Until recently, directing films seemed off-limits to women in Spain, but a new generation of filmmakers —Carla Simón, Pilar Palomero, or Paula Ortiz, among others— have broken through that glass ceiling.
An endearing Willy Wonka
Playing Willy Wonka, the leading role in the Spanish version of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, is Edu Soto’s latest challenge. He leads the audience into a fantasy world where everything is possible. The show, which has been hugely successful in many countries, comes with the seal of approval of the latest director in charge of adapting this Roald Dahl classic: Tim Burton.
First came Gene Wilder (Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Mel Stuart, 1971), then Johnny Depp (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Tim Burton, 2005) and now it’s the turn of Edu Soto (Mataró, 1978). Bringing Willy Wonka to life is no easy task, as Edu himself admits during this interview, but this actor who rose to fame as El Neng de Castefa doesn’t get too comfortable, and staging this musical —in which he acts, dances, and sings— is proof of this. The factory, with its dozens of Oompa-Loompas, chocolate waterfalls, bright sweets, crazy squirrels, and the great glass elevator, will remain open until the 11th of December in Madrid. Visiting it changed Charlie Bucket’s life, what are you waiting for?
What the audience that goes to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory find?
We’ve been working really hard, and I think that it’s a title that brings a smile to everybody’s lips. We’ve already done the first shows and it’s a really accessible musical full of fun. It also has quite an important life lesson. So, whoever comes will be satisfied.
You’ve done all sorts throughout your career, but is playing Willy Wonka one of the greatest challenges you’ve faced?
Willy Wonka is a really charismatic character that we all picture in our minds, which means that expectations are high. The biggest challenge, therefore, is meeting the expectations of people who come with a preconceived idea. In any case, I don’t think he’s a character that’s that far removed from what I’ve been doing up until now, and from the moment they approached me about it, I was certain about some things. He’s not an easy character to play, but he’s close to my universe.
“I’m always fighting to do my own thing and look for roles that seem far removed from what I usually do”
Have you taken notes from the Willy Wonkas played by Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp to prepare your character, or have you preferred to make the role your own?
The truth is they don’t immediately come to mind. I’ve seen the films, but it was a long time ago and my memory is poor. I haven’t watched them to refresh my memory; I’d rather face the character with my own identity. The same thing happened with Cabaret. I like to bring my personality to the table, and I reject everything that reminds me of something I’ve already seen.
And how would you get along with such a peculiar fellow as Willy Wonka?
We’d get on well. He has voluntarily locked himself up at home far away from people, and I sometimes understand that overwhelming feeling, the need to be calm and far from the madding crowd. But then he’s also someone who’s looking for his successor, his alter ego, among that same crowd, so he doesn’t seem like such an odd character, in the end, he’s even endearing.
I have the feeling that Edu Soto might have felt complacent at some point in his career, but he decided to take the risk...
Totally, it’s something I experience daily. I’m also fighting to do much more. In the last four years, I’ve written four films and I’ve been lucky enough that a Catalan producer has shown interest in one of them. I also have a band with my wife and brothers-in-law, who are all musicians, and are behind Javier Limón. I’m always fighting to do my own thing and look for roles that seem far removed from what I usually do. Luckily, I still feel young and I’m looking for the chance to play a dramatic role. I’ve had the chance to play one in theatre, but not yet on-screen. I’m stubborn and will do it, even if it’s when I’m 85 (laughs).
Singing isn’t new to you. In fact, this year you’ve released an album called Imel dedicated to your son. Tell us where this passion comes from.
Both my parents instilled this passion for singing in me. They’d sing on all the trips we’d do with the basketball team, which would make me blush. I come from a really artistic family, even if none of them have done it professionally. I’ve inherited artistic genes, especially from my father, and I’ve been lucky enough to do it for a living.
Although you’re really multifaceted, your career has featured a lot of comedy; is making people laugh the toughest job in the world?
That’s what they say... In terms of acting, comedy requires natural timing, which many of my peers lack; in fact, they know it and don’t even want to hear the word comedy because if you don’t have that talent, you feel like a bull in a China shop. You also depend on a good comical script, which is a perfectly oiled piece of machinery, and no matter how funny you are, if you don’t suit each other, it can be a rough time. I think dramatic timing is simpler or doesn’t require as much precision. I haven’t worked on it as much, but, based on what colleagues who do work in this field have told me, I can infer that comedy is slightly more complex.
“There are people who have an innate talent to make people laugh and you can encounter them anywhere”
Which talents does someone who works as a comedian need?
I think that pacing is everything in comedy, and pacing isn’t speed. As I was saying, there’s a natural, special gift for it. There are people who have an innate talent to make people laugh and you can encounter them anywhere. There are friends who tell a story and have a certain style, with the right tempo and pauses, that just make you laugh. That’s really hard to learn, you either have it or you don’t.
After the pandemic and the restrictions that ensued for these kinds of performances, how excited are you to be back in a theatre full of people?
The other day we sat down to do interviews with the press in the seating area, and face masks never even occurred to us, even though we instinctively sat at a distance from one another. We’re slowly getting back to normal, where someone sitting next to you doesn’t feel odd anymore. This is joyful, not just for this industry but for human relationships themselves.
And how was your meeting with Tim Burton? Can you tell us anything about it?
He was visiting the exhibition they’ve made for him in Madrid, and I had the pleasure of spending some time with him. We even shot a sketch where we cross paths, and he wishes me luck with the musical. The night after that, I also had dinner with him. He wished me good luck and told me I’d be a great Willy Wonka. So, we have the master’s seal of approval.