Fifty years on, cast say Willy Wonka film was their golden ticket

A handout image shows Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka and Peter Ostrum as Charlie Bucket in the 1971 film ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.’
Actor Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka and Peter Ostrum as Charlie Bucket in the 1971 film ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.’ are seen in this undated handout image obtained by Reuters on June 23, 2021. Warner Bros./Handout via REUTERS

They were kids when they made it, now 50 years later stars of “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” say they’ve stayed in touch and the movie is still positively impacting their lives.

The film tells the story of impoverished Charlie Bucket, who wins a golden ticket to tour Wonka’s chocolate factory alongside the greedy Augustus Gloop, gum-loving Violet Beauregarde, spoiled brat Veruca Salt and television addict Mike Teevee.

Although he didn’t continue in acting Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie, said making the film, which celebrates its 50th anniversary on June 30, was a great experience.

“I like to think that if you could only make one film, this was the film to be in,” he told Reuters, describing the cast as like a family. “I’ve known these people for now 50 years, other than my family … I have never kept up with anybody other than these people.”

The 1971 movie was adapted from novelist Roald Dahl’s dark fantasy “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, a book that actor Julie Dawn Cole, who portrayed Veruca Salt, had just read before being cast.

“The amazing descriptions of the chocolate room, I remember thinking, my goodness, how are they going to do this? I want to be part of this really … badly,” she said.

“(Filming was) such a fun thing …. every week, there was a new set that we were on, the inventing room, the golden goose room … there was always a lot of excitement and magic … it was … bonkers.”

Late actor Gene Wilder, who played Willy Wonka, was nominated for a Golden Globe and the film’s score was in the running for an Oscar. But according to actor Paris Themmen, who played Mike Teevee, the movie wasn’t a huge success until it was shown regularly on television.

“It grew to cult status … to be something that 50 years on we still want to talk about,” he said

“You would think that it would have the greatest impact on my life close to the event. But it’s like a reverse curve. The further away from it I get, it seems, the more it’s impacting me.”

Cole agreed.

“It’s really funny to see the global reach that it has,” she said. “I’ve been in really weird places … on a beach in Malaysia and somebody says: ‘Were you Veruca Salt?’ So, yeah, it’s … had a great impact and still does.”

The movie, which marks the anniversary with the release of a newly restored 4K version, was re-visited in 2005 with Johnny Depp in the lead role. A prequel, “Wonka” starring Timothee Chalamet, is planned for 2023.