When Calah Lane was born, her umbilical cord had a knot in it.
She excitedly shares this “fun” fact over a Zoom call with Variety, with the unbridled enthusiasm only a 14-year-old could have. “I mean, that’s kind of sad,” she admits. “But I survived and everything’s good!”
She’s not wrong – things are good for her right now. Barely a teenager, she’s already crafted an impressive résumé, making her film debut in 2019’s “The Day Shall Come” and picking up small roles on series like “This Is Us” and “Family Reunion.”
This year, she found her breakout role in Paul King’s “Wonka,” starring Timothée Chalamet in an origin story of Roald Dahl’s beloved chocolatier character. Lane plays Noodle, a precocious but jaded orphan who teams up with the idealistic Willy to make magic (and chocolate, of course).
In conversation with Variety a day after her nomination for a Critics’ Choice Award for best young actor or actress, Lane breaks down her experience on “Wonka,” from being inspired to write and direct by King, to convincing Chalamet he’s actually a great singer.
What was the audition process like?
When I first got the audition, it said “Untitled Project.” So I had no idea what I was auditioning for. My name wasn’t Noodle on the script. It was Nutmeg. Willy’s name was Jimmy. It was just a regular audition. I did like one scene, then I did a callback, then I had a director session. Then we were at Universal Studios and that’s when I found out I was going to England for a screen test for the movie. That’s when I figured out all of the “Wonka” stuff. I came back two weeks later and the director called us himself and told me that I got the role. We were screaming at the top of our lungs.
Let’s fast forward to the first few days on set. What was it like when you first got to step into the role of Noodle?
When I first stepped onto the set, I was like, “Okay. Calah Lane. You are Noodle. You are in this movie. You can do this.” That’s basically what I told myself. The sets were beautiful. It felt like I was in a whole ‘nother world. That really helped me too, because it felt like we were in the Wonka world and I could really experiment with different things and try new things. And being Noodle is fun, too. We both have kind of the same personality.
How are you most like her?
I think my favorite part of Noodle is how strong she is. She’s very, very strong. She doesn’t like to take “no” for an answer. She’s very confident, but she puts her guard up. And I feel like Willy really takes that heartfelt-ness that’s in her out in the movie.
What did you think of Noodle’s overall arc in the film?
I love her. She adds a lot to the movie. She’s kind of like the brains of the operation. She’s the heart of the movie. That’s what my dad would always say. Which I do see!
Which of the songs in the film did you connect with most?
I love “For a Moment.” I really, really enjoyed Timmy’s “A World of Your Own” song. His voice sounds really good in it. He keeps on telling me that he doesn’t think that he can sing, but I’m like, “Of course you can sing! Do you hear yourself?” I told my sister, “I need to take Timmy and have him sit down and listen to himself,” and then be like, “Now do you think you can sing?” And if he says no, he’s gonna continue to listen to himself until he thinks he can sing.
You’ve done so much already at just 14. What kind of projects do you hope to work on in the future?
I’d like to direct something and write something. That’s my ultimate goal. I love acting. I love singing. I love dancing. But I also like to try new things. I’ve written a lot of movies that I have not finished. I want to write and direct a movie. Like Paul.
What parts of working with Paul inspired you the most?
First of all, like the type of movies he makes: I love ‘Paddington.’ He just likes to make really heartfelt films. I also like how detailed his scripts are. I remember reading it for the first time being like, “If I was a cinematographer or something, I’d know exactly what to do just because of the way he writes.” Also, on set, he’s very collaborative.
What has this massive press tour been like for you?
So fun. I mean, at first it was a little overwhelming, because I had no idea what any of this is. I know what interviews are, of course, but I just didn’t know how big this would be. I had no idea what a junket is. But I enjoyed every minute of it, especially doing the interviews with the cast. Luckily, the media trainer told me, “You’re a kid. So don’t expect them to ask you any really hard questions.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.