Willy Wonka actress Julie Dawn Cole on chocolate rivers and her secret crush on Charlie

Ahead of a special screening of 1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory at Phoenix Cinema, the actress behind the brattish Veruca Salt talks to Alex Bellotti.

Now retrained as a psychotherapist, Julie Dawn Cole is more used to helping dysfunctional children than portraying them on screen. For generations of moviegoers however, her most recognisable role is still the delightfully bratty daddy’s girl, Veruca Salt, who has a brush with ferocious squirrels in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

This Monday, Cole will be attending a screening of the classic 1971 film at Phoenix Cinema and afterwards giving a Q&A on the experiences she had working on it as a 12-year-old.

Even 40 years on, Mel Stuart’s musical fantasy remains a hugely popular tale of whimsy, magic and morality and Cole believes it retains relevance today.

“It’s a wonderful story that reaches everybody,” she says. “It’s moralistic for the parents to tell their children, ‘Look, this is what happens to naughty kids’, while the kids of course just want to win the chocolate and it’s their idea of heaven to live in this factory and not go to school.”

She continues: “You watch it now and you see different things each time – the music quotes, the Shakespearean quotes, there’s all sorts of things going on. And I do think the chemistry was just wonderful: Gene Wilder (Willy Wonka) was amazing; Jack Albertson (Grandpa Joe) was fantastic; the wonderful, funny Roy Kinnear (Veruca’s father, Henry). Sometimes you just get things right and I think they did.”

While many child actors try to shy away from their early breakthroughs, Cole says the whole cast of “the kids” in the movie still meet up to give talks about their time together on set.

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Amusingly, she and Denise Vickerson (Violet Beauregarde) often tease Peter Ostrum (Charlie Bucket) about the way they followed him around in their younger years: “He had no idea that I had a crush on him and he blushes at the thought of it, so it’s all quite funny.”

Despite further acting roles in television shows including Emmerdale and Tales of the Unexpected, Cole is now retired from acting and spends her time working with bereaved children. “I’d done what I wanted to do,” she says, “It was time to do something more meaningful, more satisfying. It was a real strategic decision for me to change career; I had to study, get a degree and I don’t regret it at all.”

Nonetheless, I say, there must be a satisfaction in coming back to a film that appeals to parents as much as their children?

“Dare I say grandparents!” she laughs. “You were being polite but I can say it!

“When I’ve done events in the States, which I still do occasionally, you’re seeing three generations that have grown up on it, so it’s really lovely to see the new ones. I will be there to sign autographs and do a Q&A and I’m sure people will be asking me, ‘Was the river really chocolate?’, which is the question they all want to ask.”

Well was it?

“Oh I’m not going to tell you!”

Willy Wonka Q&A with Julie Dawn Cole takes place at the Phoenix Cinema this Monday. Visit phoenixcinemaonline.co.uk