“Wonka” director Paul King worked with Hugh Grant on “Paddington 2,” but he knew getting the actor to play an Oompa Loompa in the upcoming Warner Bros. musical would take extra convincing. So King wrote Grant a letter in which he said the actor was great at playing “washed-up old hams,” which is exactly what King was looking for in his hunt for the perfect Oompa Loompa actor.
“I was enchanted by the idea of these impossibly tiny beings, far smaller even than the child-sized me,” King said. “The voice and the attitude of the Oompa Loompa came from revisiting the books – long songs full of humor, sarcasm, superiority and scorn. So it was really just thinking about that character – someone who can be a real shit. And I went, ‘Ah, Hugh [Grant]!’ Because he’s the funniest, most sarcastic shit that I’ve ever met!”
“I had to write him this awkward letter, saying, ‘You’re good at playing washed-up, old hams…’” King added. “Once you see Hugh Grant as an 18-inch high orange man with green hair, you go, ‘Ah, yes. I know what Oompa Loompas are. It all makes perfect sense.’”
King told Empire magazine in July that he was still tinkering with the visual effects needed to bring Grant’s Oompa Loompa to life. “He looks terrific,” the director said, “but because it’s CG, it looks terrible until it looks good. And then you go, ‘Ah, perfect!’ It’s a miracle.”
Grant’s look as an Oompa Loompa matches the same version of the characters seen in Mel Stuart’s 1971 musical fantasy “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” which famously starred Gene Wilder as the eponymous chocolatier. King said Stuart’s interpretation of the Oompa Loompas is so definitive that there was no reason to stray from it in his “Wonka” movie.
“It just felt like that’s what an Oompa Loompa was, in my head,” King told Empire magazine. “I suppose because the ’71 movie is so beloved by me, as well as other people, I didn’t really want to reinvent the wheel on that. I felt like doing something that sat with that iconography. I love ‘Pure Imagination’, I love the Oompa Loompa songs, I loved how the Oompa Loompas looked. And that felt like the iconic look of Oompa Loompas.”
“Wonka” opens in theaters December 15 from Warner Bros.