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Actor James Millar explains how he became Matilda villain Mrs Trunchbull

James Millar plays "monster" principal Agatha Trunchbull in Matilda the Musical.

Before he goes on stage in Matilda the Musical, James Millar climbs inside a padded suit that gives him a hunchback and huge, sagging breasts. Makeup artists apply a huge, hairy mole to his upper lip. His eyebrows are brushed into a single bushy line. 

Millar describes his character, villainous principal Agatha Trunchbull, as "kind of a monster". But that's what makes her so much fun to play.

Miller has inhabited Trunchbull's body on stage since the Australian production began in 2015. The first time he saw the show, though, was in London. At the time he couldn't see himself playing any of the production's parts; Trunchbull is not the sort of character anyone's quick to identify with.

Millar dons an impressive costume for his performance which he says totally transforms the way he moves.

"I don't think she's the kind of character that anyone looks at and goes, 'Oh, that's me,'" Millar says.

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Physicality is a crucial part of the role for Millar, but he had to make sure his performance wasn't overpowered by the formidable costume.

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As a school principal Mrs Trunchbull bullies the pupils placed under her care.

"We obviously did rehearsals sometimes in the padding and sometimes not, when the costume went on at first it felt like it was eating me up, like I felt a bit claustrophobic inside. But it's like a second skin now, it actually makes me feel ready to go on the stage, it's just negotiating a completely different body.

"Every small physical gesture becomes something different when you're shaped differently. It was a fun challenge to get used to it and wear it as your own skin rather than wear it as a suit."

Millar's solution to the costume problem is to make all his movements as dainty and ladylike as possible.

"As an actor, if you play the costume you're sort of landing a double-joke and overdoing it, so I think playing against the whole idea that she's gargantuan and inside she's actually a lady, at least in her mind."

From the beginning of the show's intensive audition process, Millar was encouraged to find the truth in Trunchbull's character and build the rest out from that.

For Millar, that meant thinking about the circumstances that led to Trunchbull becoming a principal who is jealous of her own pupils, and who devises a range of petty and downright sadistic punishments for them.

"I mean, it's a really sad state of affairs when an adult is jealous of children. So we're sort of mining that kind of thing and finding out the small, serious elements of her that turned her into this kind of creature. The bitterness and the rage has to come from somewhere that's truthful."

With Auckland the last stop on Matilda's two-year tour, Millar only has a few more months before he hangs up the Trunchbull suit for good. He thinks he'll miss her.

"Looking at a person that looks quite different to you, obviously, in costume, and sounds different to you and has different attitudes to you, you sort of become friends with that person, as if they're not you.

"I remember when I was away from it for like ten days, I actually found myself missing her, like she wasn't me. Because she isn't! I think spending that much time getting into the mind of someone else, you get used to them as a companion in a really strange way. So I'll miss her."

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