Timothée Chalamet is making Willy Wonka his own.
PEOPLE has exclusive photos from the upcoming big-screen musical Wonka, set to his theaters this December and starring Chalamet, 27, as the singing-and-dancing titular chocolatier.
One image also shows Hugh Grant as an orange Oompa Loompa, approximately 20 inches tall. Another shows Chalamet holding on to costar Calah Lane as her character Noodle begins to float.
Speaking with PEOPLE, director and co-writer Paul King (Paddington, Paddington 2) praises Chalamet as a “phenomenal actor” who was able to successfully put his own spin on the iconic character first introduced in novel form by author Roald Dahl in 1964’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
“I think what’s so remarkable about his performance is not only that he is funny and mischievous and quite mysterious, as well — just like the Willy Wonka that people will know — but also, he brings such heart to the role and he’s a brilliant actor,” says King, 44.
“He’s incredibly emotionally intelligent and can bring a great deal of emotional truth to the role.”
King says he saw making Wonka as a “real opportunity” for him to “celebrate old-time musicals, which I love and are very dear to my heart.”
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“The film tells the story of a young Willy Wonka, who comes to an uptight European center of chocolate with all these very fancy chocolate shops that sell candy at sharply inflated prices,” he says. “He brings this riot of color and energy and the future, and a lot more joyous sense of it.”
“We try to evoke that through these kind of dance sequences there,” King adds. “And there’s a couple of really big numbers in there, and there’s an amazing sort of zero-gravity set piece [and] some really lovely numbers.”
The director says fans of Chalamet might be surprised that he “can also sing and dance brilliantly,” on top of his thespian chops.
“It’s really a tour de force for him there,” King says of Chalamet’s performance, adding, “He was rehearsing for months before we went to kind of that honing skills, which was a pleasure to watch.”
Asked how much chocolate the cast and crew consumed on set, King tells PEOPLE it was a “great deal, which was a wonderful thing” that reminded him that his “life had taken a wonderful turn.”
In fact, King himself got to do a lot of taste-testing — from an on-set chocolate maker! — every Monday, which he jokes “was a real tough way to start the working week.”
“We had this incredible chocolatier,” he says. “She made these incredible concoctions, and we would taste them. They tasted much better than they needed to, because obviously actors are good at pretending things, but the miracle was they tasted every bit as good as they looked.”
“I think I’ve [gained] about 50 pounds, but I hope I can lose it before [the movie] comes out,” King jokes.
King believes Chalamet’s Wonka is “everything that people would expect, but also a whole lot more, because there has been emotional depth and truth — which is a side to the book that we haven’t seen in either of the Charlie movies, because [Wonka is] really at the heart of the movie in a way that Charlie was at the heart of the previous movies.”
“Obviously, [Timothée]’s walking in the footsteps of some truly phenomenal performers who played the role before, so the bar was set very high,” he adds, referencing Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp taking on the role in 1971 and 2005 versions, respectively.
Aside from Chalamet, Wonka’s star-studded cast includes Keegan-Michael Key, Rowan Atkinson, Olivia Colman, Jim Carter and Matt Lucas, plus Sally Hawkins as Wonka’s mother.
Of what he hopes audiences take away, King tells PEOPLE, “I hope it’s a blast of joy when we all need it the most. It’s great fun. Timothée’s phenomenal. And like I said, he brings enormous art to the role, as well as all the kind of magic and mayhem and mischievousness you might expect.”
“I hope it’s a really great fun outing for the whole family,” King adds. “It should be just a great Christmas movie. That’s what we’re trying to do, and I hope people really embrace it as that.”
Wonka is in theaters Dec. 15.