Roald Dahl Hated Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures / Darcy / MovieStillsDB and CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images

Roald Dahl wrote a plethora of successful children’s novels in his lifetime. A lot of these books have been adapted for film, with one of the most popular being his book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The film, which was titled Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, has become a classic in the history of Hollywood, but Dahl wasn’t super jazzed about the casting of the characters. More specifically, he hated Gene Wilder in the role of Willy Wonka.

Dahl had some people in mind for the role

British novelist Roald Dahl, 1971. (Photo Credit: Ronald Dumont / Daily Express / Getty Images)

Compared to Dahl’s other works, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory contained more mature content. It serves to teach children valuable lessons using themes of greed, guilt, and power, with a complex character at the helm of it all: Willy Wonka. After Paramount Pictures acquired the rights to make the film, casting the character became the most important decision as the actor had to pull off being both charming and sinister. This person had to appeal to the younger audience that the film was geared toward, but also had to effectively showcase the well-meaning but hard spirit of Wonka.

Dahl had a few ideas for who he thought could successfully portray the character. His first choice was the British comedian Spike Milligan. Lifelong friend to Dahl, Donald Sturrock, said that Milligan himself was excited about taking on the role, and “even shaved his beard off to do a screen test.” However, the production company was against this idea, finding him to be “too weird.” Dahl’s second choice was Peter Sellers, as “he felt Wonka was a very British eccentric,” but he too was skipped over by Paramount Pictures.

He hated Wilder as Wonka

Actor Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka on the set of the film ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’, based on the novel by Roald Dahl, 1971. (Photo Credit: Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images)

The role ultimately went to Gene Wilder, who was a weird casting choice at the time as he was best known for his work in Mel Brooks 1967 comedy film The Producers and in the 1967 crime action film Bonnie & Clyde. Interestingly, Wilder only agreed to take the titular role after the producers met his demands about the stunts that were to be performed in the film. Wonka would end up being one of Wilder’s greatest roles, and for good reason, as he nailed all of the nuances needed to play the character.

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Unfortunately, Dahl was not pleased with the casting choice. In fact, he was actively against the idea, even after the film was complete. According to Sturrock, Dahl thought that “Wilder was rather too soft and didn’t have a sufficient edge.” He not only thought that Wilder had a “rather cherubic, sweet face,” but that his “voice is very light.” For those reasons, Dahl “felt there was something wrong with Wonka’s soul in the movie,” and that Wilder’s delivery just wasn’t “how he imagined the lines being spoken.” He also thought Wilder was downright pretentious so that certainly didn’t help sway him on the decision.

Wilder wasn’t the only thing Dahl hated

Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka in the film ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’, 1971. (Photo Credit: Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images)

As it turns out, Wilder being cast as Wonka wasn’t the only thing Dahl despised about the film. In reality, he didn’t like a lot of things about the film. Firstly, he hated how the name of the film was changed from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Secondly, he thought the epic music score (something that the film became famous for) was too “sappy” and “overly sentimental” for the subject matter.

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Dahl really hated the idea of any of his books being turned into films. He was vocal about his dislike when he was alive, and after his death in 1990, his family continued to speak out against these films. Felicity, his wife, never understood why Hollywood producers “always [wanted] to change a book’s storyline,” and always felt that “children want the endings changed for a film, when they accept it in a book.”