Not A Bad Egg After All

Still quite early in the course of the 2004 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, comedian Matthew Hardy’s show Willy Wonka Explained [The Veruca Salt Sessions] was proving very popular. Of the one hundred eighty-odd shows on during the festival, Willy Wonka Explained was one of eight or so that had sold out. Hardy had tapped into our collective unconscious.

Be that as it may, Julie Dawn Cole, who played Veruca Salt in the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, whom Matthew Hardy has somehow coerced to be in his stage show, and with whom I had the pleasure of chatting to at one of the Sydney semi-finals of Raw Comedy, has been about the easiest person to interview. This is in part because Cole is an actress and voice-over queen, so she knows precisely how to communicate. There were no technical considerations to take into account – she spoke well, into the microphone, without ‘hissing’ or ‘popping’. The fact that we’d already chatted about much of this before the interview took place certainly helped. Julie Dawn Cole is a great story-teller. Most importantly, however, she is a sweetie – sincere and effusive in conversation.

Our chat was more extensive than the final edit would suggest; it dealt with the Festival show itself, and Cole’s involvement in it, and included her reminiscences of the other ‘kids’ from the film as well as the Oompa Loompas. However, the best edit was the one that dealt soley with Julie’s recollections of filming Willy Wonka, particularly when coupled with excerpts from the film’s soundtrack. Judiciously chosen to provide imagery and/or irony, the songs underline some of the key points beautifully. For that reason, I provide lyrics along with the dialogue below. The songs should be of some interest to the comedy lover because they are the work of Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley who also wrote the song ‘The Joker’ (from their musical The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd) which Gina Riley sang as the theme to Kath and Kim.

With a little luck, Willy Wonka Explained will go on the road – not just in Australia, but also to Edinburgh for the next Fringe Festival.

With its talk of Easter eggs and chocolate, this interview was broadcast on Saturday 10 April 2004 – a fitting treat on the day before Easter.

Enjoy the print version below (at least until the transcript is moved to the Radio Ha Ha website), or, to hear the sound file, subscribe to the FREE podcast Radio Ha Ha by pasting this link into your podcatcher: https://podcasts.2gb.com/radiohaha.xml. The Julie Dawn Cole interview is now part of Episode 10.


Music: ‘I Want It Now’ - Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole) and Mr Henry Salt (Roy Kinnear)


Veruca Salt: Gooses! Geeses! I want my goose to lay gold eggs for Easter.
Mr Henry Salt: It will, sweetheart.
Veruca Salt: At least a hundred a day…
Mr Henry Salt: Anything you say.
Veruca Salt: …and by the way…
Mr Henry Salt: What?
Veruca Salt: I want a feast!
Mr Henry Salt: You ate before you came to the factory.
Veruca Salt: I want a bean feast.
Mr Henry Salt: One of those.
Veruca Salt: Cream buns and fruitcake with no nuts,
So good you could go nuts.
Mr Henry Salt: You can have all those things when you go home.
Veruca Salt: No, now. I want a ball…

Demetrius Romeo: Julie, how did you originally land the role of Veruca Salt?

JULIE DAWN COLE: I had just started at stage school in London – we have stage schools, where you do half a day’s vocational work and half a day, educational – and they had decided that the brat had to be played by an English girl, so they came to London to do the casting and I just went for a cattle-call audition. I’d only been at the school four months, so it was pretty well my first job, and I got re-called, and re-called, and re-called, and I found that I’d got the part.

Music: ‘Pure Imagination’ - Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder)


Come with me and you’ll be
In a world of pure imagination,
Take a look and you’ll see
Into your imagination…

JULIE DAWN COLE: The whole thing was magical. It was fantastic. It was filmed in Germany, Munich, for three months, so it was my first trip away from home, having this kind of weird experience, mucking around with the other kids. It was a bit like camp for us: we all hung out together. There was no TV so we played a lot together. And then being a part of this thing, which, little did I know, was going to be with me probably for the rest of my life.

Music: ‘I Want It Now’ - Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole)


I want a party with roomfuls of laughter
Ten thousand tons of ice cream
And if I don’t get the things I am after
I’m going to screeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaammmmmm.

Demetrius Romeo: You actually celebrated your thirteenth birthday during the production of the film.

JULIE DAWN COLE: That’s right. I had my thirteenth birthday when we were filming the scene where I went down the chute. I was sitting in another studio. I was a little bit frightened of the director, it was a bit intimidating and I was sitting there, I think with Denise, in another make-up room somewhere, and somebody came running in saying, ‘you better get down to the set, Mel Stuart’s going mad, you gotta get there, you gotta get there’. I was running, running, running, thinking, ‘oh my god, I’m in trouble now’. I ran into a completely darkened set, and there was a birthday cake there, and everybody was singing happy birthday. I blew the candles out and Mel said, ‘okay, right, now, on with the filming!’ and that was it, and they chucked me down the chute.

Music: ‘I Want It Now’ - Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole)


I want the world
I want the whole world.
I want lock it all up in my pocket,
It’s my bar of chocolate.
Give it to me now…

JULIE DAWN COLE: It was a chocolate cake, and the spooky and bizarre thing is that I don’t like chocolate. Can you believe that? I’ve worked on it since. I can now kind of eat some ‘chocolate’ chocolate – like Easter egg chocolate – but chocolate cake? No way!

Demetrius Romeo: So you were the one kid let loose in the chocolate factory…

JULIE DAWN COLE: …that didn’t eat the props! I was cheap – saved the budget thousands.

Music: ‘The Candy Man’ - Bill, the candy store owner (Aubrey Woods)


Willy Wonka makes everything he bakes
Satisfying and delicious.
Talk about your childhood wishes:
You can even eat the dishes!

Demetrius Romeo: Apart from not wanting to eat the walls of the factory, were there any other negative aspects to making the film?

JULIE DAWN COLE: Well mostly they were good, but there is a rather bizarre aspect. Bearing in mind I was twelve turning thirteen, and this is a very important time for a girl and things happen. You start sprouting in certain areas and you’re very proud of them even though they’re not bigger than a jellybean. I always remember this day when I had to stand in front of the direct and producer while they were scrutinising my chest, saying,


‘Well, no, I can’t see them.’
‘Yeah, I can see them. Look, if she turns this way you can see them.’
‘No, I don’t think…’

And I thought, ‘oh no, please…’

‘We’re gonna have to strap her down and put binders on…’

I was thinking, ‘strap her down and put binders on?’ And I was very proud of my little bumps. Anyway, I think my bumps were so frightened by the whole experience that they regressed.

Music: ‘Pure Imagination’ - Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder)


If you want to view paradise
Simply look around and view it,
Anything you want to, do it,
Want to change the world,
There’s nothing to it.

Demetrius Romeo: Have you had any contact with Gene Wilder?

JULIE DAWN COLE: I saw him when he came to London to do ‘Laughter on the 23rd Floor’, which is the Neil Simon play. I wrote him a letter saying, ‘Dear Gene, you may remember me, I was Veruca Salt. I used to sit on your lap and you used to tell me stories. I’m coming to see the show and would love to say hello’. I gave it to the stage doorman who said, ‘well, Mr Wilder never sees anybody, he’s gone before the audience are out’. I said, ‘fair enough, but give him the note anyway and I’ll come backstage after the show’. So I rushed around there and Mr Wilder’s dresser was waiting to show me down into the royal sanctum, and he was there and he said, ‘Ah, well, I guess Veruca wasn’t such a bad egg!’

Music: ‘I Want It Now’ - Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole)


I want the works.
I want the whole works.
Presents and prizes and sweets and surprises
Of all shapes and sizes
And now!
Don’t care how, I want it now!
Don’t care how, I want it nooooooooooooow

Demetrius Romeo: Julie Dawn Cole, thank you very much.

JULIE DAWN COLE: Thank you very much, Dom.


And as if that weren’t enough, here’s the yet-to-be-published FilmInk version:


One of the most popular shows at this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival was Matthew Hardy’s Willy Wonka Explained [The Veruca Salt Sessions], not least of all because it featured Julie Dawn Cole, the actress who played Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory nearly thirty-five years ago. Julie says that appearing in Hardy’s show was a risk and a gamble, but one that paid off. Partaking in this non-reverential look at one of the most popular kids’ flicks ever made, she says, has been “one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

Julie Dawn Cole had been at drama school a mere four months when she attended the “cattle-call audition” to play “the brat” in ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. “Then I got re-called. And re-called. And re-called. And I found that I’d got the part.” One of her fondest memories of the production was of celebrating her thirteenth birthday – on the day they were filming the scene in which, desperate to snatch a golden egg, she is sent tumbling down a chute.

“I was a little bit frightened of the director and I was sitting in another studio somewhere, and somebody came running in saying, ‘you better get down to the set, Mel Stuart’s going mad’. I thought, ‘oh my god, I’m in trouble now’. I ran into a completely darkened set, and there was a birthday cake there, and everybody was singing happy birthday. I blew the candles out and Mel said, ‘okay, right, now, on with the filming!’ and that was it, they chucked me down the chute.”

Gene Wilder, a real sweetie who would tell the children stories, organised for a colour photographer to take a series of stills of the occasion. “It was my best birthday present,” Julie says. Better than the cake, it turns out. In the most bizarre stroke of irony, Julie Dawn Cole is one of those rare people who dislike chocolate, and it was a chocolate cake. “Can you believe it?” she says. Let loose in a chocolate factory, she was one of the kids who wouldn’t eat the props. “I was cheap – saved the budget thousands!”

Cole’s one negative experience was the day the director and producer scrutinised her chest, discussing whether or not it required strapping down. “I was twelve turning thirteen, and this is a very important time for a girl,” she explains. “You start sprouting in certain areas and you’re very proud of them even though they’re no bigger than a jellybean.” No action was taken in the end, her ‘sprouting areas’ so frightened by the attention that, she says, they regressed.

Speaking of ‘no bigger than’, what about those creepy Oompa Loompas? According to Julie, they used to have “wild parties” where they’d “drink the German beer.” It didn’t take much to fill them up. "Coupla pints," Julie says, "and they were up to the brim!”

When Julie recently caught up with Gene Wilder, he took a step back and surmised that “Veruca wasn’t such a bad egg” after all. This sweet memory is one souvenir amongst many that the actress has retained. They include a golden egg, two golden tickets and an everlasting gobstopper, not to mention a multitude of fans that share comedian Matthew Hardy’s obsession for the first character Julie Dawn Cole ever portrayed on screen.

Scrumdidilyumptious!


‘Veruca Salt: Scrumdidilyumpstious’ or ‘I Wanted Her Then, Daddy!’

The Sydney heats of the 2004 Melbourne International Comedy Festival Raw Comedy Competition came to an end March 31, and while I feel I should provide some kind of ‘review’ of the final (or at least, a review of what of the final stood out enough that I may remember it nearly a week down the track) I would much rather convey the joy that was the first semi, which took place two days earlier. I can’t for the life of me remember much about the contestants (apart from the ones who made it through to the final – and only then because I got to see them again so soon afterwards), but the evening’s jollity began with a call from Andrew Taylor of Access Entertainment, the company that in addition to managing many great acts, runs the Sydney competition.

“Guess who the guest judge is for tonight,” Andrew began. I couldn’t, so he told me. “Julie Dawn Cole.” I suppose this was a kind of test, and I failed. I couldn’t get excited until I was told that Julie Dawn Cole had appeared in the cinematic classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in the role of Veruca Salt. Then boy, did I get excited.

wonveruca.jpg

“She doesn’t mind talking about the film,” Andrew continued, “but she hates being referred to as ‘Veruca Salt’.” He advised that I should probably behave myself and not say anything stupid.

“Can I do my Roy Kinnear impression?” I asked, demonstrating it for him with the kind of expertise that, I dare say, would have fooled Kinnear himself, were he still alive to hear me do it: “Ve-RU-ca!”

“No, you can’t do your Roy Kinnear impression.”

“What about my Veruca Salt impression?” In perfect ‘Veruca Salt’ voice: “I want it now, Daddy!”

“No, don’t do your Veruca Salt impression.”

It turns out that Julie Dawn Cole is out here to appear in stand-up comic Matthew Hardy’s live show Willy Wonka Explained [The Veruca Salt Sessions]. It’s about his lifelong infatuation with Veruca Salt and the actress who played her. He approached Cole out of the blue and, amazingly, Cole said yes. If she has a history being contacted by weird guys who grew up infatuated with that saucy pouting princess (a kind of Hayley Mills gone bad), I’d love to know the vetting process she uses that enabled her to realise that Hardy was the safer, saner variety of the archtype.

The show apparently opens with both Hardy and Cole on their respective analyst’s couches. Hardy is in therapy because he never got over his infatuation with Veruca Salt. Cole is in therapy because she never got over playing the character.

Although I convinced myself that I would behave throughout the evening, by the first interval Julie had her script out and was telling us about what a lovely time she was having after accepting a questionable job offer on a whim. But it was all kind of fitting: Cole landed the role in Willy Wonka – her first acting job – after a mere few weeks at drama school. She had plenty of fantastic stories and shared them with little prompting.

Like the time she was told she wouldn’t be needed for the next little while, and encouraged to sit on her own on another set, away from the cast and crew. Suddenly a production manager-type flew in telling her that director Mel Stuart needed her immediately and was furious that she wasn’t on-hand. It’s been said that Stuart could be a bit frightening on set – so much so that Peter Ostrum, starring as principal character Charlie Bucket, allegedly turned down a subsequent five film deal as a result of his experience (although, now a practicing vet, Ostrum claims the experience was fun, but not what he wanted to do for a living). Swallowing whatever fear she had of facing the director, Cole hurried to join the rest of the cast before him, where she discovered a birthday cake. Julie had just turned thirteen.

“It was a chocolate cake, and I don’t like chocolate,” Julie confessed. “Imagine being a kid in a film that’s set in a chocolate factory, and not liking chocolate.” She has fond memories of her birthday, and fantastic photos: although it was customary for stills to be taken in black and white at the time, Gene Wilder, who played the lead role of Willy Wonka, organised colour photographs to be taken of that occasion.

Not all of Julie’s memories are as pleasant. There was the meeting during which she was scrutinised intently and spoken of in third person while the powers-that-be decided whether or not her newly developing bust required taping down for the sake of continuity.

Julie’s sweetest story is of her reunion with Gene Wilder a few years ago. He was appearing on stage in England and Cole left Wilder a message requesting a catch-up after a performance. Assured that Wilder never met people backstage after a show – “He has left the theatre before the patrons have begun filing out,” a stage manager assured her – Julie was pleased to discover that Gene Wilder would receive her backstage. Recalling her character’s exit from the film – trying to intercept the golden egg that she wants “now, Daddy!” Veruca lands on the apparatus that determines the value of the eggs, receives a poor rating and is duly disposed of – Wilder took a step back and acknowledged that Julie “hadn’t turned out to be a bad egg” after all.

Hopefully Willy Wonka Explained [The Veruca Salt Sessions] will do so well that Matthew Hardy and Julie Dawn Cole can take the show on the road. In the meantime, I’m trying to land some interview time with Julie for ABC NewsRadio and FilmInk.

However, before moving on from this topic, I want to briefly consider the name ‘Willy Wonker’. As a character name in English children’s literature, Roald Dahl’s creation is up there with Dick and Fanny, who appeared in Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree. It is only one vowel away from being the sort of a character in a Carry On film that would well and truly have Kenneth Williams ‘oooo-errrring’. However, I assume the name was derived from the slang term ‘wonk’ which means about the same thing as ‘swot’ – a boring person who studies too hard and is too caught up with facts and figures to have a life or a personality. Willy Wonka, embodying the traditional eccentric English boffin archetype, is imbued with some of the ‘wonk’ characteristics: a genius who knows all there is to know about his work and more besides. When he first meets Veruca, for instance, he absent-mindedly asks himself if she doesn’t share her name with a kind of wart that grows on the sole of the foot [a ‘verruca’ is in fact “ a firm abnormal elevated blemish on the skin caused by a virus”].

I recall a time during the earlier stages of the Clinton administration (actually, during his 1992 presidential campaign) when Bill Clinton was described as a ‘policy wonk’ because he was a politician who could “spout data and statistics nonstop, a man with a quick answer for every question.” Isn’t it a pity that nobody had the brainwave to write a piece on this and name the article, and the presidential candidate, ‘Willy Wonker’, or, at the very least, ‘Billy Wonker’. Then his political campaign could have involved voters holding the ‘Bill Clinton How To Vote’ pamphlet, with the box next to Billy Wonker ticked, singing, ‘I’ve got golden ticket…’ Clinton could have done a television spot likening the USA under the Republicans as a paddle steamer that had lost its way, insanely intoning the words, “there’s no earthly way of knowing… which way the river’s flowing…” Of course, this would have proven damaging in the long run: it wouldn’t have taken the Republicans long to liken Clinton to ‘The Candy Man’, even if he never did inhale.

Amongst her souvenirs, Julie Dawn Cole has retained a golden egg, two golden tickets and an everlasting gobstopper, not to mention a multitude of fans that share comedian Matthew Hardy’s obsession for the first character she ever portrayed on screen.