Age & Hometown: 35; London, England
Current Role: A transformative performance as Miss Agatha Trunchbull, the fearsome, hammer-throwing, grotesque headmistress of Crunchem Hall in Matilda.
Rehearsing in the Playground: Growing up in London, Carvel never had any schoolteachers as menacing as the one he portrays on stage. “I certainly wouldn’t point a crooked finger at any one person,” he says. “Trunchbull’s a composite of characteristics—some horrible, some more sympathetic—which are drawn from my experience.” As a boy, Carvel wasn’t familiar with Roald Dahl’s Matilda, but he did read and connect with some of the author’s other beloved stories. “Everybody experiences bullying, the abuse of power and the jaded worldviews of adults from the point-of-view of a child who doesn’t know where that’s coming from but feels its effects,” he says. “Those are the things Dahl wrote about, and that’s what makes his writing and this show so delicious.” Carvel spent much of his teen years playing, making up characters and having amazing adventures in his imagination, but it never occurred to him that he was already practicing to be a versatile performer.
This is a Test: While pursuing a degree in English at Sussex University, Carvel decided he wanted to get involved in “something more mainstream.” He auditioned for the university’s drama society on a whim and was cast in a production of T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral. “I just took to it instantly! It felt good and I felt like I was good at it, and, in short order, I ended up at drama school,” he says. Carvel compares the highly structured training he received at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art to that of an athlete or gymnast, but he says he found the “monk-like dedication” to be incredibly satisfying. Carvel admits he is now putting that focus, passion and discipline to good use as Matilda’s hulking villain. “Being in a musical like Matilda is an athletic feat on a nightly basis,” he says. “You need to be able to pace yourself, and you need to believe in what you’re doing, otherwise you dry up.”
The Smell of Success: Carvel is thrilled to be living in New York City and making his Broadway debut in a show that he is immensely proud of. “There are a lot of things about this job that are ‘pinch me’ kind of things, but I try to remember that I’m here to do a job,” he says. For Carvel, the key to bringing a monstrous figure like Miss Trunchbull to life is making sure she’s still an identifiable human. “For something to be frightening and meaningful, it’s better if it’s grounded in truth,” he says. “The only real way of doing that is to get lost in it each time you do it.” Matilda received vociferous praise in London’s West End, winning a record-setting seven Olivier Awards, including Best Actor in a Musical for Carvel, but he’s determined to not let the acclaim go to his head. “There’s something embarrassing about being singled out for something that’s such a collaborative effort, but I’m not complaining,” he says. “I’m proud to be part of this show. There’s no other side to it. It doesn’t get a great deal better than this.”