In Paul King’s “Wonka,” there is a scene where Noodle (Calah Lane) and Willy Wonka (Timothee Chalamet) have to sneak into a zoo so he can produce his one-of-a-kind chocolate. There the duo meets Abigail the giraffe and milks her. It cues up the musical number “For a Moment” where they fly over way the town’s Galeria and back into the town square. The scene was choreographer Christopher Gattelli’s favorite and took three days to shoot, but dancing came second nature for Chalamet.
Gattelli says the script gave little direction. “Paul and I were going through the script and when we got to the part after they meet the giraffe, the line says, ‘Willie runs on water and they fly over the Galleria.’ I asked him what he was thinking and he wanted the most economical way to get them back.”
That opened up a world of opportunity to use dance as a way of moving the fantastical story along, and to get the main characters back to where they needed to be.
“Noodle’s in this place where she doesn’t trust anyone and he’s trying to break through to her,” he explains. It was important to Gattelli to use the time from when they took off with the balloon bundle to build an emotional connection and establish trust between the two. “We got to do a beautiful air ballet while we were underlying all these points of connections,” he says.
From Wonka giving her the balloons, to grabbing her feet, to spinning her around and catching her hand, Gattelli used dance moves to deepen that trust as they moved through the world.
While Gattelli had just three days of shooting, he did have plenty of time to prepare for the musical numbers – three months of pre-production, to be precise.
He rented an airplane hangar near North London and began building the sequence there. “We had to do that because the cameras were going to be so high, and they wanted that perspective. So, we had a week for that, trying to put it together.”
He continues, “We had three days to shoot and it was really tight, but that was the advantage, we had practiced it so much that by the time we did the shoot, it was pretty seamless, and there wasn’t much room for error.”
As for working with Chalamet on his dance moves, Gattelli calls him a pro. Chalamet had anything but two left feet, hailing from a dance background — both his mother and grandmother were dancers who performed on Broadway. “He was so happy to be performing and he never wanted to stop doing takes. He wanted to keep going and keep rehearsing and he wanted to be really good,” says Gattelli. “He wanted to get the steps and movement in his body so he could get his acting on top of that, and the steps were second nature to him.”
Watch the rehearsal video above.