. Not to mention the start of an incredibly successful Hollywood friendship for the ages.
He Auditioned for “The Magnificent Seven”
In 1960, Wilder tried his hand in the big leagues when he auditioned for the role of the infamous Vin Tannen in the Hollywood classic “The Magnificent Seven.” The film, directed by John Sturges, was a Western thriller that became an instant classic.
Sadly for Wilder, he didn’t get the part, and it went to the legendary Steve McQueen instead. Honestly, it would be hard to imagine anybody but McQueen in that role, something that even Wilder agreed with decades later. And besides, it looks like this one part he didn't get didn't really stop him from doing big things in the future.
Getting Into The Actors' Studio
Around 1959, the up-and-coming Wilder got accepted into the prestigious Actors' Studio, a membership organization of famous actors and performers. (Not the in-depth talk show with James Lipton we first had in mind.) This gave Wilder much recognition, especially in off-Broadway plays; one of his most famous was his role in the Broadway adaptation of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
Wilder played the role of mentally ill patient Billy Bibbit in the 1963 play alongside co-star Kirk Douglas. From then on, people started to notice Wilder as a true talent and he started expanding his list of acting credits.
He Almost Didn’t Star in “The Producers”
Some months after Wilder and Brooks first met, Brooks offered him the part of accountant Leo Bloom in a new screenplay he was working on. Since it was still a work in progress and Wilder had other job commitments, Brooks made him promise to call him before taking any permanent acting jobs anywhere else.
For three years, Wilder didn’t hear from Brooks until one day, he got a call. Wilder had to go audition with famous actor Zero Mostel for a part in the legendary film “The Producers.” He got the part, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Wilder Considered Himself a Drama Actor
As weird as it may sound, it wasn’t until Wilder met Mel Brooks that he considered the possibility of being a comedy actor. Wilder had always considered himself a dramatic actor, meant for more serious roles. This was back at a time when comedy wasn't taken very seriously and people outside the entertainment industry didn't realize how much of a talented professional you have to be to make people laugh.
But shortly after meeting Brooks, he realized he had a real talent for making people laugh, and this ultimately led to him taking on the number of hilarious and outrageous roles he portrayed throughout his career.