Something Wicked This Way Comes: Meet Matilda Villain Bertie Carvel

By Ruth Leon
03 Mar 2013

Bertie Carvel
Bertie Carvel

Look out, Miss Hannigan. Broadway has a new, deliciously wicked villainess, Miss Trunchbull, played by one Mr. Bertie Carvel, already an Olivier Award winner for the new musical Matilda.


The most fearsome villainess on Broadway, the terrifying Miss Trunchbull, nemesis of Matilda The Musical, turns out to be not only a man, but also a man of great charm and irrepressible humor. Bertie Carvel is making his Broadway debut in the role that earned him a Best Actor Olivier Award and a host of other plaudits during Matilda's West End run, and seems likely to put him in line for a Tony in New York. His excitement at being on Broadway is palpable, "I'm thrilled to be here. This is an iconic moment in any actor's life and it's still all so new I can't quite believe it."

So huge and fast was Carvel's impact when Matilda first opened that there were many London theatregoers who thought his must be an overnight success story. Not at all, it turns out. This versatile actor is so different in each role that his chameleon-like presence seems to burst out brand new in each part.

Matilda isn't even his first musical. Carvel was nominated for an Olivier for his leading role in Jason Robert Brown's Tony-winning Parade at the Donmar Warehouse, and while at the Royal National Theatre he has run the gamut from Restoration comedy to gritty drama.

Carvel's acting career has been amazingly varied; to such an extent that I — who have seen him in almost everything he's done on the London stage — always have to look in the printed program to determine that it really is him.

Carvel has an equally varied television and movie life. He even got to seduce and abuse Anne Hathaway in the current movie version of Les Misérables.

"After Parade I had pretty much decided, no more musicals for a while, I'd stick with plays," he remembers, "then Matilda arrived and the script [by Dennis Kelly from Roald Dahl's story] is so trenchant, so clever, that I couldn't resist it. I was fascinated by the way he had found to turn the novel into a play, to restructure it dramatically, and by the way that Roald Dahl's unique voice was complimented by his own wicked wit. It engaged my imagination and I began to see the way Miss Trunchbull could come to life. How I could present a credible psychological profile that anyone can recognize, understanding, empathizing with her psychology, even with her cruelty. Why is she so cruel to children? It's such an opportunity for an actor who enjoys transformation, who loves to use the different tools of his craft. It's the whole package, really, Tim Minchin's music and [director] Matthew Warchus' staging ideas. It fired me up, engaged me, and here I am."


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