Interview: Catching Up With STL Native Natalie Wisdom On Her Role in ‘Matilda’
Beloved children’s classic “Matilda” opens next week at The Fabulous Fox Theatre, and in anticipation of the event (and between reading the book again for “research”), we caught up with Natalie Wisdom, an actress from Webster Groves who’s currently touring as a swing (understudy) for the national production. She takes us inside the production and tells us a little bit about what it’s like to be an actress on tour.
ALIVE: What inspired you to audition for “Matilda?”
Wisdom: It was one of my favorite books when I was a kid. When I think about why that was—at the time when I was like 10—it was because she was so smart. It was fun to read about a little girl who was a genius but not overconfident about it. And I loved the character of Miss Honey … [who is] that person in Matilda’s life she doesn’t have. Her parents aren’t nice to [Matilda], and the principal isn’t nice to her, and she needs someone in her life who will accept her who she is and be her friend.
Now as an adult, I love the story so much because it’s a love story, even though it’s not a romantic one. Everyone needs someone to believe in them. In the beginning of the show, book and movie, Matilda and Miss Honey don’t have that. Miss Honey has been abused so she grows up a meek, self-loathing grownup. Matilda is more confident than that but … she needs someone to believe in her and love her and be her companion. We all need love. That’s the timeless tale for the universal need for love and acceptance. It’s very heartwarming in that way with those two characters. And Matilda’s parents and Ms. Trunchbull are hilarious.
ALIVE: What was the timeline like for producing this?
Wisdom: We started rehearsals in April (the kids in March), did tech in New Haven in May and we opened in LA in June. It’s been going all summer, to San Francisco and now cities like Seattle and Denver for a few weeks. Now we’re in Houston. It’s scheduled to go through next summer, but it’s an opened-ended contract. It could go on for awhile.
ALIVE: What’s it like being on the road constantly?
Wisdom: Everyone out here has their own routine of what they need to do. The challenge of living on the road is that you’re often in a hotel room—right now I have a kitchenette, but it’s hard to find time to take care of yourself, eat well and exercise. Every time you’re in a new city, you have to find a gym and grocery store and healthy places to eat. You land in Houston—OK, great, I share a car with a couple of castmates, and we didn’t have time to go to the grocery store before the show, so I went to Yelp and found a 24-hour Kroger. We went at 11:30 at night—it’s a different lifestyle. I don’t usually go to the grocery store in the middle of the night.
ALIVE: With constant performances, what form do rehearsals take on the road?
Wisdom: I don’t do the show every day, and when I do, it’s often in a different track. A different track is a different role in the show. My week-to-week varies, which makes being a swing really fun. People in the ensemble don’t do the same thing all the time—I understudy Miss Honey, Mrs. Wormwood and three ensemble members. One of our female understudies went on a guy’s track—that’s always fun.
ALIVE: What’s it like being on an open-ended contract and not knowing quite when your stay with that production will end? Or is that a bonus in showbiz?
Wisdom: It’s actually ideal for an actor to have that—most jobs, you get are regional jobs so there’s an ending date. Open-ended is ideal because it’s like, I can stay for a year, for awhile or for a really long time. To an actor it’s like, ‘I don’t have to worry for a whole year.’ I did Billy Elliot for three years—it’s a really long time to do the same show for three years. I get a taste of what it’s like to be a grownup that has a job that has steady income and insurance, but of course that ends too. Before this, I did a production in South Carolina that was six weeks.
“Matilda” runs at the Fox Theatre Oct. 21-Nov. 1.