'Willy Wonka' Cast Celebrates Film's 50th Anniversary and Shares Behind-the-Scenes Secrets (Exclusive)

Peter Ostrum, Julie Dawn Cole, Michael Bollner and Paris Themmen shared their memories of Wonka's 'world of pure imagination' with ET.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory premiered 50 years ago this year, sparking every kid's dream of finding a magical golden ticket inside a candy bar and introducing generations of viewers to "a world of pure imagination."

The film, which was adapted from Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, starred late comedy icon Gene Wilder as the enigmatic titular chocolatier, and a cast of child actors as the lucky recipients of the golden tickets, who were granted a tour of Wonka's top-secret factory and all the sweets they could eat -- though, as any fan knows, the candy-colored dream isn't all that it seems.

To celebrate the film's fittingly golden anniversary, ET's Lauren Zima spoke with four of the main cast members -- Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie Bucket; Julie Dawn Cole, who played Veruca Salt; Michael Bollner, who played Augustus Gloop; and Paris Themmen, who played Mike Teavee -- to share their memories from the set of the iconic film.

"All of it was pretty much the way you would expect that it was, especially the chocolate room," Themmen recalled of Wonka's vibrantly decorated factory. "They were not doing things digitally then, so they had a huge sound stage with a high ceiling."

The cast recalled that the film's producers didn't let the child stars see the magnificent set in advance, so the entrance shots in the film feature their genuine reactions to the colorful, Wonka-fied world. "We saw it from the stairs, looking down, and the boat was going and the river was flowing and it was very colorful and beautiful," Themmen added. "It was basically like if someone built a Disneyland ride just for you, and you're the only kids that are gonna get to go in there and play around on it... It's just a beautiful, fabulous experience."

Cole also recalled some fun on-set moments, including how she and Denise Nickerson, who played Violet Beauregard, would play a secret game because they both had crushes on Ostrum.

"He was cute!" she shared with a laugh. "It was very respectful and very respectable. We would take turns on who was going to stand next to him, it was all very innocent."

"I was oblivious," Ostrum recalled.

However, while the cast members said they all have "very positive" memories about their time on the film, it seems some days of shooting weren't quite so magical. Ostrum remembered he and Jack Albertson, who played Grandpa Joe, joking on set that their "Fizzy Lifting Drink" flying scenes -- and the hours of filming in uncomfortable harnesses -- should have been set to the "Nutcracker Suite."

And Bollner had some of the toughest stunt work of the film, when Augustus is pushed into the chocolate river and sucked up one of the factory's giant tubes.

"It was very dangerous," he recalled of the stunt, noting that the "chocolate" water was, in reality, "cold and stinky." "They put the tube around me with a crane and put the water in my mouth, up to my mouth, and I was totally stuck in the tube. I couldn't move anything and the guys around me, I had to depend on them that they would stop the water at the right time, otherwise I would have definitely drowned."

The cast admitted to ET that they fell out of touch for many years following the making of the film, but around the time of the film's 25th anniversary in 1996, they reunited and have continued getting together to celebrate the beloved movie at fan conventions and studio events ever since.

"My life went in different directions, different doors opened and I just didn't feel that being an actor was where I wanted my life to end up, you know?" Ostrum, who went on to become a veterinarian, said of why Willy Wonka ended up being his only career film. "But I had a wonderful time doing the film, and if you could only make one film, then we picked a good one."

And though their characters were able to take home as much candy as they wanted from Wonka's factory, only some of the cast left the shoot with movie mementos of their own.

"I had some Wonka bars, and I had the Everlasting Gobstopper, and I had a Golden Egg," Cole noted. "Souvenirs, I like to call them... I no longer have them."

"For some reason, I listened to the prop people when they told me to give everything back," Themmen chimed in. "But if I ever want to see a prop, or rather, something that was in the film, I look in the mirror and there's a walking, talking, experiential example of something that was in the film."

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory opened to "lukewarm reviews" upon its release in 1971, Ostrum recalled. However, the film has found new life throughout the years thanks to home video, TV airings, remakes and reimaginings. Johnny Depp starred in 2005's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, putting a Tim Burton twist on the colorful candymaker, and Timothée Chalamet was recently announced as the star of an upcoming musical prequel film, Wonka, directed by Paul King.

"It just continues to have a life of its own," Ostrum remarked of the franchise, while Cole said it'll be "fantastic" to see what Chalamet does with the role. "There's room for all of us," she added.

"In a sense, it's an easier task, because he's playing not exactly the same portion of a life as Willy Wonka that Gene played and that Johnny Depp played," Themmen added. "It's a prequel. So that's probably freeing because he won't be suffering direct comparison to the other two performances. Let's face it, Gene Wilder, in particular, is a pretty amazing performance to have to be measured against."

The original, of course, continues to be a classic, and in celebration of the 50th anniversary this year, Warner Bros. is releasing the film in Ultra HD 4K for the first time. For the cast, that means a whole new generation will get to experience and love the film that has become a classic for so many.

"I have a granddaughter now who's only 18 months, and I'm looking forward to at some point to showing it to her," Cole shared, "but I don't quite know how I'll explain that that's Nana and that, you know, I was 12, and Nana's not 12 now!"

"It's beautifully remastered, the colors are, you know, amazing, popping. So, you know, if you really want to see it in all its glory, maybe almost as close to what we experienced, then the 4K version should do it."

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is now available to own in 4K. See more from the cast in the video below.


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