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The late Gene Wilder had a single stipulation to play Willy Wonka, which would ultimately become one of the most iconic moments in the 1971 classic Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. The beloved actor would have been 87 on Thursday. He died in 2016.
Wilder (born Jerome Silberman) told Larry King in a 2002 interview that he was ready to walk away from arguably his most famous role had his idea not been worked into the film.
“I was offered the part. I read the [Roald Dahl] book. And Mel Stuart, the director, came to my home in New York,” Wilder explained. “He said, ‘You wanna do it?’ and I said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you, I will do it if I can come out, and all the crowd quiets down, and I am using a cane.’ Oh, my God. Willy Wonka is crippled. ‘And I walk slowly and you can hear a pin drop. And my cane gets stuck in a brick. And I fall forward onto my face and do a forward somersault and jump up, and they all start to applaud.'”
His explanation to a confused Stuart showed just how deeply he understood the character. “I said, ‘because no one will know from that point on whether I am lying or telling the truth,'” Wilder said. Stuart asked, “Are you saying you won’t do that film if you can’t do that?” to which Wilder replied “‘That’s what I’m saying.’ And I meant it,” Wilder told King.
The late actor was most recently in the news when Elon Musk announced he was selling Wilder’s former SoCal home. The billionaire had his own stipulation, though, which was that the house could not be altered or demolished.
Watch Wilder’s full 2002 interview below.
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