Should Timothée Chalamet play Willy Wonka?

A 'Joker'-style Wonka origin story has been greenlit, with the Oscar-nominee apparently a frontrunner for the lead role. But is he the man for the job?

by Douglas Greenwood
22 January 2021, 11:54am

Photography Mario Sorrenti

Timothée Chalamet still hasn't had his Titanic moment. Unlike most of the respected, so-called 'artthrobs' that we've met in the movies, he came not from the blockbuster world, but from a modest queer arthouse film (a path you've heard about many times before), taking his time to occupy centre-stage in a movie with a gigantic budget. This year's epic Dune is set to change that, but already Warner Bros have their eye on him for another talked-about project: playing Willy Wonka in an origin story-style movie, akin to the one Joaquin Phoenix won an Oscar for with Joker

Yes, rumours are circulating this week that Warner Bros is currently seeking out who could play that lead role. It's led to two polar-opposite actors, united by their gigantic teen fandoms: Timmy and Spider-Man star Tom Holland. Of course, shooting hasn't yet kicked off, but it's set to hit screens on 17 March 2023.

On the one hand, Timothée's angular, somewhat odd expressiveness would do a solid job of replicating the 2005 version of the character Johnny Depp played in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. On the other hand, there's more warmth and comic whimsy to someone like Tom Holland -- like Gene Wilder in the 1971 version -- who's already made regular moves between the biggest blockbusters in the world and moodier projects like The Devil All The Time. But neither were the names people were talking about when this project was being fielded a few a years ago. Names like Ezra Miller and Jared Leto have been swapped out with younger stars.

Half of the job of a good actor, alongside their agent, is being strategic with their next move. The questions often asked: Is this a good look? Is the fee for this (expect a big pay packet for a big studio project with franchise potential) worth it if it bombs with critics and audiences? And is the material strong enough for you to stand by it throughout a five-month shoot? If this project were on the table of Timothée, he and his team would likely be mulling over those questions, looking at what's in the pipeline, examining his current legacy, and asking whether or not a project like this would add to or detract from it. 

While Todd Phillips' controversial Joker did lead Joaquin Phoenix to Oscar glory, that was a path that relied wholly on how dark the material was. Currently, attached to the Wonka film? Paddington director Paul King and David Heyman, who famously produced the Harry Potter series. It could be this origin story is a little frothier than the Joker's, attracting family audiences rather than chin-stroke critique. 

After all, no young actor in Hollywood has the clout that Timothée possesses. Every move since Call Me by Your Name has exemplified his most endearing and impressive qualities. He segued from a lovestruck queer teenager into douchey high schooler (Lady Bird), to a meth-addicted man into Young Henry V. Then he highlighted humility, returning to work as a small but key part of a talented ensemble in Little Women, then doing the same in the as-of-now unseen The French Dispatch -- both projects with arthouse darling filmmakers. His next is what all of this gears up to: being strong enough to pull in a huge audience for Dune; a sci-fi blockbuster, yes, but one directed by a man known for bringing excellence to the usually vapid territory, Denis Villeneuve. 

The question right now is not so much can Timothée Chalamet capture the famous fictional chocolatier's eccentricity, but rather whether he has to. With a long-delayed London theatre debut in the pipeline, leading The Old Vic's 4000 Miles, Adam McKay's Don't Look Up alongside Meryl Streep and Leonardo DiCaprio, and with his formal attachment to that paused Bob Dylan biopic, he's booked in for jobs that don't drastically steer him off course. The seeds have long-been planted for TC to graduate into a realm that makes legends like Daniel Day-Lewis. Could he make awards success from a family film based on a Roald Dahl book? Probably not. Does he need to? Probably not.

Timothée Chalamet