The actress tells The Hollywood Reporter she couldn't believe she was a few rows in front of her former castmate on the flight four years ago.

"I hadn’t seen Gene in a thousand years but there he was in the last row of first class," she recalls. "He looked so fragile! We both started crying. I held his hand and told him how much I loved him."

Wilder cast model LeBrock as his character's fantasy love interest in the 1984 film - her first movie role - and she admits they kept in touch over the phone for years.

"He was very different off-screen," LeBrock tells the publication. "He was the funny man onscreen but in reality, he wasn’t funny. He was very quiet and kind of shy... The Gene that I knew and that I loved was quiet. He loved his meals and his wine. He loved Europe. He loved writing.

"But he was bitter in some places, certainly - about his childhood, about losing (wife) Gilda (Radner). I think he would have liked to have had children with Gilda. They tried very hard. That was a source of sadness."

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory star Wilder died on Sunday night (28Aug16) at his home in Stamford, Connecticut following a secret three-year battle with Alzheimer's disease. He was 83.