Behind the Scenes of The Magical World of ‘Matilda, the Musical’ - An Interview with Quinn Mattfeld

Tickets for 'Matilda, The Musical' are on sale NOW thru August 15!
At The Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market Street, San Francisco
Prices range from $40-$205
Suitable for kids ages 6+

Quinn Mattfeld plays Harry Wormwood, a corrupt used car salesman with even worse parenting skills, in the award-winning hit 'Matilda The Musical.' Rolling Stone calls the show “hands down the BEST MUSICAL of the season,” and I agree. After seeing the show I couldn’t wait to talk with Quinn about his background in theater and taking on the role of the egomaniacal Mr. Wormwood.

When did you get started in acting? 

I grew up in Washington state but didn’t start in theater until I was in high school. I went to the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon a lot and knew this is what I wanted to pursue. I received my undergrad at the University of Oregon and went to grad school at Penn State University. Since then I’ve been working as a classical actor but every once in a while someone will cast me in a musical. 

Did your parents encourage your passion in theater?

I'm so blessed that my parents and brother have been supportive all along. My mom is a retired school teacher and my dad was an electrician at a local paper mill. My dad preferred sports over theater but came to all my shows and encouraged me. He passed away when I was 26. My wife is also a theater actress currently performing at the Utah Shakespearean Festival. I wish my wife could be here but she's in the middle of the show. I love San Francisco! It's so beautiful, unique, so much culture - it feels like New York with better weather. 

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I didn't really know what I wanted to do for a career. I wasn't a show biz kid. I thought maybe I could be a writer. I am, but, it’s not my primary source of income. I knew I was interested in telling stories and that bubbled to the surface when I finally decided that I wanted to make a career in theater. The great thing about theater is what ever you are doing, it is a great window into history or an author. For me, Matilda has been a wonderful experience to delve into the world of Roald Dahl who is the soul of the show.

Do you like to do musicals?

I'm not trained in musical theater but I keep ending up in musicals. I never thought I'd be in a Broadway tour and have a solo number. Since I typically use my voice on stage as a classical actor, the sound people come to me to turn my mic off because I'm really loud. I keep forgetting I have a mic so I don’t have to project my voice. 

Can you tell me more about how you landed the role of Harry Wormwood?

I moved to New York and played a very small role in the Broadway play 'Pal Joey' with Stockard Channing and Martha Plimpton. I lovingly refer to my role as "stage parsley." Then I finished a job at Pacific Conservatory Theatre and was performing in Cleveland in A Christmas Carol playing the youngest old Scrooge in the history of the play when I received a call that Matthew Warchus, the director of Matilda, was going to be in New York for three days. One of those days happen to be my day off. I thought, do I really want to fly to New York on my day off for an audition. Yes, I do! I flew to New York and in five minutes they invited me to do the tour.  

The author Roald Dahl describes Harry Wormwood as "a small ratty-looking man whose front teeth stuck out underneath a thin ratty mustache.” Can you tell me more about your rendition of Harry Wormwood?

There’s a broad cartoonish aspect to him but also small things that makes him challenging. He's fun and anchors the play with the Wormwood drama showing Matilda’s home life. When I look at Mr. Wormwood, his life is a tragedy. In the end, he realizes he’s backed the wrong pony.  He has this great child who is really cool and saved his life; perhaps she is really important to him after all; he hopes to keep the family together but knows he’s already lost her and has to give her up and go away. I don’t know if he’s cognitive of that but I think about it. It’s really sad. 

There should be a prequel of how the Wormwood's became who they are.

I’d love to see a television show of the totally obnoxious loud Wormwood's in a place like Spain after they flee the county. 

There are some very deep rooted issues with Matilda's parents who are notoriously vile. What drew you to this character? 

The thing about being over the top as an actor is you have to find a way to anchor your character in reality. For me, the egomaniacal, self important, sleazy part is anchored in Harry's insecurity. You want him to get some self confidence. He’s always telling Matilda how smart he is and tries to get her onboard with the family but instead she’s reading and naysaying his plans. He’s always trying to be smart and she’s always reflecting how not smart he is. If you boil it down to its essence, the one thing Mr. Wormwood does every single moment in a variety of different ways is to prove that he’s useful and exceptional. We all want to feel exceptional and that people need us. When he says, “Gather ‘round family I want you to share in my triumphs.” So when Matilda walks over he says, “Not you boy.” He wants to be the head of the household but it’s all goes back to him oozing insecurity. 

Are there any moments you look forward as Harry Wormwood?

After the Trunchbull throws a kid; I’m always just off stage when that happens. And it's the light, sound, and special effects and music then you hear this huge roar of applause and the scene ends. It’s a really hard act to follow. Then I come out with my monologue and have 30 seconds on the phone to make people laugh when I try to take my hat off my head but it’s glued on. The skit is challenging that I do with my son Michael but this is my opportunity to engage the audience and improv while I make a public service announcement. Then I’m gonna sing a song about how great television is for you. It’s such a unique theatrical moment in the show. I love the song, the monologue before, and I get a chance to interact with the audience. It's an important part of the theatrical experience.

Where do you draw your inspiration from? 

As soon as I put on the costume during rehearsal I thought of Rodney Dangerfield. If you can boil someone’s essence down to an action, for example, what is Rodney Dangerfield doing? He’s trying to get respect and that works perfectly for Wormwood too. However, Wormwood is trying to get people to respect him by directly telling everyone how great he is. David Brent, the Ricky Gervais character in The Office is another great character reference. Telling sleazy jokes that are awful and transparent. And there are a couple of other people tucked into the back of my brain.

What’s it like to work with the three actresses playing Matilda? 

They’re great and more professional then I'll ever be. Watch what these girls do and you wonder how they remember all those lines. Seriously, they’re ten year olds and carrying an entire show - singing, dancing, acting. They're amazing. I have individual ritual warm ups with Mia, Mabel and Gabby. Mia and I do a high five or fist bump, Gabby and I say “Break a Luck!” (mixing up Break a Leg and Good Luck), and Mabel and I sit silently and try to figure out what the other one is thinking and then say it at the same time. They’re all amazing, unique, smart, and sweet girls. One of the best things about this show is working with them.

In the Bay Area we have amazing community theater (such as The Marin Theatre Company, The Throckmorton Theatre, Stapleton, and Berkeley Rep) with a lot of incredibly talented kids. What advice would you give to a kid who wants to be in a show like Matilda? 

They're having open auditions with the Broadway company now but if you know a play with kids look on Google to find casting opportunities. In terms of how kids get into the business, I don't know. I do know The Royal Shakespeare Company has pretty specific rules for kids. For instance, the kids cannot come out of stage door where we come out and meet people and the Matilda’s are not allowed to sign autographs. This is a tough industry and who knows if these kids will act for the rest of their lives. Matthew, the director, said he doesn’t want this to become a magical experience that makes their real life and school a let down. 

Any more thoughts for these future actors?

They always say you need to live in New York to work there and that’s just not true. When I first went to New York, I felt like the life of a party but I wasn't invited. When you're straight out of grad school, no one cares who you are. You are one of the waves of people coming in everyday. I went to school for seven years to become a classic Shakespearean actor. I decided instead of staying with the small Broadway roles that it was better to play the lead in regional theater. I did a whole bunch of stuff 99% of actors don’t get to do which is so valuable. Now that I am 35, I have a great body of work and more interest that I can go back to New York. Since I’ve worked on Broadway and international tours, I am invited to the party this time. For men, as you age, your competition leaves the business in their 20’s. A career in the entertainment industry is not assured. I’m always left wondering what’s coming next. The odds are better now but you never know. 

If ever there's a must see production this is it! Don't miss this brilliant and enchanting performance based on the book, ‘Matilda’, by Roald Dahl at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco running only until August 15. $40 rush tickets now available. See website,  FacebookTwitter, and Instagram for more details and a peek behind the scenes.