Emma Thompson chided by Matilda director ‘Stop hugging the children’

Emma Thompson: Richard Arnold discusses role in Matilda film

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Dame Emma Thompson, 63, is starring in the latest rendition of Roald Dahl’s hit novel Matilda. However, when she first arrived on set, many of the young child actors mistook the actress for her previous character, Nanny McPhee, leading to a loving relationship off-camera that the director of Matilda was not particularly happy with. 

When the award-winning actress first arrived on set, many of the young child actors mistook her for her previous role as Nanny McPhee. 

Emma originated the role of magical babysitter Nanny McPhee in 2005, and again for the sequel in 2010. 

Although she has been an optimistic pillar of children’s films for decades, Emma has also portrayed her fair share of villains, now topped off with her latest role as the infamous Miss Trunchbull. 

Despite the terrifying atmosphere Miss Agatha Trunchbull brings to screens, Emma claimed it was a vastly different story on set and the director, Matthew Warchus, actually had to pry her away from the children. 

Speaking about the “warrior” child actors in the film, Emma shared at the London Film Festival press conference to Express.co.uk and other publications: “They were so wonderful to be with. I’d come on set and we’d have a big group hug, so many things about that were wrong. 

“A: it was Covid. B: Matthew said ‘Will you please stop hugging the children, they’re supposed to be frightened of you’. 

“The children just thought of me as Nanny McPhee. So they were confused, there were mixed messages although both pretty grotesque-looking folk.”

The actress hailed her young co-stars, claiming they “worked like Trojans” for months on the dance routines before ever setting foot on stage. 

She said: “This group of children were absolutely remarkable. When they were on set it was just like being with a group of, sort of, warriors.”

The Oscar-winner thoroughly enjoyed her role, claiming it was “absolute bliss” to “indulge in your inner demons”. 

Emma also had a special connection to the tale as she had grown up reading Roald Dahl books, her favourite of which was James and the Giant Peach. 

She revealed that she had been “bullied at school” and found solace in books, but only ones “that had true darkness” like Dahl’s novels. 

She explained: “It’s got to be frightening but you have to contain it and get a thrill from it. 

“Children see everything, when we’re little we can feel and see everything and we know that there’s darkness out there and we experience it sometimes.”

In her role as Trunchbull, she took a slightly different approach than her predecessors, mainly because most of the stage actors for Matilda the Musical had been men. 

Rather than making an unrealistic, cartoonish figure of evil, Emma rooted her performance as Trunchbull in psychology and created a sad backstory for her character to go along with it. 

She said: “Trunchbull’s so terrible because she’s so cruel. So just to convince Matthew I was doing my homework I examined the childhood of Dame Edith Sitwell. It’s really interesting because she was tortured as a child.”

Dame Edith was a celebrated early 20th-century poet and the eldest of the Sitwell siblings who defined their era of literature.

“I decided that Trunchbull was cruel to children because she couldn’t bare her own childhood, she just couldn’t bare any vulnerability in children because when she was vulnerable she had been crushed.”

Matilda the Musical releases in the UK on November 25. 

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