While the character of Miss Honey in Roald Dahl’s book “Matilda” is a hero of the story, standing up to the evil Miss Trunchbull and fostering young Matilda’s creativity, actress Lashana Lynch was eager to ensure that her take on the character in Netflix’s musical adaptation wouldn’t continue a tired trope of Black women in parts like this.
“I’m constantly trying to teach the world to dismantle the strong Black woman trope. We did that without even discussing her race, and that’s really important,” she told TheWrap in a recent interview. “I’m glad that that was a decision that was made before I even got to set, that she just exists as a human. We humanized this woman, this Black woman, and we allowed her to live comfortably and grow in private.”
As for the character’s own background, Lynch found discussions around mental health crucial to developing her take on the role.
“I constantly want to discuss mental health within cinema, and I was really happy that upon bringing my ideas to Matthew [Warchus] about discussing anxiety and depression and self-loathing and low self-esteem, that we could find this entry into Miss Honey that was different and spoke to young women or to the all women of today and really, really made us cheer her on in her fight for finding courage and confidence in herself,” she said. “I wanted to discuss that and also I learned that we as women are just freakin’ incredible man. We’re just like unearthly. It’s amazing to play a role that is so unbelievably vulnerable, but teaches you where your strength comes from.”
Lynch connected to her character of Miss Honey most through her performance of the song “My House” in “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical,” directed by Matthew Warchus.
“It’s such a beautiful song. It’s brilliantly written, expertly composed. It felt very suited to my tone and me as a vocalist. I sang before I acted and I always said that if I get to sing through acting, then I want the song to suit my voice. And I think it does,” she said. “I’m singing about my house while we’re in the house during a pandemic. It was really triggering to be talking about your things when that’s all we were looking at every single day. And then being able to record that and sing it with Matilda was beautiful because I got to do it as a pre-record and I also got to sing it live, which was highly emotional.”
While her emotional connection to “My House” makes it a favorite, Lynch also mentioned “Still Holding My Hand” as another song she was grateful to have written for her version of Miss Honey.
“That was really special for the children. That moment in the canteen when the tables start spinning and suddenly they’ve got glittery blazers on. I’m like, ‘This is proper movie magic. I wish I was a child in this scene,’ it was so incredible to watch,” she said.
She also loved the unruly students organizing into a flashmob at the close of the film.
“The finale of the movie with them jumping out of the front door of the school and doing that massive group routine with all of the things flying everywhere and there’s about — I want to say there’s about four different routines happening at once in that point,” she said. “And our choreographer. Ellen [Kane] did such an incredible job at getting these children ready. It’s hundreds of children doing this routine.”
Lynch channeled her primary school elementary teacher, who was her personal Miss Honey, in the role as well. This teacher didn’t exactly match Miss Honey’s temperament, but she taught Lynch singing, confidence and more.
“She, alongside other teachers that I’ve had in high school, reminded me of my natural abilities and my capabilities. I was reminded of what I want that feeling to be for Matilda and the children,” she said. “And that is one of looking forward to coming to school firstly, because that’s not always a child’s experience. And also looking forward to having fun learning through someone who cares about children as human beings instead of children, as these young people that don’t really understand, that have a lot to learn, that have a ways to go.”
Taking notes from good positive memories and experiences with teachers in school helped Lynch hone her Miss Honey.
“I wanted Ms. Honey to just be the person that just understood no matter what the problem may be, she understands and she’s a trusted and safe space,” she said. “I had that as a young person, and it was important for me to even if I flopped the role and didn’t do a good job, if the children on set felt like they had a bit of that every day coming to work, then my job was done.”
“Matilda the Musical” is now streaming on Netflix.