An eight-pound wig and more fun insights into playing Matilda's mom on the national tour of Matilda the Musical. Our interview with Broadway actress Cassie Silva.
When TPAC announced it’s 2015 – 2016 Broadway Series several months ago, it was a huge thrill to see Matilda the Musical on its slate of shows coming to Nashville from the Great White Way. It plays Jackson Hall Jan. 26 – 31 for eight performances.
Matilda has enjoyed widespread critical acclaim since its West End premiere in 2011. It opened on Broadway in April 2013 and wound up scoring five Tony Awards that year. The musical is based on Roald Dahl’s popular children’s novel from 1988 about a precocious 5-year-old girl who loves reading classic literature, has a gift of telekinesis and sets out to change her life by overcoming the obstacles of her wacky, TV-obsessed parents.
Cassie Silva plays Matilda’s colorful mother, Mrs. Wormwood, on the tour. While the 27-year-old actress started her career at a very young age in TV and film, she’s no stranger to the stage. She has several regional theater credits on her resume, and Silva made her Broadway debut in Rock of Ages in 2013. In 2014, she became part of the Matilda cast on Broadway as an ensemble member and the understudy for the Wormwood role.
During a recent phone interview, Silva shared her excitement about her love of theater, her first national Broadway tour and the fun of working with kids on stage.
NP: Your acting career started when you were very young in commercials, TV and movies. What was it about theater that drew you to the stage a little bit later into your life and career?
Like you said, I did TV and film while I was growing up, and a lot of times you find that people did theater as kids in school productions, before progressing into TV or film. I grew up in Los Angeles, so I did it the opposite way. I felt like there was always a prestigious mystery about theater and how it’s so live action, and it’s art on its feet — and the audience actually is very much an additional cast member. I love art and structure, and I feel like theater is so magical. I love a totally different way of going about this crazy, mysterious world.
NP: You’ve been in shows on Broadway, and now you’re playing Mrs. Wormwood on the national tour of Matilda. What’s it like being part of the traveling show versus being on the same stage in the same theater night after night in New York?
When you’re doing a Broadway show, you’re doing eight shows a week, but you’re still going home at the end of every night. On tour, you really become this beautifully woven family with several components and dynamics. We have children, we have adults, we have characters. We’re with each other ALL the time, not only in rehearsals, not only at the show. We’re also grabbing dinner together, we’re also hitting yoga classes together or just meeting up for coffee. It’s a tight-knit family, and I think that’s the biggest difference.
NP: Will this be your first time to visit Nashville? Is there anything you hope to see while you’re in town?
It will not be my first time in Nashville, actually. My boyfriend won a battle of the bands there. I want to get to some awesome music events at the end of January. We’re all so excited to go experience live music in Nashville. I’m looking forward to the action!
NP: Let’s talk about Mrs. Wormwood. The “villains” in Roald Dahl’s books are always the adults in how they are destructive to the magic that’s intrinsic to childhood and even how they seem to represent the grim inevitability of adulthood. There’s a lot of dark humor in Matilda’s parents, and they’re strong characters. What do you enjoy about bringing Mrs. Wormwood to life on stage?
Psychologically, Mrs. Wormwood is no older than 3 years old. She throws tantrums. I think it’s important to have antagonists like that. I think we need that darkness and the humor behind it to look into ourselves. And it’s great that it’s live and on stage. I think the Wormwoods are just magnifying glasses into the scenes. Mrs. Wormwood believes solely in vanity. For her, materialism will get you everywhere in life, and money is an object that buys you happiness.
The Wormwoods present dark and interesting themes, and when we shine light on them in the way that Roald Dahl paints out, it’s laughable, but it’s also very clear — because it’s so magnified and the Wormwoods are so colored.
Empathy is the route I go first as an actor. Let me look at this person objectively and then go into it personally. This poor woman! I’m either rolling my eyes or shaking my head because I feel so heartbroken for her; to know her is to just be heartbroken. This woman has such an unfortunate series of events that for her are very serious.
NP: To embrace that emotional depth, do you have a particular routine to get into the character? How much does the wild wardrobe and big hair help you transition from Cassie Silva to Mrs. Wormwood?
The hair, the costumes, the makeup and nails, the tights … to get into the whole get-up takes at least an hour. So, I’m with her during that time. I remember the first time I had the wig put on my head, it just snapped me into this whole, “Oh, WOW! Alright, I see where we’re going here!” type of thing. She is plain-as-day outlandish and whimsical. It’s rare that when I walk out the door at the end of the night that people actually recognize me. And I love that. I think that’s a job well done as an actor.
NP: Speaking of that big wig, how much does it weigh?
Oh, man! It’s actually three wigs, and it weighs anywhere between five to eight pounds depending on the attachments. There are different tails and different tops.
NP: There are a lot of kids in the show, and there are three different girls playing Matilda on the tour. Does the chemistry you have with each girl change the dynamic in how you play Mrs. Wormwood each night depending on which Matilda is on stage with you? What’s it like to perform with so many kids in the production?
Our kids are absolutely phenomenal little humans. They’re totally normal kids. Broadway has four Matlidas, and the tour has three. I would like to believe that the audience can never really tell if there are differences. Personally, because I’m with them every day, going on stage with every Matilda is completely different.
We have a great team that gives these children such wonderful one-of-a-kind opportunities, but does it in a way that they are so humbled and alive and with you that there’s no ego among them. They believe they’re sisters. It’s really a beautiful thing.
While the team is able to give the audience the same wonderful performance, each show holds the integrity of of each child’s magic. Every time that kids walk on, some of them are a little more stoic and some of them find a little more magic or twinkle in something.
And, of course, we have our little things, like Mr. Wormood and I always make sure before the show to go say, “Hi,” to the Matilda that night, just to connect and say, “Hey, I’m gonna yell at you for the next two-and-a-half hours!” That helps us sort of gauge, because children — like adults — are such emotional creatures. From day to day, they can be a little more tired or a little more sugared up, and so we get a feel into how that child is doing that day, and then we go out there and work as a team.
The different kids do keep it so fresh and interesting, and that’s one of the things I just love about Matlida. There’s never a dull moment, because the kids are constantly changing out, and they’re always finding something new. They’re living these awesome lives on tour, and they’re still in school, so they’re learning new things, and they bring new energy because they’re learning so much about the beauty of life.
NP: What message in Matilda’s story resonates the most with you personally?
This one’s easy: Changing your own destiny! That’s the one that resonates for me, and the fact that it comes from a child I think punches people in the face about it. Like, “Whoa, there’s this tiny little person who’s just going for it!”
Also, in a world where the character of Matilda is a little bit strange … and I think we’re in a great time in society where we’re really celebrating differences in each other as opposed to judging, and I think Matilda is the perfect character for that. She’s got the crazy hair, she’s super little, she does read classics and loves those, she speaks eloquently and maturely, and I love that we celebrate that … and I love that it’s so clear that when people don’t celebrate that, were sort of like, “Hey, Matilda’s COOL!”
NP: This musical is obviously family friendly and suitable for a young audience. What do you hope that kids will take away from it, and what do you think their moms and dads will enjoy the most?
Here’s a fun fact: Our show was actually written for adults with children in mind, which I think is really interesting because it really deals with complex themes. I always say that Matilda really is a magical show, and our creative team brings you into that world. From the second you walk in, there are these crazy almost Scrabble-like letters. From the downbeat of the show, every element creatively participates in giving everybody this worldly experience to where you really lose yourself in the story because it’s so true to the Roald Dahl book; it’s not dumbed down. It’s a very intricate show.
Everybody can enjoy it, and that’s part of our job in doing theater — it’s a place for people to be taken on a journey. When I first saw Matilda, I saw it all the way up in the last seat of the balcony, and I remember just feeling so many emotions because it was so clear and fanciful and fun, and it really made me think, and that’s our job as actors. I think Matilda does a great job of hitting a lot of bases.
IF YOU GO:
Matilda the Musical
Jan. 26 – 31 (All ages)
TPAC’s Jackson Hall
505 Deaderick St., Nashville
615-782-4040 • tpac.org
Showtimes: Tue – Thu 7:30 p.m., Fri 8 p.m., Sat 2 & 8 p.m., Sun 1 & 6:30 p.m.
Tickets: $35 – $75