Mara Wilson wasn’t even ten years old when she made three
very famous movies: 1993’s Mrs. Doubtfire, 1994’s Miracle on 34
Street remake, and the 1996 cult classic Matilda. Not only did the young actress have to deal with an immense amount of fame at a very early age, but she also had to endure the death of her mother in the months that followed her finishing work on Matilda. It is, perhaps, no surprise then that she decided to quit the business just a few years later. With the Blu-ray release of Matilda set to hit stores tomorrow, Mara Wilson sat down with Parade to discuss the Roald Dahl adaptation, the devastating loss of her mother, and what she’s been up to since she quit acting.
Do you still get recognized when you’re out in public?Yeah, I do actually. People keep telling me that I look the same. They’ll say that I haven’t changed. Sometimes people will say that I look different but that there’s “something about me,” but most of the time they say I haven’t changed. And I’m like, “Well, yes, I am the same person.” [Laughs]
Is that nice to still be recognized and get to meet your fans? Yeah, it is. For a long time, I didn’t really understand that these people were genuinely my fans and that they really actually liked me. For me, acting was just a hobby. But now I can see the looks on their faces and see what it meant to them, especially with Matilda. It’s impressive and humbling.
It’s nice to revisit a movie about the love of books and imagination these days, because you don’t see them very often anymore.Unfortunately, I feel like some people get lost in the message. When I was in middle school and high school people used to tease me by saying, “Oh, Matilda, do you have magic powers?” I always felt a little sad, because that was the least important part of the film. The powers were a side effect. The power is allegorical. I really appreciate the fact that Matilda is something of a hero for girls who spent their lives studying and in books. That’s amazing and that’s what I was too. I was a total bookworm.
Had you already read Roald Dahl’s book when you were cast in Matilda?I loved the book. My whole family loved that book. My brother was reading it in his fourth-grade class and my mom would go to his classroom and read the book out loud because she had this wonderful voice and could become all the characters. I loved it so much that I started quoting it. Our agent called us when I was about six years old and said they had all these scripts including Matilda, so my mom had them send that one right away. So the book was a big part of my life already.
Your mother tragically passed away just after you finished filming
Matilda. Did making the movie help you to deal with what was going on in your personal life?It did help. Filming had wrapped and it was about six months later, while we were doing post-production work, when my mother passed away. I remember feeling, when I was part of Matilda, that it was nice because I could focus on that and I could focus on everything good that was going on in my life. It felt very familial on that set. I was going through a hard time and I know I had hard days, but everyone on the film was so nice. Danny [DeVito] and Rhea [Perlman] were like my favorite aunt and uncle. It was wonderful. I remember feeling anxious when the movie wrapped, and it was really hard to go back to being normal and dealing with my mom’s sickness. I definitely feel like having that family there, and having people willing to take care of us and help us out, made it easier.
You made three very memorable movies in a row: Mrs. Doubtfire, Miracle on 34
Street, and Matilda. What was fame like for you at that age?I found it kind of overwhelming. Most of the time, I just wanted to be a normal kid, especially after my mother died. I think if I could do it over again—as much as I loved meeting the people I did on the films after Matilda—I wish that I had stopped after Matilda. I wish that I had just focused on my own life for a while. Maybe gone to counseling or something and gotten some perspective on my life, because I was very famous, and when I was most famous, I was the most unhappy, because of all the things that were going on in my life.
You essentially quit acting a few years after Matilda. If the right project came along, now would you do it?No, I don’t think so. Acting is something I did when I was a kid. I do act sometimes in friends’ projects but, when I do, it’s just for fun. It is actually a hobby for me now. I do still love stage acting, but the day-to-day process of being an actor is so exhausting and so taxing. There are parts here and there that I’d like to play, but they’re not as interesting to me as writing.
You’re working on a young adult novel, right?I have one young adult novel. Here’s the thing: I’m writing so many things right now that it’s hard to keep track. I’m working on a non-fiction book right now that’s my main focus. I was working on the young adult book, but there’s been more interest in the non-fiction book so I’m focusing on that.
So you’re busy. You’re not just sitting around waiting for scripts to arrive.Oh, no. Writing is my life now. My play
went up at the New York International Fringe Festival and I’m shopping it around right now to see if anyone else wants to get it produced.
What’s your favorite Roald Dahl adaptation, other than the one you were in?I remember The Witches scaring me so badly. I think Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory is pretty iconic. I remember really liking The Fantastic Mr. Fox even though it is completely different. I read a poll recently that said Matilda was the best Roald Dahl adaptation. I don’t know if that’s correct, because I know there are a lot of people who are really adamant about the others, but it’s an honor just to be considered that.
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