Mrs. Trunchbull had the WORST time making Matilda, which turns 25 years old this week
Also, the public response to this movie when it was released was kind of surprising...
Released in cinemas on 2 August 1996, the fifth adaptation of a Roald Dahl children's book - following Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, The BFG, The Witches and James & The Giant Peach - you wouldn't be wrong for thinking that Matilda would be a slam dunk for families that summer.
Leading star Mira Wilson was coming off the one-two hits of Mrs. Doubtfire and Miracle on 34th Street, while director, narrator and co-star Danny DeVito had a proven track record for creating successfully dark comedies (Throw Momma From The Train, The War of the Roses).
However, despite overwhelming positive reviews - 90% on Rotten Tomatoes - on a budget of $36 million, the movie made just $33 million at the global box office.
DeVito wouldn't direct again for another six years (2002's equally overlooked Death to Smoochy), while Wilson only starred in three more movies after this one and hasn't had a big screen appearance since 2000.
However, if there was one person who had a worse reaction to making this movie than anyone else, then it was Pam Ferris, aka Mrs. Trunchbull.
Clip via David
While Ferris would appear in plenty of other high profile projects (Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men, Call the Midwife), she will eternally be known as the school teacher that struck fear into the hearts of an entire generation of children... or at least the part of the generation that went to see the movie.
Having beat out Miriam Margoyles (Professor Sprout in the Harry Potter movies) for the role, Ferris would stay in character during the entire shoot of Matilda, in order to maintain that sense of fear and apprehension with her child co-stars.
Ferris continued to go above and beyond for the role, including two scenes that both ended up with the actress going to hospital. One was for the above scene, in which Mrs. Trunchbull hammer throws one of her students. Ferris told the Radio Times:
"When I throw the lovely little Amanda Thripp over the fence, the special effects guys hadn’t worked out how I was supposed to hold on to the wires that supported her.
"The wires came from her body casing through her plaits and into my hands and I said, 'how am I going to hold this?' So they put a loop in the wire and said, 'put that over your little finger and swing her around,' which I did, and of course the centrifugal force got stronger and stronger and I had to let go eventually and it nearly took the top of my finger off. I had to have about seven or eight stitches."
Additionally, during a scene where she is whacked by a series of chalkboard erasers, she wanted to maintain a sense of physical superiority, and kept her eyes open during the scene. This resulted in a huge amount of a chalk dust getting into her eyes, and having to return to the hospital to have it all washed out safely.
That level of commitment obviously left an impression, as while Matilda wasn't loved at the time, it has become a bit of a classic family film in the quarter of the century since it was released.
And even despite all of that, Ferris still seemed to absolutely love making the movie, speaking of her young co-stars:
"They were daring little ones there that just came straight up to me and put their hand in mine between takes. I fell in love with them completely and there were a couple I wanted to bring back to Britain with me."
Netflix has a new version of the story arriving in 2022, with multi-Oscar winner Emma Thompson taking on the Mrs. Trunchbull role. If nothing else, we wish her a much safer time filming.
Matilda is available to watch at home right now on Prime Video and Netflix.
Clip via opbiasizzo