Paris Themmen [Interview]

Hello Folks! We have a very exciting interview to share with you all on this wonderful Wednesday. Today we have some words from a man who was once a part of one of the most special cinematic experiences the world has ever known. That man is actor & so many more things, Paris Themmen. You may remember him as one Mike Teevee, one of the “lucky” kids who found the well sought after golden ticketing the legendary film Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.

Themmen has had a wonderful career beyond the world of Wonka, and also has done a fantastic job at keeping the wonder and excitement of this almost 5 year old treasure of a film alive and well with all of us. Regular readers here at Trainwreck’d Society, just by all means be regular listeners to one of our affiliated podcasts, Super Geeky Play Date, and should know that some great questions are coming up for Paris. SGPD has been notorious for diving hard into the theory that Grandpa Joe is actually the most evil character of the film. So with that, we were curious to see what a person who was actually there during the making of the Roald Dahl adaptation. Also Paris is renowned traveller in his own right, and we were equally as excited to ask him about that.

So, please enjoy some wonderful words from the brilliant Paris Themmen!

You got into the world of acting at a very young age. What compelled you to do so? And how was your experience as a child actor during the 60’s and 70’s? And what was the very first gig you remember getting? How old were you, and was there anything from that early experience that you learned from that experience that as continued to bleed into the rest of your work?

My parents were both classical musicians: my dad was a conductor and a clarinetist for many years at American ballet Theatre and my mom was a composer and a pianist. She was honored at the Kennedy Center one year. At times they would play Broadway shows. My mother brought my older sister into a talent agent one day and I went just along for the ride but the agent asked if I wanted to try acting as well, I was six years old. I booked the first commercial I went up for, Jiff peanut butter. I kept booking commercials, eventually doing about two dozen of them. When I was eight I was on Broadway in Mame with Ann Miller. My mom would travel around the city with me for auditions and work on lines with me. I would show up at these big office buildings with my portfolio, I think the ad guys were surprised to see me acting so professional at such a young age.

I built up a reputation around the city and when the auditions occurred for Willy Wonka I was one of the few kids in town called in. After Willy Wonka I was on Broadway in the Rothschilds. I was attending the Professional Children’s School and had to leave early on Wednesdays to go to a matinee. I would ride the buses and subways for eight shows a week. It made me very independent.

And as I am sure you are asked regularly and maybe getting tired of it, but it behooves us to ask about your experience on the set of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. My specific question is what catering would be like on a set based around candy? Also how was your experience overall?

We shot Willy Wonka in Munich Germany in late 1970. Oktoberfest occurred around that time where I saw a baby drinking beer from a bottle. Also they were setting up the ‘72 Olympics. There was definitely candy on set. One of the sponsors for the film was Quaker Oats. Although there was beautiful European chocolate nearby, the chocolate bars were made by Hershey and flown in from the states. There were food stylists on set to turn candy into interesting concoctions; my favorite was the “gum” that Violet ate, it was actually a rather tasty toffee. Our actual meals were eaten at a canteen at the Bavarian Filmworks studios where the movie was shot. Other movies shot there include Cabaret, Das boot, Never ending story, etc. I remember particularly liking Wienerschnitzel. Overall the experience was excellent, if you are ever going to be an 11-year-old in a film, I recommend that it be Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

As an obvious expert, I was hoping you may be able to help me out with this: My friends at the podcast Super Geeky Play Date are obsessed with the online theory that Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory is a sort of whimsical take on the 7 Deadly Sins. Now, I know you were but a child working on the film, but was this ever discussed? Is this real?

Certainly I have heard this theory along with endless other theories that the Internet hive mind presents. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a cautionary tale, the children each have a tragic flaw and they pay a price directly related to that flaw. I recently read an online article about Dante’s Inferno and Willy Wonka recently, that one seems closer to the mark than seven deadly sins. But it’s all the same stuff, from slightly different angles. Scratch the surface and you will find online references to Grandpa Joe as the villain and his alleged coke nails. People come up with these theories and then run with them. It’s a blessing and a curse: see covfefe.

I was a kid so I wouldn’t have been a party to those conversations but Mel Stuart, Gene Wilder and Jack Albertson were very bright guys so I’m sure the theme  of sin and retribution was not lost on them.

One other argument you may be able to settle: Is Grandpa Joe the real antagonist of the film? Was it odd that he was lying in bed eating cabbage soup all day, and suddenly he walks just fine when there is something to be gained?

I just covered this a bit but in my opinion the theory is over wrought. I think he’s a good man, although more flawed than Charlie due to his being an adult. That’s why Wonka needed a child.

You have worked in just about every aspect of the world of film, television, and the theatre, both in front of the camera/audience and behind the scenes. With that in mind, which aspect of the world of entertainment have you enjoy the most?

I’ve had the most fun acting, but I wish I had spent more time writing or directing.

I understand you are quite the renowned traveler, even working in the world of travel agencies for a while. I’ve been living outside the states for the last 6 years as well, and try to travel as much as I can. One thing I am always curious to know is this: What was one place that you were completely surprised to have enjoyed visiting? Maybe somewhere you were sort of indifferent about going to, and it turned out to be one of your favorite destinations?

Interesting question. I have had a ton of amazing experiences on the road but almost all of them were in a sense, expected by me. I’m a planner. Lonely planet guide was always there to help me decide where to go. I also find that almost every country has some amazing things to offer. Here are two tidbits that might qualify: I was traveling to New Zealand once and while at a youth hostel, I signed up for some horseback riding on a ranch. As it turned out, I was the only person that signed up so I got to spend a week with a herd of horses, and the two lovely people that run the ranch. Every morning we would ride, then break for lunch, then would ride again until sunset. I had the whole place to myself. In 2006 and 07 I traveled for an entire year. I was in Zanzabar and torn as to whether I should continue down towards South America or head north and begin a swing up through Europe and eventually home. I’ll always wonder what I missed by not turning south but one unexpected benefit of turning north was a visit to a place called Jinja, Ethiopia. It was by far the most culturally primitive place I’ve ever been. Completely tribal. It took me days and days to get there but so worth it.

What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

My standard plug these days is for:

Wonkapops.com

That’s the website I run where I sell funko pop vinyls, pictures, posters and replica props signed by me and the other cast members from Willy Wonka.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

I’m smiling right now as I pet one of my two British shorthaired cats, Winston. Soon my wife will be home. I smile a lot.

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About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

One Response to Paris Themmen [Interview]

  1. Pingback: Adam Mattson [Interview] | TRAINWRECK'D SOCIETY

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