Being part of a cinematic masterpiece is a gift. Looking back and not knowing how big a film can be is very special. One film we all grew up with is turning 50 this year. That film would be Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Now one of its very own stars is speaking out about her time making this precious film. Julie Dawn Cole is known to generations around as original mean girl Veruca Salt. Now we will hear Veruca herself speak of her time and what she is up to.
Q: It’s been fifty years since Willy Wonka was first released. How does that make you feel?
A: Old! How did I get to be this age? In my head I am 32. But seriously, it is a strange thing to think back to the little girl, that had no idea what she was getting in to. Back at the first audition in 1970. It is so strange that people of all generations are still interested in a movie that is 50 years old!
Q: What was the audition process like?
A: The first audition was a typical cattle call, all the girls of the right height and age lined up and eliminated or not. Then some recalls, I forget how many. There was no script ready at the point, so I read from the book (which at this point I had not read!) They didn’t have a musical score either, so I was asked to sing Happy Birthday. Later on once I had the part, they were discussing whether I would sing the song myself or I would be dubbed. I was given the song to learn, and then met with the musical director at his hotel in London to sing for him. (Walter Scharf) He found a piano in the lobby, he played, I sang it, and he casually said, “Yes you can do it”.
When I actually got the part (pre mobile phones) I was told by my agent at theatre school around lunchtime. But had to wait until my mum got home from work to tell her.
Q: Describe your experience with filming? How did you and the cast get along?
A: Filming was fun, but it was also work. We were expected to be professional, learn our lines, and get on with it. But it was exciting, I had never set foot on a film set before, so I had a lot to learn. Happily mentored by the lovely Roy Kinnear, who played my dad. We kids got along well, it was like being on the best school trip ever. I especially got along with Peter Ostrum and Denise Nickerson, as we were closest in age.
Q: Did you expect the movie to be a hit?
A: I had no concept of what a hit was, but I would never have dreamed of the longevity. It didn’t do well at the box office and fizzled out after 3 or 4 weeks, which was sad. But then had the most amazing revival in the 80’s and has gone on to become the cult movie that it is. I think that is worth trading for better initial success at the box office.
Q: Where do you think Veruca’s character would be today? You think she is still the same or has changed?
A: I think Veruca would have married a rich man and given him hell! If it was all happening now, she would have her own show and give the Kardashian’s a run for their money. Maybe she would aspire to be the First Lady? She would like the fame, but not the work, and she would get bored easily. However, if she truly did learn her lesson, maybe she would be running a charity somewhere for fallen millionaires!
Q: Tell us about your acting career post Willy Wonka?
A: That is a long question, but I had a successful career. Lots of theatre, and TV in the UK. I was signed by Wolper Pictures to make 3 more movies with them, but they never made another movie. WW&TCF has opened many doors, (maybe closed a few too) but have been lucky enough to WORK in 40 countries. I love travelling. Did a great trip to South Africa in my Veruca Salt guise, and went on Safari. Appeared at the Hollywood Bowl, toured New Zealand, and had a lot of fun in a show written about the movie and my character at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, with comedy Matthew Hardy. Love Australia!
Q: What else have you been up to?
A: I quite acting over 12 years ago and retrained to be a psychotherapist. It was time to do something more meaningful instead of waiting for the phone to ring. I have been working with oncology patients for the past 6 years, and recently moved on to work with University students. Like everyone, they have struggled with their mental health over the last year.
I have 2 children, my daughter is a doctor with a beautiful daughter, Amber, now 18 months, and granddaughter number 2, due later this year. My son has a great career with a digital marketing company, and is training to be a coder. I have no idea what that involves, but I know it is complicated!
Q: Last question, what would your best and most memorable days of your entertainment days be?
A: How do you answer that one? Too many, but overall the people I have met, the places I have been, and the smile I see on peoples faces when they realize my connection to Wonka. It has been a privilege to part of something that is part of so many other peoples lives.
Not many people get to have that chance to be part of a classic. Julie Dawn Cole was able to have that chance which comes once in a lifetime! Currently you can stream Willy Wonka online and relieve that Pure Imagination. Especially since a prequel has just been announced and is in development.