×
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.

 

More Film

  • Aladdin

    'Aladdin' to Soar Above Box Office Competition Over Memorial Day Weekend

    When Disney first released “Aladdin” in 1992, Bill Clinton was just settling in to the Oval Office, “Game of Thrones” wasn’t much more than a book idea percolating in the mind of author George R.R. Martin, and Johnny Carson was wrapping up his stint as “Tonight Show” host. In some ways, 2019 feels like a [...]

  • Daniel Dae Kim Hellboy

    Cannes: Daniel Dae Kim Joins Joe Penna’s Sci-Fi Thriller ‘Stowaway’

    Daniel Dae Kim, best known recently for ABC’s “The Good Doctor,” will join Anna Kendrick and Toni Collette in Joe Penna’s sci-fi thriller “Stowaway.” The movie marks the second feature from Penna and Ryan Morrison, the duo behind the Cannes Official Selection film “Arctic,” which released earlier this year. XYZ Films and CAA Media Finance [...]

  • Invisible Life Brazilian Cinema

    Karim Ainouz on Cannes Un Certain Regard's ‘The Invisible Life’

    CANNES  —  Karim Aïnouz’s “The Invisible Life” begins with two  sisters, not much over 20, Eurídice (Carol Duarte) and Guida (Julia Stockler) sitting by the shore of one of the multiple bays around Rio de Janeiro, a lush tropical forest behind. They have all their life in front of them. Guida suddenly dashes off clambering [...]

  • Cannes: Neon, Hulu Acquire 'Portrait of

    Cannes: Neon, Hulu Acquire Celine Sciamma’s 'Portrait of a Lady on Fire'

    Neon and Hulu have acquired North American rights to Céline Sciamma’s love story “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” which premiered in competition at Cannes. Neon is planning a theatrical release for the film this year, which will include an awards campaign in all categories. The film is set in Brittany, France in 1770. Marianne [...]

  • Brightburn review

    Film Review: 'Brightburn'

    “Superman” meets “The Omen” in “Brightburn,” a watchable but super-silly mix of superheroics and evil-child horror that mashes together singularly uninspired ideas from both. Offering R-rated fantasy competition to “Aladdin” this Memorial Day weekend, it should do OK with undiscriminating audiences seeking familiar, forgettable genre thrills. But the franchise prayers that an open-ended fadeout dangles [...]

  • Aladdin

    Film Review: Will Smith in 'Aladdin'

    Of all the characters in Walt Disney Studios’ canon, is there any more animated than the Genie from “Aladdin”? In 1992, old-school cartooning seemed the only way to keep up with comedian Robin Williams’ rapid-fire sense of humor and free-associative gift for improvisation. Much of the appeal of the original “Aladdin” came thanks to the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content