How Christopher Gattelli Taught Timothée Chalamet to Tap in Wonka

January 8, 2024

When Tony Award–winning choreographer Christopher Gattelli first met Timothée Chalamet to teach him how to tap dance for Wonka, Chalamet’s hair was dyed a bright purple/red because he was in the middle of filming the movie Bones and All.

“It was a very fun way to meet him,” Gattelli (Newsies) tells Dance Spirit about their introduction. It was May 2021. Filming was slated to begin that fall. Warner Bros. Pictures, which distributed the film, now in theaters nationwide, had rented what Gattelli felt was the biggest room at Open Jar Studios in New York City for only the two of them. They had an hour and a half and got right down to business.

“I just [showed] him basic [steps]. ‘This is a shuffle.’ ‘This is a flap.’ [I showed him how] to string them together to feel how his weight changes, to get in his bones the flow of how steps follow each other,” Gattelli says of their initial lesson.

From there, Gattelli continued to send videos to Chalamet of new steps and combinations so he could keep practicing while filming other projects. In between takes, Chalamet would send back proof he was doing his homework. In a press statement, Chalamet said of doing the work:  “Repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition. It was smart because by the time the movie started, the physical stamina was there.”

“His growth was really, really fast,” Gattelli boasts of Chalamet. The Call Me by Your Name actor plays a young, twentysomething Willy Wonka in Wonka, an original prequel to the Roald Dahl children’s novel Charlie & The Chocolate Factory and the 1971 film, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, starring Gene Wilder.

Chalamet tap dances on a table, waltzes, and even does [aerial work] Flying by Foy throughout the movie. “He worked his butt off,” Gattelli says. “I have never worked with someone with his stardom who really put in the work.”

CALAH LANE as Noodle and TIMOTHÉE CHALAMET as Willy Wonka in “Wonka”. Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures.

For Gattelli, whose Broadway choreography credits include a whopping 17 shows, most recently The Cher Show and SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical, the job offer for choreographing Wonka came from a love of his prior work on the 2016 Channing Tatum movie, Hail, Caesar!, which features Tatum and an ensemble of tapping sailors in the number “No Dames” that pays homage to the Golden Age style of movie musicals. The movie is also the resumé credit that helped him score the gig for his choreography on Hulu’s Schmigadoon!, which earned him an Emmy nomination for his work on Season 2.

“[Wonka director] Paul King saw Hail, Caesar! and said, ‘I want whoever did that,’ ” Gattelli says of how he landed his biggest movie credit yet, with hundreds of dancers cast in the ensemble as townspeople. “He really wanted to capture the ’40s vibe. He really wanted it to have that authentic 1940s movie musical quality. Paul loves dance, especially tapping.”

If you watch Wonka closely, you’ll notice nods to the original choreo, including Wonka’s double kick down the stairs in “Pure Imagination,” and his quick step down and back up in “A Hatful of Dreams,” one of the six original new songs by Neil Hannon. Gattelli says he based a lot of Wonka’s movements with his signature top hat and cane based on how Fred Astaire danced around with a top hat and cane, specifically in Top Hat.

In the end, all the early practice paid off. The film features Chalamet doing intricate footwork, like a step shuffle pullback. “All of that was tricky for him, but he got it. I was thrilled. I was so proud of him,” Gattelli says. “He’s tapping up there with West End and Broadway performers, keeping up and doing it.”