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Timothée Chalamet and Keegan-Micheal Key on stepping into the whimsical world of “Wonka”

The two cast members discuss the joys of creating a new story for an iconic character

Chalamet’s preparation for “Wonka” also included extensive vocal and dance training for the seven musical numbers he’s in throughout the film.
Chalamet’s preparation for “Wonka” also included extensive vocal and dance training for the seven musical numbers he’s in throughout the film.

Just in time for the holiday season, director Paul King has whipped up another wonder-filled film for audiences to cozy up to. A prequel to 1971’s “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” King’s “Wonka” delves into the title character’s backstory, showcasing his life before he became a world-renowned chocolatier. Ahead of the movie musical’s theatrical release Dec. 15, cast members Timothée Chalamet and Keegan-Micheal Key sat down for a roundtable interview with student journalists to talk about becoming their characters, and the fun had while working on the project. 

While the film focuses on the same character portrayed by the late Gene Wilder in the 1971 film adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel, “Wonka” is an entirely new and original story. For Chalamet, who plays the eccentric titular role, this originality helped him make the character his own. 

“It was most important to try to do my own thing with it,” Chalamet said. 

He explained that while he spent a lot of time studying Gene Wilder’s interpretation of Willy Wonka while getting ready for the film, he ultimately had to “leave it behind” once shooting began in order to put his spin on the role. 

Chalamet’s preparation for “Wonka” also included extensive vocal and dance training for the seven musical numbers he is featured in throughout the film. Having not performed in a musical production of this caliber before, transforming into the young Willy Wonka was “a brand new challenge,” but an extremely fulfilling one, according to the actor. 

“It was more physically demanding than I expected, but it was more rewarding than anything I've worked on,” Chalamet said. “Now I've seen the movie a number of times and getting to see it with young audiences, and [seeing] how positively they respond, it's a huge gift.” 

For Key, the movie-musical veteran who plays the chief of police, making his character unique to the film was important to him as well. Key said that a big part of his preparation was making sure that his character fit into the magical and nostalgic world King was bringing to life with fantastical sets and lively songs.

“I just felt it was [important to] do the best I can in this movie with Paul’s guidance, and [by doing that], I'm honoring that nostalgia,” Key said, explaining that he wanted his character to feel in alignment with the quirky personalities of a typical Roald Dahl story. 

For Chalamet and Key, creating this magic and nostalgia while filming was a “brand of fun” unlike any they’d experienced before, attributing it to the collaborative and playful environment that King fostered on set. 

Key said that the filmmaking process was just as “whimsy” as the final product ended up being, comparing King to Wonka because he too has mastered his craft — creating infectiously joyful and deliciously cinematic scenes. 

“You could see the wonder on his face every day as he's figuring things out, and how they're going to look,” Key said. “There was a delight on set, and that’s something that I was really fortunate to experience.” 

The feeling was mutual for Chalamet, who described the project as the “most generous” one he’s been a part of. 

While Chalamet and Key only have a couple of scenes together in the film, the days the two got to shoot together are among their favorite memories from production. 

For Key, one of his treasured moments on set with Chalamet involves his character dunking Chalamet’s head into a fountain of water. 

“Even in the midst of doing that we were still having fun,” Key said, explaining that both of them really laid into the joke of it all, and into the goofiness of their characters. “There was a buoyancy about it, and I remember that being so much fun to partake in.” 

For Chalamet, a long-time fan of “Key and Peele” — a sketch comedy series featuring his co-star — any day that he got to work with Key was an exciting one. 

“I was just like a puppy dog around Keegan, I was just trying to get him going on improvs,” Chalamet said jokingly. “He’s like a comedy athlete.” 

This glee experienced by the cast while making the film is palpable in the final cut, which is a vivacious and amusing tale straight out of a storybook. The performances from the movie’s impressive cast embrace the wackiness of the plot, giving the film a playful and lighthearted tone, while the musical numbers — backdropped with vibrant, pastel-colored scenery — perfectly coincide with the film’s message to follow your dreams. 

The most notable aspect of the film, as expected, is Chalamet’s performance as Willy Wonka. Unlike his previous characters, which have required a more serious disposition, Chalamet’s Willy Wonka exudes a heartwarming silliness that radiates off the screen, moving the audience to journey with him into a world of pure imagination. 

Rich with comedic performances, stellar visuals and childlike wonder, “Wonka” is a fun and uplifting film sure to leave audiences coming out of the theater with smiles on their faces.

“The truth is, a lot of people go to the movies to feel good,” Chalamet said. “And this movie makes you feel good.”


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