×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Actor Who Played Charlie in ‘Willy Wonka’ on Gene Wilder Death: ‘It’s Like Losing a Parent’

Peter Ostrum had never set foot on a film set when he was cast as Charlie Buckett in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” It fell to Gene Wilder to show him the ropes.

“He was the pro and I was a rookie,” said Ostrum, who left the acting business and became a veterinarian.

Wilder died Monday at the age of 83 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. Ostrum said he had not seen Wilder since the film ended production, but he still took the news hard.

“It’s  kind of like losing a parent,” said Ostrum. “You know it’s going to happen, but it’s still a shock. He was not in good health at the end and it was not unexpected by any means, but when it happens it hits you like, ‘Gene is gone and there will never be anyone like him again.'”

“He was a gentle man, but he was also a gentleman,” he added. “He treated people with respect and dignity.”

Released in 1971, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” adapted Roald Dahl’s children’s book about a group of kids who win a contest to tour a mysterious candy factory. It’s a movie that has aged into greatness. Though he was nominated for two Oscars and worked on classics such as “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein,” Wilder’s work as the idiosyncratic candy maker remains his most beloved role. It’s ironic because Ostrum notes that the movie wasn’t a hit when it was released and the reviews were lukewarm. Audiences only discovered it on home entertainment platforms.

“My gut feeling is that Willy Wonka wasn’t his favorite role,” said Ostrum. “But that’s the role now that people across the generations remember him for.”

Wilder was retiring and private on the film’s Munich set, but he was also accessible. Ostrum grew to appreciate the actor’s willingness to do the unexpected. That ability to take risks was on display in two key scenes. When Wonka introduces Charlie and the other winners  to a tour of his factory, he hobbles to the gate supported by a cane,only to abandon it and fall into a graceful somersault. None of the actors knew that Wilder was planning that kind of athletic entrance.

Nor were they prepped on Wonka’s memorably trippy speech to his guests as they take a boat trip down the chocolate river. In that scene, the stuff of childhood movie nightmares, the candymaker begins chanting verse with great intensity as the ship hurtles through the water. His menacing delivery took his co-stars by surprise.

“He was so quirky,” said Ostrum. “You never knew what to expect from Gene. He never let on how he was going to read a line or convey an expression. That’s why the film works, because he made Wonka so unpredictable.”

Ostrum said that when he first met Wilder the actor had seen dailies of his young co-star running around the streets of Munich delivering papers. He joked that he was tired of seeing him run around. As shooting progressed the two formed a bond. “They would break for lunch and Gene and I would always buy a chocolate bar and share it on the way back to the set,” remembered Ostrum.

Despite having a good experience making the movie, Ostrum never acted in another film. But he credits Wilder and Jack Albertson, the veteran character actor who played Charlie’s grandfather, with helping him hone his craft.

“To have made one film and to be associated with Jack and Gene, I feel like I really found the golden ticket,” he said.

 

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • If I Were a Rich Man

    Filmax Nabs Alvaro Fernandez Armero’s ‘If I Were a Rich Man’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    SAN SEBASTIAN – Filmax has taken international rights to Álvaro Fernández Armero’s comedy “If I Were a Rich Man.” Produced by Telecinco Cinema, Think Studio and Ciskul, and backed by Mediaset España and Movistar+, “If I Were a Rich Man” is a Spanish remake of Michel Munz and Gerard Bitton’s French comedy “Ah! Si j’étais [...]

  • Baby

    Latido Takes Juanma Bajo Ulloa’s 'Baby' (EXCLUSIVE)

    SAN SEBASTIAN – Latido Films has taken world sales rights outside Spain on Juanma Bajo Ulloa’s “Baby,” a drama with a psychological thriller narrative thrust starring Rosie Day (“Down a Dark Hall”), Harriet Sansom Harris (“Phantom Thread”), Natalia Tena (“Game of Thrones”), Charo López (“All Night Long”) and young actress Mafalda Carbonell (“To Live Twice”). [...]

  • Noahs Ark

    India’s Symbiosys to Co-Produce, Co-Animate Gullane’s ‘Noah’s Ark’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Noah’s Ark – A Musical Adventure,” Brazil’s most ambitious animated feature ever, just got a bit bigger with the announcement that producers Fabiano Gullane’s Gullane, Walter Salles’ Videofilmes and Felipe Sabino and Daniel Greco’s NIP will be joined by leading Indian animation studio Symbiosys Technologies as co-producers and co-animators. The partnership marks the first occasion [...]

  • Navarra

    Navarre Film Commission Celebrates First Decade at San Sebastian

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —    Since the 1950s, Spain has been a favorite European shooting locale. One of the biggest reasons remains its easily accessible, unique and diverse locations. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this past June, the Navarre Film Commission kicked off a traveling exhibition which has been touring Spain over the summer and will present [...]

  • Rambo Last Blood

    Film Review: 'Rambo: Last Blood'

    Home has always been an abstract concept for John Rambo, which is what the last scene of 2008’s otherwise expendable “Rambo” sequel finally gave the iconic Sylvester Stallone character: a moment when this unsettled Vietnam War survivor, looking very much the worse for wear, lumbers up to a mailbox bearing the character’s surname. At last, [...]

  • Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith. Jada

    Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith's Westbrook Inks Development Pact With Telepool (EXCLUSIVE)

    Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s new media venture, Westbrook Inc., has signed a co-development agreement for feature films, television shows and digital entertainment formats with German-based film and TV company Telepool. The move follows the acquisition of Telepool last year by Smith and Elysian Fields, a Zurich-based investment company. Westbrook, launched this year by [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content