Australian Actor's Union Furious Over American Cast as Willy Wonka

Sara Krulwich/NY Times

Sara Krulwich/NY Times


We’ve seen some interesting casting controversies in Australia over the past couple of years. However, the most recent issue seems to be over the fact that a lead role went to an American actor over a local Australian.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, The Gordon Frost Organisation(GFO) has angered the head of the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance(MEAA) by casting Paul Slade Smith as Willy Wonka in their production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Mr. Smith is American and that seems to have caused an issue with Chloe Dallimore, MEAA Equity Federal President.

Dallimore doesn’t seem to have an issue with Slade being an American. Her issue is simply that he’s not a local actor and that GFO didn’t communicate to the union that they were going to cast a foreign performer. In comments to the Sydney Morning Herald, Dallimore said the following,

"This situation proves that we cannot expect all producers to act in good faith in regards to communicating with the union about foreign artists. We must set guidelines for all producers. There cannot be this ad hoc scenario every time we have a new production."

Due to the expiration of the musical theatre industry's foreign artist agreement in 2013, producers are under no obligation to consult with the union when it comes to casting.

According to producers however, Slade was cast only after negotiations with Australian actors broke down. The Sydney Morning Herald reported,

Paul Slade Smith

Paul Slade Smith

“Craig Donnell, John Frost's co-producer on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, told Fairfax Media the decision to give the role of Willy Wonka to an American was only made after all other avenues were exhausted.

"We would always prefer to cast all roles locally," he said. "But in this case, the creative team couldn't find an Australian who was suitable for the requirements of the role and available."

Donnell said the show's creative team saw 62 Australian performers as part of the auditioning process.

"Three Australian performers were offered the role, but after periods of negotiation, in one case very lengthy, [they] declined," he said.”

Slade is a Broadway veteran. He’s performed in shows such as Finding Neverland and most recently, My Fair Lady. He also appeared in the Broadway production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory playing Grandpa George and understudying Willy Wonka.

While I personally don’t feel this is a big deal (since we often see foreign performers on our stages) I do understand where the union is coming from. Actor’s unions do have to fight for their members and that means fighting for Australian gigs to be populated by Australian performers. However, that also means they have to accept the jobs as they come. When they don’t, they should be up for anyone to take and if that means it’s an American, so be it.