Remember the name – Alisha Weir. The young actress was picked by producers to star opposite Emma Thompson and Stephen Graham in Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical following a wide search for the film’s young lead.
Praise has been high for the 13-year-old Dubliner in what is her first major movie role, but Alisha is already building on her dream casting – she recently completed another film opposite Jessie Buckley and Olivia Colman.
The youngster told how she was overcome with emotion when director Matthew Warchus told her she’d been picked to lead the film via Zoom.
“He told me I got the part and my whole family was there,” she said. “My two sisters, my mum and dad, and I just burst into tears because I don’t think you can expect what kind of reaction you’re going to get in that situation. I burst into tears because I just couldn’t believe it.” Alisha was given the iconic role – adapted from the award-winning stage musical – following a lengthy audition process that saw her and thousands of other girls apply to be Matilda. She sent through a self-tape audition on the recommendation of her drama coach, recording a poem as well as one of her favourite songs from the musical.
“I remember I did the song Naughty. I already knew the song off by heart because I’d been listening to it – I love all the songs. I also did a song from Mary Poppins, A Spoonful of Sugar.” Following further auditions, Alisha was off to film in the UK, where producers had created the iconic world of Crunchem Hall. She was cast as Matilda Wormwood, the little girl with a strong sense of justice who loves to read and learn despite her parents’ objections.
“I flew over in February and we did two months of rehearsals before we kicked into the filming.
“Then a week later I met loads of the kids and that was amazing – there were so many kids as well. Now I’ve got loads of friends in England as well as Ireland, which is really good.” While taking on such a big movie could have been an overwhelming experience, Alicia says she embraced the role and felt greatly supported and welcomed.
“When I was filming, there were a lot of people there. They were all really kind and it wasn’t like I was under any pressure or anything like that. They made me feel really relaxed as well. I think that all I can do is my best, and then hopefully that everyone else likes it. I just needed to put myself into her shoes and portray the best Matilda that I could do.” Though Alicia doesn’t come from a performing background, she always used to love joining in the songs that her big sisters, Emma Jane and Katie, learned at drama class. She remembers listening to the songs in the car as they were dropped off to class, which she joined as soon as she was old enough.
“I think I just grew into it. My first time at stage school, I just loved it – I knew that was what I wanted to do.” Though her parents’ primary interest was in sports, all three of the girls have a passion for music and drama. Mum Jenny recalls how Alisha loved to join in with her older sisters as they practiced what they were learning in class.
“She was always natural to it. She used to follow the girls around, singing. She used to go into the singing classes with the two girls, and she would know all the words of all the songs, as if she was doing the class herself. Maureen (her teacher and agent Maureen V Ward) used to be fascinated at this. And she’d be pitch perfect, so she did a couple of little things. She’s actually a very quiet kid. But when she goes to do this stuff as she goes on stage, it’s like she just becomes this character.
“Her eldest sister Katie has just graduated from musical theatre in college. And the middle child, Emma Jane, she’s just started UCD doing film, music and drama as well. The three of them have a passion for it.”
With Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical soon to arrive at cinemas, Alisha’s natural talent has already landed her another movie role. She recently completed filming her part in a new movie starring Jessie Buckley and Olivia Colman, called Wicked Little Letters.
“I play Jessie Buckley’s daughter and it was so amazing. It was completely different to Matilda. I love seeing how different it can be working on different sets with different people.”
Now she’s hopeful of pursuing a career onscreen – and with two high-profile projects already under her belt, is emerging as our latest young star.
“It’s definitely something I’d like to pursue because I loved it so much when I was filming. Meeting everybody and making new friends, and being in front of the camera – it’s just something that I feel really comfortable doing.”
- Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical opens in cinemas on November 25