When Wilder accepted the role of Wonka, he had some interesting conditions for the director. He said that his character should first enter the film by “coming out of the door with a cane and walking toward the crowd with a limp. The crowd will think Wonka is a cripple, but as I walk closer, my cane gets stuck, and as I’m about to fall, I jump and do a huge somersault, and everybody applauds.”
This is exactly how Wilder first enters the scene in the movie, and it was truly unforgettable. Wilder explained that “from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.”
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.
He Landed the Role of Willy Wonka Almost Immediately
Without a doubt, one of Wilder’s most famous and memorable roles will always be that of Willy Wonka in the cult classic “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” In 1971, director Mel Stuart was doing a film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s famous book, and everyone obviously wanted to audition. This included famous actors Fred Astaire and Peter Sellers, both of whom were no match for Wilder.
When Wilder showed up to read some lines for the part and exited the studio. Not 10 seconds went by after Mel Stuart got off his chair and ran after him to offer him the role.
He Shaped Willy Wonka’s Character
It's hard to imagine a Willy Wonka portrayed by anyone other than Wilder, and odds are that no other actor would have had the same character-shaping ideas that he had. Few people know that Wilder was behind the character development of the insanely unique Willy Wonka.
While in pre-production, Wilder made several suggestions on his costume, one of them being that his hat had to be 2 inches shorter. He also had a hand in the color and cut of his iconic suit. Nearly every single suggestion of Wilder’s was heard and taken into account for the final costume. This ultimately made Wonka the uniquely trippy character we all know and love.
Wilder Ate Pretend Wax Candy as Willy Wonka
Anybody who watched “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” will agree that the set design was something out of this world. Up until this point in time, never in the history of cinema had we seen a crazier, trippy, or more colorful setting.
As it turns out, the iconic chocolate river was made of real chocolate, imagine that! But the rest of the candy was pretended wax props. Apparently, Wilder actually took a bite out of some flower cups and chewed real wax during his “Pure Imagination” song. Eating wax props while keeping the scene going? Now, that's what we call committing to your craft!