He’s donned an Ewok suit, played a young gorilla girl, and been hurled through a window by Hugh Jackman. Nothing, however, prepared the 4′ 4” actor Deep Roy for his motley role as 165 — yup, 165! — of Charlie’s cocoa- obsessed Oompa-Loompas. Born in Nairobi, Kenya, to Indian parents, Roy was an accounting student in London before dropping out at age 18; six years later he took a bit part in 1976’s The Pink Panther Strikes Again. Now a 30-year Hollywood veteran and three-time Burton alum (Planet of the Apes, Big Fish), Roy will next voice Napoléon Bonaparte in the director’s stop-motion creepfest Corpse Bride.
You played all of these Oompas that were later digitalized into hundreds more. How did it feel to see yourself multiplied?
I was shocked. When Tim and I first discussed the part in 2003, he told me, ”I’d love for you to play five Oompas.” But five Oompas quickly turned into 165 — and they’re not computerized; I did each one individually myself. For example, there are 21 Oompas in the foreground during the first song, and as I acted out each one, we’d bring in professional dancers [as stand-ins] because I couldn’t do all 21 at the same time. Tim would come and watch the 20 dancers rehearse with me, and then I’d [switch and perform the other roles]. We did each number like that. Tim would say to me, ”You’re the hardest-working man in showbiz.”
Tell me about the dance sequences.
I’m not a professional dancer, but I can move! Tim told me that the Oompas were strictly programmed, like robots — all they do is work, work, work. So when it comes time to dance, they’re like a regiment; they do the same steps. Except for the Mike Teavee dance, where the Oompas play in a rock band. I learned to play the guitar for that one.
Are you partial to any of the musical numbers?
My favorite is Augustus Gloop’s song because it’s very Bollywood. I kept telling Tim ”We’ve got to do a Bollywood number!” and finally he said okay. It’s a fast-moving number — and colorful. When I first saw my red costume for the song, I thought I was going to be driving with the Ferrari racing car team.