SINGAPORE – There was only one actor that director Paul King had in mind to play a diminutive, sarcastic Oompa Loompa: one-time romantic comedy star Hugh Grant.
The British film-maker felt the English actor’s knack for playing cynical, grumpy old men would make him ideal to play the chocolate-loving small-sized human in the film Wonka.
The origin tale of Willy Wonka and how he becomes the kooky chocolatier in British writer Roald Dahl’s beloved classic Charlie And The Chocolate Factory opens in Singapore on Dec 6. The musical fantasy features American-French actor Timothee Chalamet as the titular confectioner.
While the book features many Oompa Loompas, there is only one of them in this film.
“Hugh embodies the curmudgeonly and unpleasant personality,” said King, 45, over Zoom. He was speaking from the London press conference of Wonka on Nov 29.
He had cast Grant in Paddington 2 (2017), in which he hammed it up as a failed actor and villain named Phoenix Buchanan.
While filming Paddington 2 was fun, being an Oompa Loompa could not be more different.
Grant’s character in Wonka was created using motion capture, and the experience, the 63-year-old said, was awful and miserable.
“It was like wearing a crown of thorns. It was very, very uncomfortable,” he said of having multiple cameras focused on his face to help the animators create his Oompa Loompa character.
“I made a big fuss about it. I did not know where I was, what was happening,” said the star of romantic comedies such as Notting Hill (1999) and Music And Lyrics (2007).
And when he thought the arduous process was over, he was called in two months later to do it all over again.
“This went on for two years. I couldn’t have hated the whole thing more,” he said.
King added with a laugh: “That’s the curmudgeon spirit.”
Grant, who had worked on films with lots of computer-generated imagery (CGI), such as Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves (2023), said he still was not used to being on a green-screen set.
“I kept asking, am I supposed to be acting with my body? And I never got a satisfactory answer,” he lamented. “Frankly, what I did with my body was terrible, and it has all been replaced by an animator entirely.”