Emma Thompson, Stephen Graham, and Lashana Lynch passed through the London Film Festival on Wednesday, where they discussed their new film Matilda The Musical, directed by Matthew Warchus.

The musical is a modern take on Roald Dahl’s classic story of an extraordinary girl who discovers her superpower and summons the remarkable courage, against all odds, to help others change their stories whilst also taking charge of her destiny. Standing up for what’s right, she’s met with miraculous results.

In the film, Emma Thompson plays the mean and physically imposing Miss Trunchbull, a role that has historically been played by a male actor. However, Thompson said the film’s producers told her they were trying to push this adaptation of the story away from this tradition.

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“I said how much like a man do you want me to play it. And they said, no, we’re moving away from that but I need her to be absolutely real,” Thompson said of her early discussions with the film’s producers.

Thompson added that she began to research the childhood of British poet Dame Edith Sitwell, who she said was tortured as a child, to shape her performance as Miss Trunchbull.

“I decided that Trunchbull was cruel because she couldn’t bare her own childhood. And she just couldn’t bare any vulnerability in children. So we sort of approached it from a very real point of view. It was fascinating,” she said. “I also had a fantastic amount of fun with the prosthetics and creating her shape and her massive athleticism and strength. She was probably physically the most demanding thing I’ve ever done.”

In the film, which opens the London Film Festival on Wednesday evening, Lashana Lynch plays the popular character of Miss Honey, who guides young Matilda through danger and helps her cultivate her special skills.

Lynch, who just came off a run of high-action films, including No Time to Die and The Woman King, said she was confused when she first got the call to star in the musical.

“I’d just got done doing some extraordinary stunts and action and fierceness. But I’m glad that they trusted me to do this kinda stuff because I haven’t shown it yet,” she said. “But I was always dying to do it. I’ve spent a long time thinking about what kind of woman I can crave out for myself. To show that level of vulnerability and desperation almost.”

Lynch said that as a child, she had her own Miss Honey, who helped her navigate primary school.

“She was a Black woman who taught me how to be confident and to be myself,” Lynch said. “So I thought Miss Honey is just that. She’s just here for children to give them their best selves in the most organic, sweet way.”

Stephen Graham said he was also unsure about how suitable he was for the role of Matilda’s father in the film.

“I’ve seen the play about three times. My daughter, wife, and nieces have seen it about twenty times. And I thought, ‘how am I gonna do that?’,” he said. “But Matthew just said to me, let’s jump. So we played with it a lot, and we wanted to keep the essence of reality and truth because as a performer that’s all we have.” 

Graham said he used various influences to shape the character, including the appearance of Arthur Daley from the popular 1980s British TV show Minder.

“It was an absolute gift,” Graham said of the character before praising his 13-year-old co-star Alisha Weir who plays Matilda on screen.

“Wonderful, magnificent, joyous, most beautiful talent I have ever seen, Alisha, is outstanding. Absolutely outstanding. She’s an absolute joy and a consummate professional,” he said.

Matilda The Musical has its world premiere at the London Film Festival on Wednesday evening. The film will be released theatrically in the UK by Sony Pictures UK and TriStar on November 25. Netflix will release the film elsewhere on December 25.

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