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Timothée Chalamet Says “Wonka” Is His Mom's 'Favorite' of His Films: 'You Gotta Be Happier in Your Movies!' (Exclusive)

"This was so fun to work on. This was unlike anything I've ever worked on, I think," says the actor

<p>Jaap Buittendijk/Warner Brothers</p> Timothée Chalamet in "Wonka" (2023)

Jaap Buittendijk/Warner Brothers

Timothée Chalamet in "Wonka" (2023)

Timothée Chalamet's mom finally got a more light-hearted project from her movie-star son.

In Wonka, the Oscar nominee stars as the magician-chocolatier who dreams of opening a candy shop to make his mother, played by Sally Hawkins, proud.

Chalamet, 27, tells PEOPLE the family-friendly film, in which he sings and dances, is now his mother Nicole Flender's favorite movie he's done yet.

"This is maybe her favorite thing I've ever been in," he says, joking about his R-rated 2022 cannibalism film: "I think she saw Bones and All and said, 'You gotta be happier in your movies!' "

"But," Chalamet adds of Wonka, "this is the tradition. I come from a musical theater family, and this is more in line of the kind of movie I would've thought I'd be doing 10 years ago, if I was lucky enough to work at all."

He says, "This was so fun to work on. This was unlike anything I've ever worked on, I think."

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<p>Anthony Devlin/Getty </p> Timothee Chalamet on Nov. 28, 2023.

Anthony Devlin/Getty

Timothee Chalamet on Nov. 28, 2023.

Related: 'Wonka' Director Jokes About Chocolate Eaten on Set: 'It's a Miracle Timmy Remains So Slim' (Exclusive)

The star is mostly known for dramatic, more adult roles, from Beautiful Boy to Call Me By Your Name and The King — so much so that his young costar, Calah Lane, wasn't familiar with Chalamet before landing the part of Noodle in Wonka.

"Actually, I did not know who he was. Not in a bad way; I really love him now. But his work, I never really got a chance to see because I was only 12," says Lane, now 15. "It was all too old for me. But after I met him, we became great friends."

Chalamet acknowledges that Willy Wonka is a change of pace for him, in terms of characters he takes on. He says the film feels "old-school" and "sincere."

<p>Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc</p> Timothee Chalamet and Hugh Grant in "Wonka"

Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc

Timothee Chalamet and Hugh Grant in "Wonka"

"[Director] Paul King means his stories. Like Paddington and Paddington 2, these aren't cynical Hollywood movies. They're extremely heartfelt and sincere," says Chalamet. "The main message of this movie is to never give up on your dreams. And that can feel like a tired, old Hollywood slogan, but it's meant because it's Paul King that means it. No matter how ridiculous it sounds."

King says he was "delighted" by how much Chalamet "owned the character."

"How he just managed to channel the spirit of the character, paying homage to the great Gene Wilder but in no sense doing an impersonation or anything," says King. "He just became Willy Wonka and it was a joy. What was so strange was seeing him out of costume at the end of the day because I just began to believe that he existed in this kind of plum-colored coat and brown top hat."

The actor, who next returns for a Dune sequel in 2024, admits it was "definitely intimidating" stepping into the iconic part, previously portrayed onscreen by Wilder and Johnny Depp.

"Whenever a character's beloved, people feel very protective of it, understandably. But I feel like the character was made its own before I ever got involved. It's a different story," he said of the origin story.

Adds Chalamet, "I think Paul King realized a wonderfully clever and heartfelt and sincere story here about a young Willy Wonka who's ambitious and full of ideas and dreams, not the broken man we've seen in other films."

Wonka is in theaters Dec. 15.

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