Can you believe August 2, 2021 marks the 25th anniversary of the beloved kid’s film Matilda?
Based on Roald Dahl’s book of the same name, the film follows the story of Matilda Wormwood, a highly intelligent but neglected young girl who develops telekinetic powers. She uses these abilities to take on Miss Agatha Trunchbull, the cruel Headmistress of her new school.
The film remains a classic to this day. In celebration of the film’s 25th anniversary, we take a look at some behind the scenes stories from the Matilda set and beyond.
THE FILM ALMOST DIDN’T GET MADE
Roald Dahl, the author of Matilda, hated the films based on his novels during his lifetime, including Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and the 1990 adaptation of The Witches. While Dahl had passed away by the time Matilda was to be adapted, his dislike of the earlier films made his estate reluctant to give up the rights.
The film was allowed to go ahead after the scriptwriters, Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord, agreed to give Dahl’s widow, Felicity ‘Liccy’ Dahl, final approval of the script. Felicity Dahl also holds a producer’s credit on the film. It seemed to work, as Matilda is often praised as the most faithful adaptation of Dahl’s novels.
The filmmakers honored the Dahl’s contribution by giving them ‘cameos’ in the movie. Miss Honey’s Liccy doll was named after Felicity, while a portrait of Roald Dahl was used to portray Miss Honey’s father, Magnus.
PAM FERRIS ATTEMPTED TO KEEP HER DISTANCE FROM HER YOUNG CO-STARS, BUT IT DIDN’T QUITE WORK OUT
Pam Ferris played the film’s villain, the cruel Headmistress Miss Trunchbull. In the early days of filming, Ferris tried to keep her distance and remain aloof with the children on set, to try and ensure genuine frightened reactions from them when filming scenes. Unfortunately, Ferris’ plans fell apart. Some of the children were ‘too brave’, and would approach her and hold her hand during filming breaks. This weakened Ferris’ resolve to keep her distance as she quickly fell in love with her young co-stars.
Both Mara Wilson who played Matilda, and Kiami Davael who played Lavender, remember Ferris as being gentle and sweet when they worked with her.
THE FAMOUS CHOCOLATE CAKE SCENE WAS ALMOST CUT
One of the most memorable scenes from Matilda is the one in which Trunchbull forces a boy named Bruce Bogtrotter to eat an enormous chocolate cake in its entirety as a punishment. Thanks to encouragement from Matilda, and eventually the entire student body, Bruce finishes the cake without falling ill, embarrassing Trunchbull. However, the scene almost didn’t make it into the movie, as the filmmakers were concerned that it did nothing to further the plot. They eventually chose to keep the scene, reasoning that eating cake was Bruce’s superpower, as telekinesis was Matilda’s. The scene also contributes to the growing personal rivalry between Matilda and Miss Trunchbull.
Though the decision to keep the scene was bad news for Bruce’s actor, Jimmy Karz, who actually hated chocolate cake.
AMANDA THRIPP REALLY WAS SPUN AROUND BY HER PIGTAILS
Though the filmmakers considered using a stunt double for the scene in which Trunchbull hammer throws a little Amanda Thripp by her pigtails, Amanda’s actor, Jacqueline Steiger, wanted to attempt the scene herself. Steiger was placed in a harness attached to a crane for the spin, and a pair of false pigtails were used so that Pam Ferris did not have to pull the young actor’s real hair.
While Steiger was unharmed, Ferris tore open her finger during the stunt. The injury required eight stitches.
MARA WILSON OFTEN SPENT TIME WITH DANNY DEVITO AND RHEA PERLMAN DURING FILMING
Mara Wilson’s mother, Suzie, was dying of cancer during the filming of Matilda, and while Matilda is neglected by her onscreen parents played by Rhea Perlman and Danny DeVito, offscreen Wilson developed a close relationship with them. According to Wilson, DeVito and Perlman were always kind to her between takes. When they weren’t filming, the then-couple would often invite Wilson to pool parties at their home, include her on trips to the theatre with their own children, or simply offer a friendly ear or shoulder to cry on.
Suzie Wilson passed away four months prior to the film’s release, but before her death, DeVito delivered an early cut of Matilda to her hospital room so she could see her daughter’s performance. The movie is dedicated in Suzie’s memory.
IN 2013, DANNY DEVITO HOSTED A MATILDA CAST REUNION
The reunion was held in DeVito’s backyard, to celebrate Matilda’s release on Blu-Ray. Most of the film’s cast and crew attended. The reunion included re-enactments of the movie’s most iconic moments, such as the pigtail hammer throw scene, and the cake scene. However, Jacqueline Steiger now wears her hair short, forcing Pam Ferris to improvise and threaten to grab her by the earrings instead. In addition, the cake re-enactment was halted prior to the actual eating of the cake, which was later shared among the reunion guests.
DANNY DEVITO HAS CONSIDERED A SEQUEL
In 2019, DeVito, who also served as a producer and director of the film, expressed interest in developing a sequel to Matilda. The sequel could be a next-generation movie, potentially focusing on Matilda’s children. However, as yet, no official news on a sequel has emerged.