See Veruca Salt From "Willy Wonka" Now at 64
Julie Dawn Cole was 12 when she played the iconic spoiled rich girl in the beloved film.
"I want an Oompa-Loompa now," Veruca Salt demands in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the 1971 movie musical based on Roald Dahl's novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Behind the spoiled English girl demanding just about everything was 12-year-old actor Julie Dawn Cole. Like the other children who played the kids touring Wonka's factory—and meeting untimely ends in the process—Cole was cast from hundreds of aspiring young actors. Read on to learn about her experience making the film, and the fascinating career she's had since.
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Julie Dawn Cole turned 13 while filming Willy Wonka.
The famous "I Want It Now" number that Cole sings as Veruca Salt wasn't just exciting because it was one of her standout moments in the film—it was also her 13th birthday. "Filming the goose room took place over my 13th birthday," she told El Paso Inc. in a 2019 interview. "That was quite something. They sang happy birthday and then threw me down the chute!"
Over the years, Cole has spoken with gratitude about her experience of playing Veruca. After Gene Wilder, who played Willy Wonka, died in 2016, Cole penned a tribute to working with him, and how he had helped her feel less homesick while filming on location in Germany. "Gene was sweet, patient, and tolerant on set," she wrote in a Time article. "He was a generous-spirited man, great fun, and spoke to the kids as adults. He never patronized us and we always vied for his attention; there was a constant race to get our schoolwork done so we could hang out with him."
She and the actor who played Violet both had a crush on the actor playing Charlie.
Cole was close with two co-stars in particular: Denise Nickerson, who played gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde, and Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie Bucket. In a 2019 interview with Fox News, Cole said, "We were the friendliest among the bunch because we were so close in age and we stayed in the same hotel. We're all still friends now. It was nice to hang out with kids on a movie set. I had done other things, but you're usually the only child in an adult world. We all got to hang around and do crazy things." Sadly, Nickerson passed away just a few months after the interview.
According to Cole, the two girls shared a common love interest. There was no feud, she told Fox News, "only the girly rivalry between myself and Denise for the affections of Peter. We were 12, turning 13. So little fluttering hearts were beginning to kick in. We both had a crush on Peter. He didn't know it, of course."
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Cole continued acting after Willy Wonka.
While some child actors leave the business behind—including Cole's co-star, Ostrum, who is now a veterinarian—Cole decided to continue acting after Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. She played another snobby girl on the British sitcom …And Mother Makes Three, which ran from 1971 to 1973. Cole also had roles on the BBC series Angels and Poldark, which introduced her to a new audience.
Cole has worked steadily in theater, but in recent years, she's had limited film and TV credits. She's made appearances on a few British series, including Emmerdale Farm, Holby City, and Casualty. She's also taken on some interesting stage projects that harken back to her Willy Wonka days. In 2004, she appeared in Willy Wonka Explained (The Search for Veruca Salt) at the Melbourne Comedy Festival. Then in 2010, she co-starred in Willy Wonka Revisited: The Veruca Salt Sessions, playing a fictionalized version of herself.
She became a psychotherapist and works for a cancer charity.
If you're wondering why you haven't seen Cole more in the 2000s, that has something to do with a significant career change she made. "I retired from acting about 10 years ago, to train as a psychotherapist and I now work for a cancer charity," she writes on her official website. "I have two children, both grown up, and happily neither of them are like Veruca Salt."
But while she's doing important work outside of acting, Cole has not left her past behind entirely. In 2016, she wrote a memoir about her experience making Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. The title, appropriately enough, is I Want It Now! The former Veruca Salt also appears at fan conventions, offers personalized videos on Cameo, and has a Twitter account under the name @realverucasalt, with a bio that reads, "I used to be a very bad egg, I'm a better one now."
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