Dwayne Johnson Reveals He Almost Played Willy Wonka for Tim Burton

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson reveals he almost played Willy Wonka in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Photo: Warner Bros. / Universal Pictures

If you want to view paradise, just look around… and imagine Dwayne Johnson in a top hat. Indeed, somewhere out there in the multiverse, moviegoers got exactly that when Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory opened in 2005. For while frequent Burton collaborator Johnny Depp eventually won the role in that movie, Johnson has now revealed he was considered for the part back in the days when he was better known as the Rock.

“Some cool history – back in the early 2000’s, iconic director, Tim Burton had considered me to play Willy Wonka [in] his remake, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” Johnson said on Instagram. In the post, Johnson was revealing how much his children love the 1971 classic film, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. That movie famously starred Gene Wilder as the famous chocolatier, but when Burton came along to make an adaptation closer to the Roald Dahl book, Johnson was in the running to be Wilder’s replacement.

“I remember thinking ‘HOLY SHIT, I’M IN,’” Johnson wrote in 2020. “But that was many years ago when I was just starting out in Hollywood with no foundation of global box office strength or any real acting experience to even pull it off. The role, of course went to Johnny Depp, who at that time was the biggest star in the world. The rest was history. And down the road I went. The fact Tim even considered me (albeit I’m sure he considered for all of 7 seconds:) sure meant a helluva lot to me as I was just breaking in to the business with no idea what the future had in store.”

While Johnson did not get the role of Willy Wonka, things turned out pretty well for him in the end. And for some other Dahl purists, 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory also turned out okay. Some circles consider it the better, more faithful version, complete with Depp’s creepy, pervy version of Wonka. For context, at that point in his career, Depp had only played Jack Sparrow once but already had two Oscar nominations for the first Pirates of the Caribbean (2003) and Finding Neverland (2004). He’d be nominated one more time for what is, in this writer’s opinion, his last great performance: 2007’s Sweeney Todd. That movie was also a Tim Burton joint.

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But as Johnson alluded, things turned out pretty good for the Rock as well. At that point in his career, Johnson’s most high-profile role had been that of the Scorpion King in the less-than-classic one-two punch of The Mummy Returns (2001) and The Scorpion King (2002). He then starred in the underrated Peter Berg down and dirty actioner, The Rundown (2003), and instead of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Johnson got to steal the show in the Get Shorty sequel, Be Cool (2005), giving audiences their first taste of Johnson’s ability to be “Franchise Viagra.” He also starred in Doom (2005), a video game adaptation that, uh, existed.

So perhaps it worked out all for the best. After all, Wilder will always be the only Wonka who counts.