‘Matilda the Musical’ villain compares his character to Donald Trump

Magic and mayhem await at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.

“Matilda the Musical” Roald Dahl’s timeless tale of a precocious yet lovable heroine, runs through May 7.

We spoke to cast member/Broadway star Matt Harrington, who plays Mr. Wormwood, Matilda’s colorful yet selfish, terribly behaved father and the target of many of the child’s retaliatory tantrums. If there were a play just about him, it may be called “Daddy Dearest.” Luckily, Matilda has her angelic teacher Miss Honey to guide her through this thing called life.

Mr. Wormwood has absolutely no clue how brilliant Matilda is, obviously you’ve read the book/script so you do know. How hard is it to turn that off when you’re on stage with her?

The sad truth is that Mr. Wormwood doesn’t even really see her as a person, let alone a genius, let alone his own child. I think that engaging in that kind of cruelty requires a dehumanization of the other person. So when we’re playing the scenes I don’t even view Matilda as a person. She’s just a thing that’s there that seems to be constantly causing me grief and ruining my plans. That said, it was incredibly hard to do when I first started, and took some major getting used to. The girls who play Matilda are all so wonderful and screaming abuses at them felt awful. But they’re smart kids, they know it’s all just play.

How hard is it to play a character that is so neglectful of his daughter? How can you possibly relate?

I think a lot of it is about substitution. If I play the scenes like I’m interacting with my own child I won’t be able to go there. So as an actor I don’t view her that way, because I don’t think Mr. Wormwood does either. When people behave horribly we always find ourselves wondering how they could possibly bring themselves to act that way, but I think the key to understanding people like that is realizing that they don’t understand that what they’re doing is horrible. There’s something missing there. Mr. Wormwood is like a reptile in that sense. Maybe that’s why he wears snakeskin shoes.

Do you think if Mr. Wormwood knew what Matilda was capable of he would commit crimes with her?

That’s a great question! There’s no way she’d go along with it. She’s got way too strong of a moral compass. But yeah, I think he might try. And then lock her in her room when she refused to go along with it.

Is there anything you like about Mr. Wormwood?

His bold fashion choices. Everything on his person is an accent piece. I gotta give the guy credit, when it comes to fashion, he goes for it.

If you had a daughter like Matilda how would you acknowledge her brilliance and what would you encourage her to do with it?

I think Miss Honey sets the perfect example of how to be present and encouraging to someone like Matilda. I’d try my best to help her figure out what she wanted to do with her life and I’d encourage her as best I could to apply her brilliance to positive things and to being of use to others. To paying it forward.

Do you know anybody in real life like Mr. Wormwood?

You mean someone with a huge ego and a brazenly anti-intellectual stance, someone with a television obsession who is potentially engaged in shady dealings with the Russian mafia, someone with the compulsive need to put other people down in order to feel better about themselves and who compensates for their own fears and feelings of inadequacy by bullying the people around them? Hmmm… can’t think of any high-profile individuals in our country like that off-hand, no [laughs].

Tickets are available at the Broward Center AutoNation Box Office, 201 SW Fifth Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL, 33312, browardcenter.org or call 954-462-0222. From $35.

Matilda superfans Kate Wilson and her daughter Cora contributed to this report. 

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