Timothée Chalamet Goes Electric

The day they wrapped Bones and All, Chalamet cut off his blood-streaked mullet, dyed his hair brown, and flew to Cannes for the premiere of Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch. At one point, he leaned over to costar Bill Murray and asked him what he’d whispered to Selena Gomez on the Cannes red carpet in 2019. Chalamet laughed, reflecting: “He said, ‘Fame is fleeting!’ ”

Chalamet tried to take some time off, to soak up some vacation, but, he said, “the Wonka factory pipes were calling.” Director Paul King, best known for the beloved Paddington movies, had met Chalamet in London around the 2018 BAFTAs when, like so many, he’d been bowled over and seduced by Chalamet in Call Me by Your Name. When Wonka came King’s way, Chalamet was really the only choice for the role, King said. “It was: This could be great—but it could also be great for him.” Still, King couldn’t help but wonder what this guy, whom he’d met just once, would be like now that he’d become one of the biggest stars in the world. “It’s not always a recipe for ‘charming and focused,’ ” King said. “I’m a neurotic workaholic who will sort of leave no stone unturned—and I really felt he was a kindred spirit.”

This Wonka is also a musical, and Chalamet sings and dances throughout. It is, Chalamet said, “a throwback to LaGuardia,” meaning his performing-arts high school. “We’re telling a story here. This isn’t, like, athletic naturalism. It’s a shot of earnestness and sincerity, without the cynicism or dread or all the stuff we’re exhausted by.”

He trained in New York and London with Tony-winning choreographer Christopher Gattelli. “Sometimes with someone of that caliber, it’s almost like a chore to get them to do things, especially if it’s out of their comfort zone,” Gattelli said. “But he was the exact opposite—he wanted to go and go and go and do it over and over.” Chalamet hadn’t previously studied tap, among the hardest forms of dance to learn, but once he gained his confidence, Gattelli said, he couldn’t get him to stop. “He would Skype with his mom and his grandma, just to show them, because you could tell that he was genuinely proud of himself.” Of what he was picking up, but also of the way he was sort of carrying on this family tradition from his grandmother and mother—both trained Broadway dancers. “He would joke about it—like ‘It’s in my blood!’ And I was like: It is. It literally is.”

Tank top by Gucci. Pants and boots by Alexander McQueen. Scarf by Hermès.

In Wonka, Chalamet plays a young Willy, fresh off a literal boat. It is pre-factory, pre–chocolate empire, pre–midlife trauma that curdles the previous film versions of the character, who’ve turned their backs on the world. “It would’ve been so easy to do an impression of Johnny Depp or Gene Wilder,” King said, “and it would’ve been sort of horrible. Because the people who’ve played Wonka before are brilliant and captivating and have done some famously wonderful performances that people have loved. So it’s really putting your head above the parapet.”

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