Here’s What Matilda’s Miss Trunchbull Looks Like Today
Any kid who was around in 1996 will remember the terrifying figure of Matilda’s Miss Trunchbull. The wicked headmistress who locked children in cupboards and forced a small boy to consume a mammoth chocolate cake haunted many a nightmare. And the way she looked didn’t help either – the large, red-faced tormentor seemed more likely to be a military commander than a kindergarten teacher. And those huge teeth were horrible too! So Matilda fans may be quite surprised to learn what Pam Ferris, the actress who played her, looks like these days.
Pam's risky move
Pam Ferris was a familiar face on British television before she was cast in the film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved book. She starred in the 1991-1993 TV series The Darling Buds of May, the same show which gave actress Catherine Zeta-Jones (who played her daughter) her breakout. Ferris was best known for dramatic and costume drama roles, however, so playing the villain in a family comedy was a bit of a departure for her.
Unusual hair and makeup
But Ferris had an absolute blast filming Matilda, and 20 years after its release she gave an interview to the Radio Times about what it was like behind the scenes. Most notably, she discussed how the hair and makeup process went. “I did have false eyelashes... and they were on my chin! And a little bit on my top lip,” she told the magazine in September 2016.
And then there was the rest of it. “We were going to have big top teeth all the way across but in the course of extra teeth being fitted I said I quite like it with only half in because it gave me a kind of Elvis sneer,” Ferris continued. “So we left just the one side of extra teeth in and it did a wonderfully cruel thing to my mouth.” It certainly did.
Vile Aunt Marge
In fact, Ferris’s transformation and her performance as an evil villain ended up standing her in very good stead. Because just a few years after Matilda, she was called upon to play another thoroughly unpleasant woman. This time, it was a certain famous wizard’s vile Aunt Marge in 2004’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
"It was absolute torture"
Ferris’ turn as Aunt Marge also required the actress to look quite unlike herself. This time, however, it was even more of a dramatic transformation, as Aunt Marge ends up being turned into a balloon by her nephew. In fact, it was even downright dangerous at times. “I had several suits of latex which they put compressed air between to expand me. It was absolute torture. And I passed out. It had never been done before, you see,” Ferris told the Metro in 2017.
She couldn't be more different in real life
Of course, just like Matilda, Prisoner of Azkaban was a huge success. In fact, it’s widely considered to be one of the best of the Harry Potter films. And so Ferris had two iconic villainous roles under her belt. It was ironic, then, that her co-stars could never stop mentioning in interviews what a lovely person she was. “I wasn’t afraid of The Trunchbull because Pam Ferris is just the nicest woman ever,” Matilda star Mara Wilson told Entertainment Weekly in 2013.
On to nicer characters
And so Ferris decided to put her niceness to work and play some good people for a bit. From 2003 to 2007, for example, she played the more cuddly character of gardener-turned-detective Laura Thyme on the British TV series Rosemary and Thyme. Then, in 2006, she teamed up with Prisoner of Azkaban director Alfonso Cuarón once again for his much-anticipated adaptation of the novel Children of Men.
A memorable performance
Ferris’s character in the Oscar-nominated film was a far cry from Miss Trunchbull. She played kind-hearted midwife Miriam, who ends up sacrificing herself to save the life of her charge. And although her role was only a small one, Ferris was acting opposite big names like Clive Owen and Julianne Moore, and many reviews singled her out for praise.
Her weight loss journey
Over the next couple of years, however, Ferris decided to change her appearance. This meant losing some weight, and as she did so she looked less and less like her Matilda character every day – something she was very pleased about. “It’s a little harder starting [a weight loss regime] at my late stage than if I had been doing it throughout my life,” she told the Manchester Evening News in 2007. “I have gone down a couple of dress sizes. I am really thrilled.”
From nice to sexy
For Christmas 2007, Ferris played a “sexy” role in the ITV comedy Christmas at the Riviera. But although the show and her character were comedic, like Matilda, her character was still a million miles away from Miss Trunchbull. Ferris did a few more comedies after that, including the 2009 Martin Freeman movie Nativity! and its 2012 sequel. But her next role was certainly not a sexy one.
Becoming Sister Evangelina
Yes, in 2012 Ferris was cast as the stern-yet-sympathetic nun Sister Evangelina in the BBC series Call the Midwife. (She had, it seemed, carved out a bit of a niche for herself playing midwives). The show, based on a true story, highlighted the importance of women and their medical work in post-WW2 London. And it was a huge, huge hit among both audiences and critics, winning multiple awards in its first year alone.
She was "honored" to play the role
“As soon as I read the script I became very strongly attached to Sister Evangelina. She is an amazing character, I’m honored to play her,” Ferris told The Mirror in 2012. “I think it gives you a bit of extra oomph when you know that you’re playing a real person. There’s a responsibility there and it makes you think you have to step up to the mark.”
Hours and hours of makeup
In the same interview, Ferris also recollected, once more, her career-defining role as Miss Trunchbull. “As Miss Trunchbull I had to have bizarre padding all over me, and two-and-a-half hours in make-up every day,” she said. “I had to have an extra nose, extra eye bags, and individual eyelashes stuck on my upper lip. Very glamorous. But after 45 years of acting, the charm of being in the make-up caravan has worn off.”
The Trunchbull's return
“That’s why I enjoyed Evangelina’s costume so much. It was really pared back. I had no make-up at all, no wigs, comfortable clothes, and comfortable shoes. It was lovely.” And as Call the Midwife went from success to success, winning a record number of viewers for its second season premiere, Ferris got a chance to reprise her role as Miss Trunchbull one more time.
A hilarious reenactment
That’s right: in 2013, to celebrate the Blu-ray release of Matilda, the cast held a mini-reunion. And Ferris – thankfully not required to wear her Trunchbull makeup this time around – was there, looking great. Plus, with the help of her co-stars, now grown from children to adults, she re-enacted the film’s notorious chocolate cake scene.
Saying goodbye to Sister Evangelina
Ferris continued to portray Sister Evangelina on Call the Midwife for the next few years. The show never came down from its initial level of critical praise and kept its place as one of the BBC’s most popular exports. But in 2016 fans were shocked when Ferris, and Evangelina, suddenly left the show. The elderly nun suffered a stroke and passed away in the season five finale.
Her serious reason for leaving
“Making the decision to leave Call the Midwife was a wrench,” the actress told the Radio Times in 2017. “I’ll miss my friends on set – in front of and behind the camera – and I’ll miss my habit which is so well worn and comfortable. But I shan’t miss my wimple!” But that same year, Ferris did another interview in which she revealed her biggest reason of all for backing out of the show.
Switching over to voice work
The 69-year-old told Yours that the commute to the Call the Midwife set in Surrey had become too much. Moreover, she wanted to spend more time with her husband, Roger Frost, and her two beloved dogs. However, she hadn’t retired from acting entirely. At the end of 2016, she did voices for two TV shows: Ethel and Ernest and We’re Going On A Bear Hunt.
She's done impressive charity work
Ferris is also doing a lot of charity work now too. In 2017, for example, she recorded a voiceover for an animated film made by Alzheimer’s Research UK. Her mother-in-law had suffered from the disease. Plus she also designed a tea towel featuring her dogs to benefit the animal charity Blue Cross, for which she serves as an ambassador. And so it turns out that Ferris is really, really not like Miss Trunchbull at all. But what about her Matilda co-star?
Losing her mother
Mara Wilson, the little girl who played the titular role in the film, obviously couldn't actually move objects with her mind. In fact, Wilson felt more powerless than ever while filming the movie. You see, Wilson’s mother, Suzie, tragically passed away in April 1996 — a little over 13 months after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis. Understandably, this devastating loss had a profound impact on the young girl. Aside from the personal trauma she suffered, Wilson later admitted that her interest in acting suffered as a result of her loss.
A helping hand
"I was eight years old," Wilson recalled in 2013. "It was very hard... and [Danny DeVito and wife Rhea Perlman] were very nice. While my mom was sick and in the hospital, they would invite me over and take care of me and get my mind off things. I felt very familial." But her acting career did noticeably slow down afterward.
And for all those wondering what became of the cute little girl from Matilda, Wilson published her memoir, Where Am I Now? True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame, in 2016. As its title suggests, the book saw Wilson ruminate on her early child-star career and how she coped with being in the spotlight at such a young age.
And it turns out that Wilson had a number of struggles as a kid. In fact, she was officially diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) at the age of just 12. And she later found out she also had attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This would have been at the time when Wilson’s career was starting to veer away from acting, too.
Admirably, Wilson hasn’t been afraid to talk in-depth about her various battles with mental illness. In 2015 she teamed up with the non-profit group Project UROK for a video in which she openly addressed her experiences with OCD. Wilson also revealed that she’d suffered from depression and anxiety over the years. She has said, though, that her diagnosis was met with an unusual reaction.
In 2018 Wilson told The Independent that she was thrilled when her condition was eventually diagnosed. “The day I got [a diagnosis] was one of the best days of my life, because I knew that I was not alone anymore,” she said. “I knew that there were people out there that had what I had. And I knew that there was treatment for it.”
Mental health problems
And Wilson is encouraged by the way in which the stigma of mental health issues is now slowly being eradicated. She told The Independent, “I definitely think it’s changed since I was first diagnosed. We still have a while to go, we still have disorders that we don’t understand. We’ll talk about mental health but maybe not take action on it, but I am feeling optimistic about it.”
Of course, another major change that’s occurred since Wilson first left the showbiz world behind is her appearance. When most of us last saw her in Thomas and the Magic Railroad, after all, she was still very much the cutesy tween we knew and loved. However, Wilson wrote in her memoir that she didn’t see herself like that at the time.
Wilson said, “It hadn’t occurred to me that I was cute. My family told me I was beautiful, but I had never been one of the prettier girls in my class. The pretty girls were a different breed. It was probably as much of a shock to them as it was to me when I was cast in a movie, but at that time, casting directors wanted kids who looked ‘normal.’”
Being put in a box
“As long as we could memorize our lines and say them with some feeling, no one cared how symmetrical our faces were,” Wilson continued. “And it had worked. I had tricked entire countries into thinking I was cute.” And yet this particular label soon became an albatross around Wilson’s neck. It particularly bothered her mother.
Coping with change
“My mother smiled whenever people told her I was cute, but I could sense she was forcing it,” Wilson revealed in her autobiography. “She didn’t care for cuteness, and her disapproval was contagious. After that, anytime someone said it, I would wince. Something about it made me feel smaller.” Yet Wilson later struggled to deal with puberty and became desperately unhappy about her appearance.
A secret wish
In fact, she once asked her boyfriend at university whether she should undergo plastic surgery. She writes in her book, “Sometimes I secretly wished for an accident where I’d injure my nose and jaw so I could get guilt-free reconstruction.” And in 2016 Wilson told NPR how her changing appearance actually had a negative impact on her career.
She said, “They always want child actors to play parts that are a few years younger than they are, but when you’re a 12-13-year-old girl and your body’s changing and your voice is changing, you can’t. I couldn’t play 10 anymore. I didn’t look 10 anymore. People didn’t know what to do with me, and I knew it, and I felt it, and it really hurt.”
An awkward moment on set
Wilson can also recall one particularly traumatic experience while filming Thomas and the Magic Railroad. She told NPR, “I came to set one day after a few months away, and people were kind of giving each other worried looks. And I had to have the director come and sit with me and explain to me that my body was changing.”
Understandably, Wilson was mortified at the time. She said, “I felt like I had done something wrong even though I hadn’t. They brought out these sports bras that were basically binders — they were meant to bind my chest. I felt completely humiliated. When you’re in middle school, when you’re a preteen, you always worry: Is everybody talking about me behind my back? And everybody was.”
Thankfully, Wilson has learned to accept herself over the years, although she still has insecurities. She wrote in her memoir, “There are things I like about the way I look: my eyes are a pretty mix of green, blue, and gray. It takes a long time to break an old habit, though, and I’m still critical of my appearance, still halfway convinced I’m irredeemably ugly.”
The trolls come out
Wilson has still continually had to deal with comments about her appearance since her public return. Referring to various internet trolls, she wrote, “My image belongs to them and they aren’t happy that I don’t match up to what they pictured. This type is the most likely to give advice: I should color my hair, lose weight, go die in a hole somewhere.”
Getting over it
“I understand that celebrities have a contract with the public,” Wilson continued. “They get to be the target of jealousy and criticism, and sometimes admiration, in exchange for money and recognition. But I let that contract run out a while ago. It is not my job to be pretty, or cute, or anything that someone else wants me to be.” She also revealed her novel idea of dealing with such abuse.
A novel approach
“The next time someone hiding behind a username decides to tell me what would make me prettier, I’m going to propose the following,” Wilson wrote. “I will meet them in person and ask them to listen. I will tell them about going through puberty in the public eye after my mother died of cancer. I will tell them how it feels to find a website advertising nude photos of yourself as a 12-year-old.”
Happier than ever
“I will tell them I’ve looked at ‘cute’ from both sides now, and in both cases, it just made me miserable,” continued Wilson. “I will tell them how fitting it is that the only real acting I do these days is voiceover, where no one can see me. I will tell them how my mother wanted me to prove myself through my actions and skills, rather than my looks. Now I believe I have, and I am happier than ever.” And she will still speak out about issues that are important to her.
The Britney drama
In 2021, for example, Wilson wrote an op-ed in The New York Times about the treatment of Britney Spears by the public and the press. Britney's story was so similar to hers, she argued — and she lamented what had happened to the pop star. "The reality was [Britney] was a new mother dealing with major life changes," Wilson wrote. "People need space, time, and care to deal with those things. She had none of that."
Using her gifts
And, of course, the actor is still working today. Most recently, she lent her voice to the audio version of a children's book, and she also appeared at a comic con in Scotland. She's active in the podcast space, too — which probably gives you an insight into her recent career path. After all, she tends to take a lot of voice jobs these days.
Making a splash
That’s very different than how it all started, of course. Born in Burbank in 1987, Mara Wilson grew up with siblings Jon, Joel, Danny, and Anna. Her mother, Suzie, was a homemaker, and her father had a job as a TV broadcast engineer. Yet by the time Wilson was six years old, she’d already appeared in commercials for Texaco, Bank of America, and Marshall’s. And her life changed forever in 1993.
That’s when she auditioned for a little film you might have heard of: Mrs. Doubtfire. The young girl immediately impressed studio bosses, and she was given the part of Robin Williams’ youngest daughter in the film, Natalie Hillard. Incredibly, the movie racked up more than $441 million at the global box office to become the year’s second-highest-earning movie.
From there, Wilson didn’t waste any time capitalizing on her new-found fame. In fact, just a year later, she was starring opposite the legendary Richard Attenborough in Miracle on 34th Street. Wilson took on the role of Susan Young in the heartwarming fourth revival of the 1947 festive classic. It wasn’t anywhere near as big as Mrs. Doubtfire at the box office — but it has since become a holiday staple in its own right.
A promising career
Continuing to strike while the iron was hot, Wilson then assumed the leading role of Barbara Barton in A Time to Heal, a TV movie about a stroke victim’s recovery. And she was also cast as Nikki Petrova in Melrose Place. Wilson showed up in five episodes of the soap opera. However, 1996 would prove to be a year of professional highs and personal lows.
A new star performance
In the public arena, though, Wilson was back on our screens playing the titular character in Matilda in the summer of 1996. Directed by Danny DeVito, the Roald Dahl adaptation didn’t exactly set the domestic box office on fire — earning just $33.5 million. But over the years, it’s gained a reputation as one of the best family films of the decade. And despite all that was going on in her personal life, Wilson remembers the filmmakers being very kind.
Despite her previous work alongside Robin Williams, though, Wilson failed to secure a part in the fantasy drama What Dreams May Come. A year later, she lost out to Lindsay Lohan for the leading twin roles in The Parent Trap remake. Still only ten at the time, Wilson was considered too young to play the dual role of separated twins Annie James and Hallie Parker. Of course, that wasn’t entirely the end of Wilson’s acting career.
Her final roles
In 1999 she starred as Willow Johnson in Disney’s take on the children’s book Balloon Farm. And a year later, Wilson appeared alongside Alec Baldwin in another adaptation, Thomas and the Magic Railroad. But by this point, Wilson had become entirely disenchanted with the industry. "Film acting is not very fun," she wrote on her blog in 2013.
"Doing the same thing over and over again until, in the director's eyes, you 'get it right,' does not allow for very much creative freedom," she continued. "The best times I had on film sets were the times the director let me express myself, but those were rare." She added, "The celebrity aspect is nothing short of ridiculous, and auditioning is brutal and dehumanizing." So Wilson passed on an audition for Donnie Darko — and basically took 12 years off from acting.
Back to school
Instead, Wilson concentrated on her schoolwork and, after graduating from Palm Springs’ Idyllwild Arts Academy, moved to the Big Apple. There, she studied at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, where she appeared to pick up the performing bug again. She went on to stage her very own one-woman show, Weren’t You That Girl?
Making a comeback
Wilson made a screen comeback of sorts in 2012 when she briefly showed up in the web series Missed Connection. She later became a regular on the online review show The Nostalgia Chick. The actor even reprised her role from Matilda — but this time as an adult — during a review of the 1996 film.
Taking a step back
On her blog, the one-time child star emphasized that she doesn't "have any plans to pursue film acting." She wrote, "It's not my 'thing' anymore if it ever was. Yes, I do still act [on stage] sometimes. But when I do, it's with people I know and trust, people who respect me as a person and appreciate what I have to offer."
Working behind the camera
Wilson added playwright to her list of talents in 2013 when Sheeple debuted at the International Fringe Festival in New York. She also enjoyed a stint working for the non-profit organization Publicolor and made a brief appearance in Broad City. But her most prominent work in Hollywood of late has been in projects where you don't see her face.
Wilson lent her voice to the anthropomorphic spider Jill Pill in the satirical animation Bojack Horseman in 2016. And her voice skills must have impressed, as two years later she landed a role in Big Hero 6: The Series. Wilson played Liv Amara in the small-screen version of the hit Disney movie.