Emma Thompson stars in Netflix’s new movie “Matilda,” based on the musical of the same name which, in turn, is based upon Roald Dahl’s 1988 novel. In the film, Thompson stars as Miss Agatha Trunchbull, the devious, horrible headmistress of Matilda’s school who openly hates the kids she’s in charge of. Miss Trunchbull has multiple songs in the show, which might leave viewers wondering if Thompson did her own singing for the part. Yes, Thompson is really singing in “Matilda.”
Thompson and the rest of the cast were actually live-singing on set, she said during a Dec. 7 interview on “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon.” During her appearance, the host played a clip of her singing “The Smell of Rebellion,” during which she climbs a large structure. She explained, “That last note, my legs were shaking because I was on top of that 80 foot structure with really nothing but a small wire holding me to the thing and I thought, ‘Please don’t.’ But there’s nothing you can do. You just hit the note and go for it.” She also sings the song “The Hammer” in the film.
Thompson’s musical chops actually run very deep. Way back in 1985, her big break came when she starred in the 1985 West End revival of the musical “Me and My Girl.” And back in 2017, she played Mrs. Potts in the live-action “Beauty and the Beast.” Thompson-as-Potts sings multiple times in the film, including performing the title song.
Director Matthew Warchus told the LA Times on Dec. 14 about casting Thompson, “We needed somebody who was a great dramatic and comedic actress and could also sing. But we also needed someone who could convey that, at the core of all of Trunchbull’s exaggerations, is a crushingly low self-esteem.”
“Trunchbull was clearly a big, tall child who was very aggressive, and she was just horribly treated when she was little,” Thompson said in a TheaterMania interview on Dec. 9. “So, it’s not children she hates; it’s her own vulnerability. It’s her own child within. As soon as I got hold of that idea, it was so much easier.” She called herself a “softy” and explained that getting into the role was definitely a “challenge.” “She’s quite a big character to pull off and I really didn’t know whether I was gonna be able to do it,” she added.
The other hardest part, she said, was that the kids weren’t at all scared of her. “Apart from anything else for them, I represent Nanny McPhee, so they just all ran towards me going ‘Nanny McPhee! Nanny McPhee!'” she told TheaterMania, referencing the 2005 children’s film. “And Matthew Warchus kept saying, ‘Could you please stop hugging the children? They’re supposed to be frightened of you.’ It didn’t work. But it didn’t have to work, because children are the most wonderful actors. They didn’t need to be really frightened of me, because they were perfectly capable of acting it. So we were safe.”
“Matilda” is in limited theaters now and starts streaming on Netflix on Dec. 25.