Paris Themmen is an American actor, commercial casting director and entrepreneur.
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Hi Redditors! I'm best known for playing Mike Teevee in the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but I appeared in several other things as a kid and have had a variety of careers since then. It's all on Wiki if you want details (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_Themmen). My wife Nikki is typing because I am a "Redditor's Wife." Let the games begin!
**Update #1: I'm taking a break but keep the questions coming! I'll check back in a bit later.
**Update #2: Thanks so much for all your questions! It's been fun! I'll pop back in tomorrow to check any last-minute questions. In the meantime, Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca Salt) and I will be touring around the USA and appearing at showings of the film at all of the Alamo Drafthouse theaters in late September/early October. Check your local listings. Hope to see you there! Scrumdiddlyumptiously, Paris.
**Update #3: Okay, it's 2:15am. I'm really going to bed now. Thanks again!
**Update #4: Wed. Answered some more Qs. Gotta go to SLC Comic-Con now. This thing is getting long but I'll try to do another sweep next week. It's weird, as if I am getting sucked into Reddit, spending way too many hours staring at it. Sound familiar? "I don't like the look of it".
***Update #5: Wednesday the 10th. Popping in again to answer the last few questions.
What..do you get when your midgets are...dicks?
Piles of shoes with knots to be...fixed.
In...a hotel with an accessible...bar.
Drunk-en midgets seen near and a...far.
Paris - First, I have tell you a dark secret. I have two daughters, who are roughly 8 and 10 now. A few years back, we screened Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and I told them it was a documentary - a true story - and that it happened when their mother and I were little kids. I told them we went nuts trying to find the chocolate bar with the golden ticket. I have enlisted a massive multi-state fraud to keep the lie going. Their grandparents have backed up the story and added to the myth, embellishing that Charlies' various bed-ridden grandparents played bridge with my grandparents, until they all got moved into the factory. We told them that the inferior Johhny Depp remake was a "ripped from the headlines" knock off, and they were properly insulted.
The problem is.. well.. they are growing up. And now it's getting harder and harder to keep the story straight. Randomly they'll tell adults about bits and pieces, and I have a very elaborate system of coughs, hand gestures, and topic diversions that have allowed the ruse to go on. But problems.. they are adding up. First, my oldest daughter started questioning the location and time period. Then my younger daughter, after learning the basics of an elevator and block and tackle physics, questioned how you would rig a pulley system to create a Wonk-a-vator. That got my older one thinking about the inevitable gravitational reckoning that would occur with said elevator once the momentum of the ballistic trajectory was exhausted.
Needless to say, this is getting real. Any day now one of them is going to learn about IMDB or Wikipedia and the lid is going to be blown off this scandal. The worst part is that my 10 year old is starting to get just a little bit interested in boys, and has asked me if the stretching process left any permanent damage..
So two questions:
a. Have you run into this before? Any advice to offer?
b. Do you have contact information for Slugworth? If my kids ever happen to bump into him, they might take him out at the knees.
PS: This is not the biggest problem I have. If Vanilla Ice ever has an AMA I have a similar confession that all started when my kids asked "what do you mean this is YOUR SONG?".
I agree that at some point you're going to have to come to grips with the fact that your little girls are going to become little ladies. As to when and how to break the news to them, I can't really advise you there. I can tell you that I've had some experience with this at my convention autograph signing table. I find that six years old is usually the cutoff. If a parent approaches my table with an under-six-year-old, and says, "Look, honey, that's Mike Teevee," the reaction will range from tears to hiding behind their pant leg to a crestfallen look of disbelief. Not only am I not on TV, but I'm 55 instead of 11. This is too much for their minds to conceive. It sounds like you're in deep, and I wish you Godspeed. Slugworth passed some time ago, so you're safe there. Ice, ice, baby.
Hi Mr Themmen. Do you have any views on Mr Wonka's ethics during the factory tour? Did it annoy you that Mike never got a chance to give back the Ever Lasting Gobstopper?
Okay, that's an interesting one. Because Charlie and Grandpa Joe bounced around the Fizzy Lifting Drinks ceiling prior to Mike's indiscretions in the TV room, it has been suggested that I should have won the contest (I was the last to go before Charlie). No one has ever pointed out to me before that I never had the opportunity to return the Gobstopper. The Gobstopper, by now, would have been a couple of microns tall. In my opinion, the whole thing was rigged from the beginning. Charlie even lives in Wonka's town! The fix was in.
What went through your head when Gene Wilder started singing "There's no telling where we're going..."?
Like our initial entrance to the Chocolate Room, the director did not warn us what was coming in this scene. Mike Teevee enjoys pretty much the entire factory tour. The boat is the one place where he exhibits fear and discomfort. Gene is so great in this scene, and it didn't take much acting on our part to play "What the fuck is wrong with this guy?"
What would you say was your first impression of Gene Wilder? Is he as captivatingly awesome as I imagine!?
Gene was fantastic. He was very gentle and soft-spoken most of the time, except for the occasional outburst on film - can you say the boat trip? But I don't have to tell you all that he is a brilliant actor and a comedic genius.
Were the Oompa Loompas nice to be around?
The Oompa Loompas were notoriously mischievous. They were often drunk after a day's shooting. We all stayed in a hotel together. In those days, when you wanted to have your shoes shined, you'd leave them outside of your hotel room door. One night the Oompa Loompas grabbed all the shoes, tied the laces together, and left them in a pile to be found in the morning.
What'd you think of the remake? Specifically the kid who played your role?
Did you ever get to meet Roald Dahl?
Yes, once for lunch. He was very tall and imperious.
Thanks for doing the AMA! I gotta pretty serious question that I've been dying to ask for years..
Who can take a sunrise
Sprinkle it in dew
Cover it in chocolate
and a miracle or two?
The Candy Man can, but that's not, I mean... Oh, I see what you did there.
Hi Paris, thanks for joining us. Were any of the kids in WW similar to their alter ego personalities in reality? Or was it all just... acting?
I'm a Veruca fan. She was a lovely, demure British girl and now she's my closest friend from the film. Augustus didn't speak much English then. Now he does. He's an accountant still living in Munich.
Were you compensated generously/fairly for your role?
$500/week for nine weeks and a trip to Germany for me and my family, where the film was shot.
Has starring in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory been a blessing or a curse? Do you feel like no matter what you do, you'll always be Mike Teevee?
Definitely more a blessing than a curse. I'm not dead yet, but clearly this is going to be the thing that I'm best remembered for, and I'm OK with that because Wonka is so awesome.
So does Homestar Runner.
Yay! Went to a Halloween party as Strongbad once.
Im all of the sudden sad that 7 Oompa Loompas are dead
Don't be sad. They'll live forever on film.
When was the last time someone asked you an original question about your Willy Wonka experience?
Here on this AMA, when a guy asked how I felt about not having to give back my Everlasting Gobstopper. But your point is well taken. As I sit at my table at conventions, the vast majority of the questions that are asked of me are repeats. I am hoping that Reddit will provide some fresh perspective.
How amazing was the candy wonderland in real life? Did the candy you ate taste good or was it just prop crud?
Spoiler alert: The gummy bears in the Pure Imagination room were mostly plastic with a gummy ear. This is an example of how they did it. In general, if we ate it on film it was real, and if not, it was fake. Visually, the room was unbelievable.
I have a real question, if you'll humor me. The "chocolate" river, did it have an odor?
Yes, pretty stinky.
What's your reaction to The Big Lebowski becoming such a huge cult movie?
I appear in The Big Lebowski basically as a featured extra (you can see me bowling during the scenes in the bowling alley and the title sequence), so I only have so much of a right to comment on the film. But the Coen Brothers are seminal filmmakers and I love all their films.
No residuals or royalties?
I get residuals when the film is shown on network TV, not for cable, DVD, or VHS sales. The contract between the signatory producers and SAG that covered those ancillary markets was signed six months after I signed my contract. Ouch.
can you explain further? Did he think he was God's gift to man or something like that?
Unfortunately it's kind of foggy because I was only eleven at the time. I remember that it happened but in this case I don't have details for you.
Did you eat a lot of candy on the set?
Yes, we did eat several types of candy on set. My favorite candy was actually the "gum" that Violet eats and is a three-course meal. That actually wasn't gum but was a very tasty toffee-based candy. It was used in close-ups so they didn't have very many of them, and after I ate a couple I asked for a third one and they wouldn't give it to me. They used a lot of marzipan on set because it was easy to color and form into shapes.
I once sat next to this dude on a city bus who was absolutely tripping balls and he lit into this long soliloquy about how Willy Wonka &amp; the Chocolate Factory movie was actually this biblical homily. Charlie was Jesus, and Wonka was God, and the other kids represented the deadly sins that would get you relegated to hell. SO, Charlie (Jesus) was accepted into the kingdom of heaven (inheriting the factory, which was heaven) by Wonka (God), while the other kids (who had committed at least one deadly sin) were each tempted by different items in the factory (the stuff tempting them represented the devil) and they could not resist temptation. So, they were cast out of the factory (heaven) and back into the real world (Hell). Wonka became the de-facto father figure in Charlie's life (Jesus, son of God) and together they ruled the kingdom of Heaven.
It was 1am and although I was a little freaked out by this dude who smelled of piss and brokenness, that assessment always stuck with me. He then told me that things like bell bottoms were what caused the French Revolution. Quite a bus ride. I want whatever he was on. My question is, of course, what is your favorite color?
I hear these theories from time to time. In addition to the seven deadly sins version, many think that Grandpa Joe was a jerk (the character, not the actor). Also, that Wonka knew the kids were going to die one by one, as evidenced by the number of seats on the Wonkatania and the Wonkamobile. Also, lots of questions about whether the Wonka tour is a psychedelic experience. Personally, I don't believe any of them. Blue.
How many dwarfs were actually used?
How has growing up as a child actor affected your adult life?
I have a superpower now. I have the power to freak people out by telling them I was Mike Teevee. I try not to be gauche but I don't shy away from making use of the fact.
Has anyone ever recognised you because of your childhood roles or characters?
Yes. Those who recognize me most readily are people who have seen the film a million times, people who have seen me do extra features or appearances as an adult, people who have photographic memories, and visual artists who can see the child's face in the man.
Did the snozzberries taste like snozzberries?
What advice, if any, do you give child actors?
Do you remember what the chocolate river was made of?
Thanks. Have a nice day!
Have a backup career. It's always good to follow your dreams, but there are so many wannabe actors out there that only a small percentage of them are ultimately successful.
This is another one of those spoiler alert questions that I feel weird about answering because there may be kids reading this. The river was made of water with food coloring. At one point, they poured some cocoa powder into it to try to thicken it but it didn't really work. When asked this question, Michael Böllner, who played Augustus Gloop, answers, "It vas dirty, stinking vater."
Did you find your own personality as a child to be similar to Mike Teevee's?
Of the five kids, I was two years younger and the most rambunctious. So other than Charlie, who was and is a sweetheart, yes, I was the brattiest.
Do you keep in touch with any of the other kids who were in Willy Wonka with you?
Yes, all of them. We do Comic-Con-type conventions together. At this point, maybe once a year. During the years between 1971-1998, none of us had seen each other at all, but in '98 we all found each other again. Interestingly, Michael had no idea that he was famous until they approached him at that point.
Are you still working in film? Is there anything upcoming that we should look for you to be starring in?
I worked as an actor from 6 to 16. I did a couple dozen commercials, three Broadway shows, some voiceover work, and Willy Wonka. Then I studied at NYU and got my degree in theatre. I took a long break from film, did some more commercials in my 30s, and sometimes do background work on film and TV here in NYC. I also have worked on several films behind the scenes, mostly as a production assistant, sometimes as an assistant director, and a bit here and there in other departments. If you're really good, you'll see me walking around in the background of The Good Wife on CBS.
Don't forget directing GODSPELL at Camp Long Lake in Summer 1982! I'm surprised that's fallen off the Wikipedia page.
Yes, that's right.
Excellent. I just got married on June 21st. And fortunately she's a really fast AMA typist.
When was the last time you ate a TV dinner?
(LOL) Either never or on set. But in any case, not for forty years.
Time for a stupid question: Did you find anything interesting in the purse you were put into after you shrunk?
There's a voiceover that you can just barely hear about all the things I'm doing in her purse. If you crank it all the way up, you might hear me saying, "Let me outta here" and that I'm going to bend the tines in her comb and spread lipstick all over the inside of her purse. We recorded that in post.
What the weirdest encounter you've had with a fan?
A guy came up to my table at a convention. He wanted me to put my autograph on his arm. He intended to tattoo it there later on. He showed me other tattooed autographs all over his body. Yeesh. I did it.
Hello Mr. Themmen! Thank you so much for doing this AMA! I am a very big fan of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and my favorite scene is of course the chocolate room scene. My question to you is: How much of the chocolate room was actually edible? Many people do not realize that the gummy bears were actually made of plastic and just had gummy ears. I was wondering if anything else wasn't actually edible. Thanks!
Thanks, good to be here! I already answered this one - anything we ate was actual candy.
Did you succumb to any of the terrible downfalls that seem to afflict modern child actors after their big hits? For example, shortly after Willy Wonka did you find yourself sucking on men's everlasting gob stoppers for some sugar to snort sending you down a chocolate river of love and hallucinations?
(laughing) I don't know, do I want to answer that question? I'm certainly aware of the train wrecks that some child actors have become as adults, so I do my best to successfully navigate that obstacle course.
If a sandwich was named after you, what would be on it?
What was your expectation for your career after the Willy Wonka movie was released?
Willy Wonka was not a huge success at the time that it came out, so it's not like I was suddenly very famous. Its popularity grew when they started showing it once a year on TV. But if you're asking if a child actor who has fame hits adulthood and is disappointed that their childhood fame didn't grow and grow, yes. That's true, but it became my job to fill my life with other interesting experiences. We're getting into existential terrain here, but each of us has to cherish each moment we're alive and continue to find meaning.
Haha, that's great to hear! I hope everything goes well for you guys.
I religiously watched the Willy Wonka film every day when I was kid. I even still have the VHS from when I was younger!
I've wondered, what was working with the excellent Roy Kinnear like?
Any gossip you could give us from the set also?
Roy Kinnear was another very funny actor. Unfortunately, he eventually died when he fell off a horse during the shoot of one of the Musketeers films. He joked around with the kids a lot and was a very nice man.
I imagine that would imply that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory never gained a lot of popularity in Germany?
I watched Willy Wonka a lot as a child (and I mean there was a time I'd watch it multiple times a day). How does it feel knowing that I'm most certainly not the only one, and that you were part of something that impacted thousands (millions?) of people's lives?
Weird. Great. Lucky. It had to be someone. It turns out it was me. How do we try to explain life? All I know is that it continues to affect my life these many years later, and I'm really glad that it was a piece that is not only known by so many people but loved by so many people.
I was there in '90, '91, during the Eisner years. But my contention that they are "right-wing" can be traced all the way back to Walt. When I was in Imagineering, I was super impressed by the talent and intelligence of all the people that worked there, but I myself grew up with kind of a hippie background. You know, it's Disney. They're conservative; they're tough business negotiators; their cast members dress conservatively. You know, they're, whatchamacallit - their films project a sense of, "MURICA."
Was it fun?
Absolutely. Every day a new set, awesome script, great actors, candy, Golden Tickets. What could be bad?
Have you ever been to /r/gonewilder?
The answer is no, I haven't. Is that like Girls Gone Wilder or Gene Gone Wilder?
My daughter really, really wants to know, "Does watching that much TV really rot your brains?"
Let's assume your daughter is less than six. In which case the answer is yes, definitely. And the river was really chocolate.
Whaen Wonka pulled up you hair while singing...was it really that thick and layered?
Yes, it was. And as you can tell from my proof photo, those days are long gone.
What was it like to be in a movie as surreal as Wily Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?
Aside from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, what's your favourite Roald Dahl book?
Pretty much everything that Roald Dahl wrote has that cool, macabre sense to it. One that I like is a short story with the woman who murders her husband with a frozen leg of lamb and then serves it to the detective. I remember another one in Playboy that was called "Bitch" and was all about people marketing a pheromone-based perfume.
What is something awesome/awkward/interesting about the film that you can tell us that no one ever asks about?
I think what's most awesome and interesting about Willy Wonka is the way that it appeals to kids and adults. Both Roald Dahl and Mel Stuart, the director, consciously tried not to talk down to kids. For this reason, adults enjoy watching it with their kids and the daisy chain of popularity moves down through the generations.
How hard was it paying NYU's tuition compared to nowadays?
When I got out of school I was fortunate enough to start a travel agency in New York and Paris. It's one of the crazy entrepreneurial things I've done in my life. That's when I got the travel bug and started all of my international traveling. I sold that business a couple years later and paid off my student loans with that money. I was lucky.
Any opinion on the last remake?
Was there a remake?
Oh wow! It's like Easter come early. Or late, depending on how you look at it.
Mr. Themmen, if you could have food sent through to your TV on a regular basis, what would you choose?
Thank you for doing this AMA! What do you imagine Mike Teevee did after being restored to his size and leaving the chocolate factory?
I saw an internet video where he grew up and was the owner of a film studio. That's a decent future for him. He would have had to get past the whole stretched-out-in-the-taffy-pulling-machine thing, though.
What was the casting call like?
Willy Wonka was cast by Marion Dougherty. She was famous for bringing in a few people rather than a ton, and that was the case with me. One audition, one callback, and then I got the phone call I was going to Germany. There was no script yet, so we read scenes from the book.
Before you went into the chocolate factory were you given any idea what to expect in there?
I read the book, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" with my mother for the very first time the night before my audition. That gave me some idea of what to expect. But they definitely held back some surprises. They wanted to film our initial reactions to the Chocolate Room set, so it was a closed set until they opened the door, let us in, and we saw the river running, the waterfall flowing, 360 degrees of a panoramic chocolate wonderland.
Did it really taste like schnozzberries? Don't bullshit me.
The wallpaper tasted like wallpaper.
Did you maintain contact with any of the cast members?
Happy Cake Day!
Yes, I do. I answered this elsewhere as well. I talk to Julie the most.