Having effectively sparked the Hugh Grant renaissance after casting the British star as the chief villain in Paddington 2, director Paul King turned to the actor once again for a key role in his upcoming Roald Dahl prequel, Wonka (released by Warner Bros. Dec. 15). But it may not have been for reasons Grant approves of.
Speaking at the official premiere of the Wonka trailer in London, an early afternoon event where guests were treated to a buffet consisting almost entirely of Wonka-esque sugary confectionary, the filmmaker explained why he cast Grant as a diminutive, green-haired Oompa Loompa (appearing in the final moments of the trailer in hilariously deadpan fashion).
With Wonka delving into the story behind how Charlie and the Chocolate Factory‘s Willy Wonka — played by Timothée Chalamet — became the world-famous chocolatier, King explained how he had to dive into Dahl’s books for inspiration. When it came to the Oompa Loompas, he said that while Dahl didn’t give them much dialogue, the songs he wrote for them were “incredibly sarcastic and judgmental and cruel” about the kids in the story.
“So I was really just thinking about that character; somebody who could be a real shit, and then — ah! Hugh!” he said. “Because he’s the funniest, most sarcastic shit I’ve ever met.”
When it came to his lead star, Chalamet, King was somewhat more polite in his praise.
“It was a very short list of people who could play Willy Wonka, and really, it was him,” he explained. “I really do think he’s the most incredible actor of his generation, because he’s got this incredible ability to dive very deep into his own personal emotions and convey things with the turn of an eye — he’s very, very controlled, very smart and incredibly emotionally intuitive.”
Although he acknowledged that Chalamet was following in “some extraordinarily big shoes” given the actors who have played Wonka previously (Johnny Depp and original star Gene Wilder), King said he thought he “more than lives up to them. … I think he manages to bring that sort of mayhem and mischievousness but with a deep emotional grounding, which is really quite extraordinary.”