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Wonka Interview: Director Paul King on Reception, Timothée Chalamet’s Range

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Wonka director Paul King about his Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory prequel. The director discussed filming the balloon scene in the zoo, working with Timothée Chalamet, and more. Wonka is now available digitally and on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD.

“This irresistibly vivid and inventive big screen spectacle will introduce audiences to a young Willy Wonka, chock-full of ideas and determined to change the world one delectable bite at a time — proving that the best things in life begin with a dream, and if you’re lucky enough to meet Willy Wonka, anything is possible,” reads the synopsis.

Tyler Treese: We’ve seen such a great response to Wonka, and it’s had legs at the box office. How has it felt to see it really get embraced? Because I imagine when you’re working with an iconic property, there’s a small bit of trepidation even if you believe in what you’ve done.

Paul King: Yeah — a huge amount of trepidation. It’s obviously something which has existed for so many different people in so many different ways, and it’s part of their childhood. You develop very strong feelings about who a character is or what the world is, and they’re not always gonna chime exactly with mine.

People have read it in a different way, or seen a different movie that was a different take. It’s kind of it’s nerve-wracking, putting something out there and going, “Well, this is kind of who I think Willy Wonka is, and this is the world he lives in. I hope you come along for the ride!”

It’s been wonderful to see people get on board with it, and audiences around the world sort of embrace that. [And to see] people going back to see it again and again, and it finding a bigger and bigger audience, has been a complete dream come true.

I wanted to ask about the balloon scene at the end of “For a Moment” because it’s just the definition of movie magic for me. Can you speak to that sequence? Because it’s not only just a visual highlight, but such an emotional highlight where you see the two characters really bonding and coming together.

I’m so glad you feel that way. I always get to that bit and sort of go, “That’s as good as I can do.” I’m so proud of that moment in the movie, and it just felt like it was a difficult thing to pull off technically. There’s the weightlessness and the flying, and we wanted to do as much in-camera as possible.

Everyone was on harnesses, and it’s very complicated. But I just found the music so beautiful, and the choreography is so lovely, and I love it. For me, it’s one of the moments of the movie where you’re not quite sure if you’ve gone into a magical realist moment or if it’s really happening.

That felt so lovely to me and germane to what Roald Dahl would do. He would love to throw in these flight-of-fancy moments where you’re not quite sure if it’s actually happening or it’s just how the characters are feeling. I was really pleased because people sort of just watch it and sort of accept it as something that’s now happening. And so yeah, I was very proud of that moment indeed.

This movie is such a great showcase for Timothée and his range. He’s endlessly charming. He’s funny when he needs to be and shows his musical chops. But there’s also a lot of emotion in this. So what was it about him as an actor that just made you know that he could cover this whole gamut?

You put your finger on it. Exactly. He’s got this extraordinary range and I knew that from Call Me By Your Name and Lady Bird. I first met him around [the release of those films.] I knew I wanted to write something for him, and he’s so extraordinary in Call Me By Your Name. He’s so sort of authentic and true. It’s like one of those performances where you go, “Did they just find this perfect kid, and this was the only good thing he could do?” but he was just that character. You never really know with a very young actor. And then I saw him in Lady Bird — completely different and really ridiculous and funny and completely eccentric. And I thought, “This guy can really do it all.”

I suppose because with Charlie in the Chocolate Factory, I always find it a very emotional story, but the emotions very much grounded with Charlie. He’s this poor, suffering kid who inherits the world. It’s a very beautiful and emotional story for a movie about Willy Wonka. Willy Wonka was gonna have to be the emotional kind of cornerstone. That’s tricky in an eccentric character.

So we really needed somebody who could do that gamut. That kind of eccentricity, but [also] emotional authenticity and comedy or singing and dancing. It’s a very, very small list of people who could do that. And he was my dream.

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