Come with John Stamos and you’ll be in a world of “Pure Imagination.”
The actor is stepping into Gene Wilder’s shoes on Nov. 4, as part of a special live-to-film concert presentation of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory at the Hollywood Bowl.
Similar to The Little Mermaid event in 2016 (in which Stamos played Chef Louie), the film will play with live accompaniment from the multifaceted indie band Devotchka and a musical ensemble conducted by Jeff Hoeppner. At key moments, the cast will take to the stage to sing alongside the film.
The presentation will also feature Smell-O-Rama, meaning guests will receive scratch-and-sniff “golden tickets” to use during the show, while projections designed by Shag will add an extra layer of artistry to the proceedings. (Get a sneak peek in the video above.)
The cast also includes Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard as Charlie, Giancarlo Esposito as the Candy Man, Richard Kind as Grandpa Joe, Elle King as Veruca Salt, Ingrid Michaelson as Mrs. Bucket, and “Weird Al” Yankovic as the Oompa Loompas.
EW chatted with Stamos about his involvement in the evening, what’s in store for audiences, and what it’s like to take on Wilder’s iconic portrayal of Willy Wonka — particularly when, in Stamos’ case, it’s your favorite film.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So we know you’ll be singing “Pure Imagination” during this live-to-film event, but can you talk a bit more about what to expect from the evening?
JOHN STAMOS: The whole night is an event, and people are going to come dressed up and there’s contests and different fun things like that, Smell-O-Rama. But the movie comes on and then when the particular songs come up that we’re going to be involved in, we come out and do the song with the movie. It kind of feels like the characters are sort of jumping out of the movie at that moment and performing.
You’ve done this once already, playing Chef Louie in The Little Mermaid at the Hollywood Bowl. Was there something about that experience that made you want to come back?
When we did Mermaid, it was just such a happy experience, and I could see the joy in kids and adults. The reason why I would jump on this again is because our country needs this. We need celebration and singing and laughing and forgetting about the news, even if it’s just for an hour or two. We need representation of maybe a simpler, more easy time, which was for me Willy Wonka, the first movie I ever saw. Discord is at an all-time high and decency at an all-time low, and as we try to fix things, it’s also nice to have a couple hours of escapism.
Is it intimidating to take on a role that is so fully associated with Gene Wilder and his performance?
The key to what I’m doing is that myself and the director, Richard Kraft, we were like, how do we do this and pay tribute? Certainly, [we] get out of the way of Gene Wilder. What we’re going to do is, I’m going to do it within the movie and then we’re actually going to play Gene Wilder. As an encore, we’re going to do Gene Wilder’s version of “Pure Imagination” because obviously it’s a pretty sacred tune and people want to see him do it as well. And I’m not doing an impression by any means, but I’m not straying too far from what he did in the movie in the staging of it all. I’m trying to find little moments in the show, which I think I found a few, that sort of represent what Gene Wilder was doing, which was you never know really when to trust him, when he’s telling the truth or when he’s lying.
What else is challenging about the role, and how are you preparing for it?
There’s different challenges because you have to sort of sing to the movie and to a click in your ear, and not necessarily how you’d sing it. The orchestra can’t follow you; you have to follow them to be perfectly in time with the movie. So that’s a little challenging, but being a drummer I’m used to hearing clicks in my ears a lot. [That’s] the first thing I always do with this because I’m not a great singer by any means — that’s not my forte — so I start that early on. Now I’m working on singing it with the click tracks. It’s hard. I don’t have to do his exact vocal per se, but I sort of have to sing it in the exact rhythm he sang it. And this song is in two or three different time signatures. I have it playing all the time. I have it on my phone, I have it in the car, and I’ve been on the road with the Beach Boys and they’ve been sort of helping me with it. That part is sort of scary, but then it’s also a little safe because you know you have to do it a certain way and it’s certainly going to work that way if I do it that way.
What’s been difficult, which I thought [would be easier], because I’m pretty good at physical comedy and I like that world — do you remember when he first appears and he sort of looks out and the cane gets stuck and then he does this forward fall? I’m working on that, and that’s frightening. It’s just pushing the limits to what you feel is safe. It’s weird, you have to get as close as you can to the ground to really kind of make it work. I think I’ll be okay. I hope.
What kind of costume can we expect from you? A purple coat? A wig?
I’m not wearing a wig. When we did The Little Mermaid, they were like, “Just wear a nice shirt, there’s no costumes.” And then all of a sudden, like on the first or second rehearsal, which was like a day before [the show], I saw these wigs coming through, these costumes coming through for Rebel [Wilson], for Sara [Bareilles]. I told my assistant, “Quick, go get me a big mustache and a beret!” So this time I’m ahead of it. I have a really interesting costume being made that’s kind of — my girlfriend’s into bounding, Disneybounding [wearing everyday clothes in color palettes and combinations that evoke Disney characters]. I’m sort of doing a bounding version of Willy Wonka.
What do you think it is about Wilder’s performance and the film that make it so indelible?
It’s sort of accessible, right? You kind of get into him, and then he kind of pushes you away. And then at the end, you find he really is a true, good man and he was looking for truth and goodness in people and found the one kid that had it. That’s sort of a good roadmap, I guess, right? I remember being a kid and not really understanding, what is this guy doing, this Willy Wonka? Every year since I’ve watched that performance and studied it, and it’s just so layered. It’s been my favorite movie forever — since I saw it, so it’s pretty great that I get to be part of it. This movie has just picked up over the years, and it’s kind of like Fuller House maybe is. I hate to throw that in there, but parents watch Willy Wonka and they show the kids and they like it. New generations are finding it.
You’ve played Conrad Birdie in Bye Bye Birdie. Any chance of another return to Broadway after doing these live-to-film performances? Maybe in the new Willy Wonka musical there?
I love that show [the Wonka musical]. I went to that one too in New York. I haven’t found anything that really calls to me. But I’ll tell you one thing: All that has really given me — and also doing Full House in front of a live audience and playing with the Beach Boys for 30-plus years — it gives me enough confidence at least to stand on that stage and begin. It hit me last night. What am I doing? I’m standing in front of 20,000 people singing “Pure Imagination?” What was I thinking? It’s scary, don’t you think?
You’re also working with Craig Zadan and Neil Meron developing a show for Amazon. Have they tried to convince you to join one of the live television musicals as your next step?
I’m trying to talk them into it! I was going to do something in Hairspray, but I was busy doing Scream Queens or something. There hasn’t been the right one for me. When they were doing Bye Bye Birdie, I threw my hat in for that. In fact, Neil and I flew up to Vegas to meet J-Lo and see her show and stuff. That would’ve been great.
And lastly, Wonka’s chocolates and candy inventions are a big part of the film. If you could have or eat one of the Wonka candies we see in the movie, which one would you want?
I was dying to know what that little teacup was that [Wonka] ends up eating at the end of [“Pure Imagination”], and I think we’re going to do that as well. So I’ll find out!