Episode #185 — Willy Wonka’s Veruca Salt, Julie Dawn Cole

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when interviewing someone for the podcast, Heidi will have a personal geographic connection with them. It’s also true that Luke will find this annoying, because it’s not like he comes from some place obscure. And his current locale of Philadelphia isn’t some out-of-the-way place that no one has ever heard of. But, again, there’s that truth — almost everyone has a Detroit connection. And if they don’t, Heidi will figure out another way the interviewee and herself love the same places. It’s a fun, unpredictable game every week.

After all, there’s no earthly way of knowing which direction we are going. There’s no knowing where we’re rowing, or which way the river’s flowing. Wise words that might conjure up some bad dreams from childhood, at least for those of us who weren’t raised on a movie diet of “Halloween” and “The Exorcist.” But don’t worry, this week’s episode won’t lead to worry or bad dreams … unless you were a selfish, gluttonous, or otherwise bratty kid who watched too much television.

We spoke with Julie Dawn Cole, who immortalized the character of Veruca Salt in the original “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” film from 1971. She acted in many UK television series, mostly as not-so-nice characters, including in the original BBC series of “Poldark.” (We imagine people would view her scandalous character, Rowella, in a different light today than in the mid 1970s. At least we hope so!) Julie has some pretty remarkable insight into dear Veruca — unsurprising considering today she has moved on from acting and is a psychotherapist. Take that, supposed curse of the child star!   

Given that Luke, Heidi, and all their respective family members of varying ages love “Willy Wonka,” we had a lot of questions for Julie. Perhaps the most pressing questions, however, came from some nine- and six-year-old kids with some concerns about what happened to Veruca once she went down the chute to the incinerator, and why she wasn’t just a little bit nicer. Julie allayed any fears about Veruca’s condition and placed the blame for her character’s bratty behavior at the feet of her parents. (The Oompah Loompah song agrees, and Julie treated us to a stanza of it. Seriously, we got to hear Veruca Salt sing. Suddenly February doesn’t seem so bad!)

We also chatted with her about the enduring legacy of Veruca and why people seem to connect with her so much. We could all use a bit of the character’s assertiveness in our lives — recognizing what we need and deserve — though it’s also good to walk the fine line between expressing wants and demanding a golden goose. Then again, who are we to say you shouldn’t have a golden goose? Get it! (Just don’t insult an arguably erratic candy factory owner in the process.)

Julie shared with us what filming was like as a kid, and how all of the child actors bonded. She also shared how they still get together today, often for appearances. (For a while they were virtual, but now they are back on in person.) We talked about what it’s like to find your likeness and/or character’s name on all sorts of things like slot and pinball machines, salt trucks, and kick-ass ‘90s bands, as well as what memorabilia Julie took from the movie set and who she gave them to. And if you’re wondering how the rest of this blog connects to the first paragraph, it turns out Julie lives in Jane Austen country, not far from a town where dear friends of Heidi’s live and where she spent a great deal of time as a kid in England. (This producer is in love with the town, too, and hopes we’ll run into Julie while all walking our dogs at Frensham Pond. Luke, you can come, too.)

If you’d like to know more about Julie, her appearances, and her memoir (aptly titled “I Want It Now”), check out her website. She’s also on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and — happily — Cameo. We’re off to sing every single song from “Willy Wonka” because they’ve all been in our heads ever since we talked with Julie — are we’re not mad about it at all. Look up what a “bean-feast” means and cheers to being bad eggs!

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