The actor has spent years prepping for an upcoming biopic about the folk icon. So when he got to the set of movie musical “Wonka” (in theaters Dec. 15), he couldn’t help but slip in a nod to Dylan’s 1963 song “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”
“Even at the height of COVID, before I ever knew about this project, I was so knee-deep in Bob World,” Chalamet recalls during an early morning chat from Paris. “There’s a lyric in ‘A World of Your Own,’ where Willy goes, ‘There’s a hard rain that’s gonna fall.’ And I really couldn’t resist doing it (as Dylan). It was totally improper, but I was dying for it to be stuck in there. It’s one of the lines that we had to rerecord.”
Timothée Chalamet's Wonka is the 'total inverse' of Gene Wilder, Johnny Depp versions
“Wonka” is a prequel to Roald Dahl’s 1964 book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” which has been adapted twice before for the big screen. This new film follows a younger, more idealistic Willy Wonka (Chalamet), who ventures to a new city to open his very own chocolate shop but is threatened by a powerful cartel with a monopoly on sweets.
The movie is the brainchild of director Paul King, who was approached about a Wonka origin story after the success of his similarly wholesome (and ingeniously tuneful) “Paddington” films.
“I love musicals, so it wasn’t a tough call,” King says. “I had this idea of a young man trying to be Willy Wonka, but he’s not quite there. His hat’s battered, his overcoat’s tattered and there’s holes in his boots. He’s like Charlie Chaplin in that movie ‘The Immigrant,’ in the sense that he’s coming to a new world with hopes and dreams.”
Chalamet, 27, grew up loving Johnny Depp’s 2005 Wonka movie, as well as Gene Wilder’s “legendary” performance in the 1971 original film "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory." He admired King’s “heartfelt” take on the character, who is less an acerbic recluse and more a bright-eyed optimist.
“I remember reading the script and immediately understanding that one of the crucial aspects of the character was his undying spirit and ambition,” Chalamet says. “It was a total inverse of that Willy Wonka with a demented look in his eye that we all know. How would that character have started, to land in a place where he’s still childlike but sort of broken?”
Chalamet goes back to his theater-kid roots with new movie
“Wonka” features more than half a dozen original songs, with spectacular production numbers of the candy man selling chocolates in the town square and soaring over London on a colorful cluster of balloons. King hoped to emulate Golden Age Hollywood musicals starring Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire while tipping his hat to Wilder’s movie with “Pure Imagination” and new Oompa Loompa songs performed by Hugh Grant.
Like many of us, King discovered that Chalamet can sing and dance through YouTube. After his Oscar-nominated breakthrough in 2017’s “Call Me By Your Name,” an old high school video resurfaced of Chalamet rapping about statistics as his hip-hop alter ego, Lil Timmy Tim.
“They’ll play that at your funeral,” King says.
“That’d be great,” Chalamet jokes. “It’s always fun to think of the worst songs for your body descending: ‘Statistics’ as I go into the ground.”
Viral hits aside, Chalamet has some serious musical theater chops. A native New Yorker, he attended the famed LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, where he played Emcee in “Cabaret” and Oscar in “Sweet Charity.”
So when it came time to do the musical numbers in “Wonka,” it was at once old hat and dauntingly new.
“It felt like a muscle I had never fully developed,” Chalamet says. “I had been around musical theater my whole life, and it’s different doing it on film. But there was a learning curve to that, which was very rewarding. It felt like the old-school Jimmy Cagney universe of working on movies – it was such a treat."
His mom and dad are 'thrilled' that he finally made a musical
For all its clever, candy-coated antics, "Wonka" is ultimately a story about family and overcoming grief, as our fledgling confectioner aims to carry the torch of his late chocolatier mom (Sally Hawkins).
In the film's tear-jerking finale, "Timothée is completely magnetic," King says. "As well as all the comedy and eccentricity and song-and-dance stuff, he also gets those moments that are just lightning in a bottle."
The film was emotional for Chalamet, who credits his performance to Sandy Faison, his former teacher at LaGuardia, and his grandmother, who died while the movie was being filmed. And after recent darker roles in "Dune" and “Bones and All,” it's an opportunity for him to show a sweeter side to mainstream audiences.
“This is my mom and dad’s favorite project I’ve ever been in. They’re thrilled," Chalamet says. "Ten years ago, this is what I thought I’d be in, tone-wise. My mom has been encouraging me to do a play for the last 10, 12 years. And my dad, too, he goes, ‘Wow. There’s a smile on your face, finally.’”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Timothée Chalamet says 'Wonka' is his parents' 'favorite' film ever