‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’: Gene Wilder Wasn’t the Only Actor Who Confused Kids on Set

It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t seen and loved Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. The 1971 movie adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book enraptured audiences from multiple generations. In many ways, it doesn’t seem like a real movie, with its off-kilter plot, characters, setting, and more all making it feel like a technicolor dream that made it onto the big screen. This dream-like feeling worked its way into the acting, with several cast members (including its lead) working to be as unpredictable as possible around the child actors.

Improvised moments in ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ 

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Actors Gene Wilder (1933 – 2016) as Willy Wonka in the film ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’, 1971. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

Ms. Mojo’s video on actor mistakes in iconic films had two mentions of Willy Wonka, the first being at the start of the movie’s most famous song sequence. After entering the factory’s chocolate room, the titular character leads his guests down a staircase onto the floor. In classic Willy Wonka style, he can’t just do it like a normal person, swinging his cane in front of everyone to prevent them from getting ahead of him as he quickly trots back and forth up the steps.

In real life, this was a decision actor Gene Wilder made to have a bit of fun with the other actors, especially the kids. Like other aspects of the character, Wilder had a lot of freedom in how he wanted to improvise his scenes and performance. In this instance, director Mel Stuart had instructed the child actors not to get in front of Wilder as he sang, so Wilder decided to make that a little more difficult.

A slightly less fun accident happened much earlier in the movie. In the movie’s first song, Bill, the candy store owner, sings about his treats and the man who makes them, moving around his shop in front of a crowd of excited children. It’s a great way to open the film and captures the audience’s attention, so much so that most don’t even notice the girl who gets bonked on the chin by the raising counter. Like a real trooper, she barely reacts to it and continues the scene without hesitation, hence why this take ended up in the finished film.

Other actors also got in on the shenanigans

While not in the film itself, the many actors who played the Oompa Loompas also did some unplanned pranks during the filming. As the story goes, they all bonded quickly despite a language barrier, frequently resulting in some rowdy drunken nights after filming wrapped for the day. In one of these outings (as told by Mike Teevee’s actor in a Reddit AMA), the Oompa Loompa actors returned to the cast’s hotel one night and stole their shoes. They tied all the laces together and left them in a big pile for everyone to find the following day.

Even the director wasn’t above pranking the stars 

In many ways, the set for Willy Wonka was kind of the Wild West, with actors and crew making many decisions off the cuff and springing it on people. This included director Stuart himself, who famously kept several scenes hidden from the actors until the day of shooting.

The chocolate room’s appearance was one of these, but another was the infamous tunnel scene that comes right after. It’s a psychedelic nightmare of strange sounds and images, Wonka standing at the front as his performance devolves into manic shouting to deliver his creepy poem. Like many movies of its time, it was one of those odd scenes that no doubt traumatized many children.

To an extent, this would include the child actors on the set. Outside of Wilder and the Oompa Loompa actors, no one knew what the tunnel had in store for them. If the intention was to get the most convincing terror acting out of the kids, then this strategy delivered.

RELATED: Gene Wilder Once Shared His True Feelings on Johnny Depp’s ‘Willy Wonka’ Remake, ‘It’s an Insult’