Social media has recently seen a lot of chatter over the use of a “fat suit” to make Emma Thompson appear heavier in Matilda the Musical, and Shannon Purser has taken a moment to share her thoughts on the situation. Purser is well known for her popular role as Barb in Stranger Things, a part that had gotten her an Emmy nomination along with a social media campaign calling for “justice” for her character. She also plays Ethel Muggs in the TV series Riverdale and starred in the 2018 dramedy Sierra Burgess Is a Loser.
Noticing the Matilda backlash, Purser offered her theory as to why famous actors are sometimes cast to play plus size characters with the use of a fat suit rather than casting someone else who’s already that size. She says that plus size actors have it particularly hard in show business as they “aren’t allowed” to move up the ladder, suggesting that producers see them more as props than as performers. Purser claims that this is why there are “almost no fat big name stars” in Hollywood. As Purser explains:
“they’re not hiring fat actors for iconic fat characters because they want a big name star. there are almost no fat big name stars because fat actors aren’t allowed upward mobility. we aren’t allowed upward mobility because the industry sees us as two-dimensional set pieces.”
Recently, Netflix unveiled a teaser trailer for Matilda the Musical, and this wound up prompting some backlash on social media. For her role as Miss Trunchbull, Emma Thompson was given facial prosthetics to more physically resemble the character. She was also outfitted with a padded suit underneath her clothing to appear heavier, and there are many who feel that the role should have either gone to a plus size performer, or that Thompson should have simply played a slimmer version of Miss Trunchbull.
Whatever the reasons might be behind the scenes for actors wearing padded suits, it’s certainly not anything new. Another recent example came in The Batman with Colin Farrell playing Oswald Cobblepot, the dastardly supervillain also known as the Penguin. As Farrell did not look like the traditional depiction of the Penguin, he underwent a physical transformation that included spending hours in the makeup chair to have prosthetics applied. Ferrell also wore a “fat suit” for the role and later said he did this as it was much healthier than physically gaining the weight.
“Mike Marino is a genius. He’s an absolute and veritable genius. And that word gets thrown out a lot, but he is a drawing, sculpting, shaping genius,” Farrell said of creating the Penguin look, via Collider. “And he created this visage for the Penguin. I mean he and Matt talked about what physically the character stature would be, and I had been quite big for The North Water and I didn’t want to naturally go big again cause I had a few little health things as a result of The North Water and I was just like, f-ck, this acting thing ain’t this important. I know the top actors that go up and down, and God bless them, I wish them good health. But for me, I think The North Water is the last time I’ll go up that much. So, we decided on a fat suit.”