It's a common misconception that any actor can do comedy. Often seen as less talented or less committed to their craft because they don't stay in character for the duration of the shoot or send their co-stars questionable things in the mail, some of the best cinematic performances ever have come from comedy stars. Because for as much as these actors make us laugh, there always has to be an emotional element somewhere to make it work. Sure, it's not exactly a new idea that comedy and drama come hand in hand - hell, Charlie Chaplin knew this in 1931 when he gave one of the most physically outrageous yet subtly tragic performances as the Tramp in City Lights - but it's a tough balancing act that's never appreciated enough when it's done right. And Gene Wilder, who sadly passed away at the age of 83 early last week, always got it right.

Because although Wilder, from his exaggerated appearance to his oddball mannerisms, could be effortlessly hilarious, he was much more than just an industry funny man. Even his most famous role as the madcap chocolate maker Willy Wonka is expressive and complex in a way that's completely absent in all other interpretations of the character. Sure, Wilder's wry, apathetic asides as Wonka remain funny for the duration of the picture, but there's a depth and complexity that the actor brings to the character that didn't necessarily have to be there.

Most notably in the scene where Wonka chastises Charlie for stealing the fizzy lifting drink, there's a real manic furore behind Wilder's eyes; a burst of genuine emotion that, for the first time, makes the viewer see Wonka as a real person rather than a cartoon character. It's reflective of a brilliant unpredictability and balance between comedy and tragedy that Wilder brought to every role, no matter how colourful or one-dimensional his wide-eyed expressive physicality may have initially made them seen.

Even in bit-parts, for instance as Doctor Ross in Woody Allen's Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, Wilder was able to stand out thanks to great straight performances that didn't rely on winking at the camera or making fun of the material. Allen's film perhaps more than any other encapsulates just how funny the actor could be when he wasn't the centre of attention. The joke of his section is simple: a patient comes to a doctor saying he's in a relationship with a sheep, the doctor initially dismisses the idea yet quickly finds himself also becoming enamoured with the animal.

The bit isn't played completely straight, in fact, Wilder's initial reaction to being told about the romance is deliciously silly, brought to life with an understated bewilderment that's funny just because of how restrained it is. But once the character himself begins a relationship with the sheep, Wilder instead gets you to laugh along with the joke, rather than at it. It's stupid and it's daft and it could have easily fallen flat, yet it works entirely because Wilder never betrays the central conceit of the gag.

In a memoriam on Twitter, film director Edgar Wright wrote that Wilder was both "funny at doing something and funny at doing nothing," which is perhaps the most concise explanation of why the actor remained such a beloved and charismatic presence long after he stopped making films. Wilder never had to rely on gimmicks or eccentricities (even though he would often employ both in spades when needed), because just watching him deal with the ridiculous situations he was put in, without ever acknowledging how ridiculous they actually were, was always a treat in itself.

It's not that every character he played was a Leslie Nielson type straight-man, quite the opposite in fact, as the actor's expressive features and inherently funny rubber face meant every role came with some degree of charming theatricality. But Wilder knew that mugging and exaggeration only get you so far, and the best way to make something funny is to make sure you're not treating the material you're working with like it's a joke.

Yet this intoxicating performance style wasn't enough to capture the attention of audiences at the time, and Wilder's early flicks (including Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) underperformed at the box-office. In fact, despite a streak of successful collaborations with Mel Brooks and Richard Pyror, Wilder never became as popular as he should have been with audiences in his prime. Likewise, even though he proved his prowess as a writer by penning the cult classic Young Frankenstein alongside Brooks, he would only contribute to the screenplays of his movies a few more times over the next couple of decades.

Despite the fact that he received constant critical praise for any role he took on, the bulk of Wilder's popularity didn't come until he all but retired from the film world. In exchange for the big screen he brought the same wit and understated poignancy to the literary world and TV, becoming a genuine cult icon in his cinematic absence.

I've got to admit, when starting to write this article I didn't feel as though I was the right person to truly capture the weight and importance of Gene Wilder's contribution to the history of cinema. After all, his last feature film, Another You, came out before I was even born, so I didn't have the luxury of growing up with Wilder as a star. And yet, in a way I did.

Wilder's frighteningly underrated turn in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory stayed with me for the entirety of my childhood, while his collaborations with Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor frequently made appearances in my house on lazy Sunday afternoons. In a way, the movies of Gene Wilder became something of a growing up rite of passage that I no doubt shared with countless others not lucky enough to catch the actor in his prime.

And although we can no longer hold onto the hope that we might get to see Gene fresh on our screens one more time, it's this unwavering interest in the actor's work that ensures he won't be forgotten anytime soon.

Both on screen and off, Wilder has left a comforting and understated impact that will continue to make those lazy Sunday afternoons special to both long-time fans and those currently being introduced to the actor's timeless classics for the first time. Over two decades of quality work, Wilder constantly pulled out the stops to create a brand of humour that could never be replicated, but thanks to an outstanding cinematic legacy that will continue to inspire countless generations to come, it will thankfully never have to be.