Christopher Sieber is currently taking a turn playing Miss Trunchbull, the athletic villain in Broadway's Matilda The Musical at the Shubert Theatre. Playing a woman (albeit, in this case, a decidedly unfeminine one) is a career choice this Tony-nominated actor is all too familiar with. He has already donned drag on Broadway in La Cage aux Folles — though one could argue that his wig and attire in Monty Python's Spamalot were also a tad ladylike. Sieber is also in familiar territory taking on an evil role in a family-friendly piece, as he did in Shrek The Musical, which just proves he is an actor who is good at playing bad.
Sieber recently spoke with TheaterMania about bouncing back on the high haunches of Agatha Trunchbull after a rehearsal injury, getting on board with the rules he follows to be a good villain, and getting in shape to act as Rotation Master for the fourteenth time at Broadway Bares 24 on June 22 at the Hammerstein Ballroom.
You're not a stranger to cross-dressing onstage, as you did it so famously in La Cage aux Folles. Was it challenging to take on a somewhat ambiguous gender in the gruff, enormous headmistress Miss Trunchbull?
When I first heard about it, I was like, "Not another thing in a dress!" [But director] Matthew Warchus and [book writer] Dennis Kelly keep saying it's not a drag role, although I am wearing a dress and I have breasts. I have found that even though I'm wearing a matronly dress, she's kind of ambiguous. She's a humongous animal! (laughs)
I found that you put on the costume and it creates this thing for you. I had preconceived notions of what I wanted to do with her, and I found as I kept on doing it that she's so manly and strong, but there's something inside her where she has forgotten a portion of her sexuality. She has probably been shunned and denied so many times that she's just given up, and her new passion is torturing children.
How did Miss Trunchbull stack up to the teachers you had in your formative years?
I'm so glad you asked that, because my first-grade teacher in Wyoming, Minnesota, looked exactly like Agatha Trunchbull with the bun, the sour face, the wart, the big body. She always wore black and had these massive farm-lady boobs, but she always wore skirts and these horrible shoes. I remember her being so mean and horrible. She used to flick you on the top of the head, and she'd tape people's mouths shut. She had this sour-dour face like she had seen it all.
Craig Bierko was supposed to take over Miss Trunchbull a while back, but was injured. Then you were cast, and your start date was delayed because of an injury. Is there a Trunchbull curse?
I was so ready to jump in. When I was at the gym working with our acrobatics specialist learning the vault because Miss Trunchbull had to jump on a trampoline, do a flip, and then land like a gymnast, I thought, I got this. I ran, I jumped on a trampoline, and in the takeoff, I smacked my hand into the vault. It turned out to be a nice fracture, so my start was a bit delayed. But this part is not cursed! Theater in general is just a dangerous place, but that's why people come. Anything can happen, and that's why I love it.
So you were Lord Farquaad and now Miss Trunchbull. Do you want kids to NOT like you?
It's so much fun to play an evil character. With Farquaad I was able to make him really revel in the fact that he knew how horrible he was. Trunchbull's different. She's scary! I made her frightening. I'm getting the laughs because she's horrible. Playing bad guys is a blast. To go up the aisle and see people lean away from you because they're afraid of you — that is fantastic.
Miss Trunchbull is big on rules. What is your rule of thumb for being a good villain?
Don't let them know what you're going to do next. Stillness and intention are important, especially if you're really supposed to be terrifying…Don't let them anticipate you. Take your time, be still, and then strike with a vengeance. That is what I try to do with the Trunchbull, and that's what's so much fun. You scare the audience without even actually scaring them. It's all in their head!
You are acting as rotation master (encouraging audience members to donate while performers dance onstage) for Broadway Bares once again this year. Is there anything left for you to bare after fourteen years?
(laughs) Nope! Everyone's seen it. It's such a great event, I love it so much. Last year was great. My last class at Mark Fisher Fitness' Snatched [series] is the day of Broadway Bares...it's six weeks of "Oh my god I'm going to die!" But then I can get there looking all…"Mwah!"
Broadway Bares is always a great time with lots of sexy Broadway dancers taking off all their clothes and flexing their muscles and getting all sweaty and sinfully in your face with their jock straps and G-strings. Yeah!