Page last updated at 12:57 GMT, Wednesday, 29 June 2005 13:57 UK

How childhood pain shaped comic Wilder

Gene Wilder
Wilder has moved away from Hollywood
Comic actor Gene Wilder has told how his relationship with his sick mother shaped his career as a comic actor.

Wilder, who has released an autobiography entitled Kiss Me Like A Stranger, told BBC World Service's The Ticket programme that he had first begun developing his comic talents after his mother suffered a "massive" heart attack when he was eight years old.

He explained that on her return home, the heart specialist left instructions that he was not to argue with her - "because you might kill her" - but if he could, he should "try to make her laugh."

"I'd never consciously tried to make anyone laugh before - and I was successful," Wilder said.

"I made my mother laugh. I suppose that's where the idea of carrying it on professionally came from."


Wilder went on to star in highly-regarded comedy films such as The Producers and Blazing Saddles.

He also developed a long-term screen partnership with Richard Pryor - Wilder's last film was alongside Pryor, in 1991's Another You.

Wilder explained he got his big break when "miscast" in a Broadway production, which was at the time starring Anne Bancroft - whose boyfriend was comedy director Mel Brooks.

Gene Wilder and John Gordon Sinclair at the Theatre Royal
The musical adaptation of The Producers has been highly successful
Brooks read him the first 30 pages of a screenplay he was working on called Springtime For Hitler - which would go on to become The Producers, widely regarded as one of the best comedies of all time. Brooks wanted Wilder for the part of Leo Bloom.

"He saw me as a sheep who was perfect prey for all the wolves around - that's certainly what Leo Bloom is in The Producers," Wilder said.

"I don't think I'm like that now, but at the time he was certainly right - I was like that, and that's what he wanted to see on screen."

Wilder pointed out that both The Producers and his next major film, Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, were both "commercial flops" - and it was only later on that they came to be regarded as "classics."

Both films are now being revisited - The Producers as a musical, currently running at London's Theatre Royal, and Willy Wonka as Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, a new film being made by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp.


Wilder said while he felt Depp would be "perfect" for the part of Willy Wonka, Burton was "not going to do the film that we did."

"I think it's going to be a very dark film, I would imagine special effects," he added.

Tim Burton
Wilder has doubts about Burton's Charlie And The Chocolate Factory
Wilder also forcefully expressed his disillusionment with the US film industry, saying he did not feel The Producers would be made in the modern environment.

"I don't think they would find it edgy enough," he added.

"They're searching for mega-hits - $200m, $300m, $400m - they'll spend a fortune to make a fortune."

However, he also said that, despite not having appeared on a movie screen for 14 years, he would still be ready to make a film if there was the right script.

"If you've got a script that I love, I'll read it and do it - as soon as you've got your financing, I'm your guy," he added.

"Otherwise, I'm on page 38 of my new book."

New cast open in Producers roles
25 Apr 05 |  Entertainment
Injured Lane quits Producers show
28 Dec 04 |  Entertainment
Depp keeps faith with Tim Burton
30 Jun 04 |  Entertainment

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