No one can forget the brilliant young girl with magical powers, who was too clever for her parents and gave her cruel teacher a taste of her own medicine. At just 9-years-old, Mara Wilson captured hearts around the world for her portrayal as Matilda in the film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel.
It was after production for the movie had finished, however, that Mara Wilson experienced something extremely traumatic. After disappearing from the big screen, she now recalls what Danny DeVito did for her at this time.
Danny DeVito offered Mara the role of Matilda in his 1996 adaptation of the original novel, where the famous actor would star alongside her as Matilda’s car-dealer father. The on-screen relationship between the pair was not the sweetest father-daughter relationship one would hope for, with Matilda’s parents showing very little care for their young daughter. However, things were very different for the pair off-screen, and when she was offered the role from the actor himself, she had no clue the exact impact he would have on her life.
Child Star Actress
Everyone recognized Mara’s face when she was a young child star. Before Matilda, she starred alongside Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire, as well as in the beloved film Miracle on 34th Street. Her infectious smile made Mara a popular child actress, becoming best known for her portrayal as the intelligent and sweet Matilda. While she portrayed the role perfectly, we may have all missed out on seeing Mara in some of our favorite films since her parents originally refused to let her act.
Mara Was The Girl For The Job
Luckily, her parents changed their minds and thank goodness they did, because who could imagine anyone else playing the role? Having won an award for “Young Star of The Year” in 1995, Mara was the talented young actress Danny DeVito wanted for the lead role in his production. Of course, she did not disappoint. In fact, it was Mara’s mother who convinced her daughter to go for the role because she thought it was such a strong, intelligent character which the young star could certainly handle.
Then It All Went Downhill
Matilda was a career highlight for the actress and is still one of the most famous films around. However, after production on her big role came to a finish, the phone calls also stopped coming for the talented actress. How could this be? She had just filmed an award-winning film, and surely she would be the actress everyone wanted to book. However, this was not the case. It was after a 12-year hiatus that Mara Wilson finally revealed where she had been since playing Matilda.
Mara recalls that she was always the ‘cute’ star, but as she entered her teenage years, she no longer wanted to be ‘cute.’ In fact, Mara longed to be older than her years and aspired to be just like her elder siblings. “I wanted the freedom my teenage brothers had, to do all the cool things they did, like driving and going to concerts without a chaperone. Most of all I wanted people to stop thinking I was younger than I was.” As she got older, she faced other problems.
It Did Not Get Any Better
It was when she turned 13 that comments about her looks began to get to Mara. “At 13, no one had called me cute or mentioned the way I looked in years, at least not in a positive way. My sixth-grade crush had called me ugly, film reviewers said I was “odd looking,” and a boy at my preteen day camp had said to me, “You were Matilda? Heh. You’ve gained a little weight since then!” I went home and cried into a milkshake.”
Too Much To Handle
Mara, who decided to publish a book called, Where Am I Now?, made a return to the limelight in 2016 and the world saw Matilda all grown up. Almost unrecognizable, Mara was now 30-years-old, and the world had not got a glimpse of her since her early teenage days. Her book, however, discussed that the child star could not handle going through puberty in the public eye and decided to leave the world of film and fame for good.
Dealing With Adolescence
When puberty began to hit Mara, she had a pretty tough time. “At 13, being pretty mattered – and not just in the world of movies and TV. The pretty girls at school had always had an air of superiority, but once we hit puberty, they seemed to matter more. My career was the only thing I had over them. Now that it was waning, I was just another weird, nerdy, loud girl with bad teeth and bad hair, whose bra strap was always showing.”
Acting Was All She Wanted
Mara was hopeful – “At 16, I expected I would go back to acting at some point. Thinking about life without it made me anxious. But I knew by then that if I wanted to be in film, I had to be beautiful. It would happen, I was sure. For now, I was a teenager and I was allowed to be awkward. A lot of child actors reappeared after puberty, like butterflies from cocoons, fresh‑faced and ready for Neutrogena ads.”
No Longer Wanted
After her looks began to change, so did the demand for the talented actress. After a run of unsuccessful callbacks and lack of auditions, her father said: “Maybe you should just focus on school right now.” Mara saw this as a good thing at the time stating, “I didn’t know who I was without film sets, casting directors and constant rejection, and I needed to find out.” Nevertheless, she was sure she would make a return to acting just a few years later.
The Hope To Be Beautiful
As Mara got older, she saw no extravagant change that made her stand out from the crowd for jaw-dropping, beautiful looks. She expressed, “Even with my braces off, with contact lenses and a better haircut, I was always going to look the way I did,” and knew she wouldn’t be good enough for Hollywood. While life outside TV and film was looking up for the former star, having fallen in love with a boy named Sam at university, her anxiety over her looks continued to grow.
Beauty vs Talent
After Mara participated in Where Are They Now? for Entertainment TV, she was told she was “too pale” for her scene to be aired and, as a result, things for Mara’s confidence were not looking any brighter. The one time ‘cute’ actress, who warmed the hearts of many for her roles in some of our favorite films, began losing hope in ever gracing our screens again. Although she was incredibly passionate about having an acting career, the constant pressure of becoming beautiful to achieve her goals, became too hard.
Film Acting No Longer For Her
The last acting job Mara was hired for was when she starred in Thomas The Magic Railroad with Alex Baldwin and Peter Fonda. This was the last role Mara would have in the acting industry after saying, ‘film acting is not very fun.’ While she obviously got it very right for her role in Matilda, Mara stated, ‘Doing the same thing over and over again until, in the director’s eyes, you “get it right,” does not allow for very much creative freedom.’
Like any good film, the actors involved steal the limelight, but little is known behind closed doors when it comes to the actor’s journey to winning the role. Mara expressed, ‘Film can be exciting, but more often, it’s tedious. The celebrity aspect is nothing short of ridiculous, and auditioning is brutal and dehumanizing. Every time I see a pretty young girl on the subway reading sides for an audition, my only thought is, “Man, am I glad I’m not doing that anymore.” I never feel nostalgia, just relief.’
Her Own Advice
The Mrs. Doubtfire actress has a few words of wisdom to aspiring child actors and a little warning about the real world of Hollywood. She claims, “The thing about Hollywood – and I always say this – Hollywood isn’t immoral, but it’s amoral. It doesn’t care about you one way or another, and that is a hard thing to take.” While Mara was at the height of her career, she learned this the hard way, and it led to a world of self-doubt and lack of self-worth.
A Serious Decision
Unlike Mara’s parents who originally prevented Mara from getting into acting, Mara now notices the importance of not forcing kids to get into the acting world if they don’t want to. “Parents should never push their children into doing it,” she added. “I definitely think that they need to make sure that their children want to be doing this, that if their children don’t want to be doing it anymore they get out of it as soon as possible.”
Never Feeling Good Enough
Mara even considered getting plastic surgery to change her looks. When she consulted Sam on the situation, he said, “If you want to, you can. But, I want you to know I love you the way you are. You’re beautiful.” Finding it hard to believe him, Mara’s lack of self-confidence eventually took a toll on their relationship, and the couple broke-up. At this time, Sam confessed, “Mara, the one thing I could never stand about you is how much you put yourself down.”
Mara may bring herself down, but people on the internet also like criticizing the former star. She has many fans expressing their anger towards the fact she no longer looks like the 9-year-old they all remember and love, and like to give their own advice. Telling Mara to color her hair, “lose weight,” and “go die in a hole somewhere,” are just some of the comments she gets. Of course, this is not the kind of fan mail any celebrity wants!
Child Actor Curse
Mara’s transition could not have been an easy one, and she realized that “I was once paid to be cute, but now the child actor curse has caught up with me.” The child actor curse relates to former child stars who were successful in their younger years but don’t carry the same fortune as they grow into adulthood. As child actors go through growing pains and puberty, they have the added wrinkle of growing up under the spotlight.
So, Where Did She Go?
The surprise with Mara’s career, however, was that it all began to tumble down after such a successful role in a well-loved film. She had not gone off the rails, she was not accused of being unprofessional, and there was no negative press surrounding the youngster’s talent. There had been a different reason for it, however. Personal issues at the time of filming Matilda played a huge factor as to why the young actress suddenly disappeared when her career was doing so well.
The Role Behind The Camera
Fortunately, Mara expresses that “I do much more voiceover work, which is very fun for me – I love doing voiceover work.” So, while she has not escaped the entertainment industry and quit altogether, she showcases her talents in other ways. Speaking of her roles, she says, “I do feel now that I am sort of doing things on my own terms. I’m writing more, I’m putting myself out there… but it feels much better now. It feels like I am much more in control.”
In fact, Mara wanted to distance herself from the roles she was best known for, including the likes of Matilda and Mrs Doubtfire. “I loved Matilda as a character, but I wasn’t her. I kind of felt sometimes like people liked her more than they liked me,” she said. “Eventually, I looked back on it and I thought ‘wow, what I did really meant something to so many people and I am incredibly lucky to have had that opportunity.’”
The Real Side Of Danny DeVito
Danny DeVito was the person who spotted the talented actress and wanted her for the lead role in his upcoming film. He was not wrong in his decision, yet, the award-winning actor took on more responsibility than he imagined when he chose Mara Wilson to star in Matilda. At the time, Mara began having her own personal troubles at home, DeVito became a far cry away from his cruel portrayal as a car-dealer owner and an unloving father towards his young daughter.
Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman
In fact, the actors who portrayed Matilda’s parents were actually married in real life. Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman starred alongside each other in Matilda as the unaffectionate parents who were unaware of their child’s special powers. The same cannot be said for the feelings the married couple had for Mara Wilson in her time of need. The three actors actually all got along very well, with DeVito and Perlman inviting Mara over for many pool parties and events during filming.
Taking A Turn For The Worse
It was during filming that Mara got unexpected news from her family, which was to have a huge effect on the star. On March 10, 1995, Mara Wilson’s mother, Suzie, was diagnosed with cancer. Danny and Rhea stepped in to look after Mara whenever her parents were at the hospital. A year later, on April 16, 1996, just after production had finished, Suzie sadly passed away. Mara recalls this difficult time in her and her family’s life in her memoir and dedicates her book to her mother.
Meeting Danny DeVito
Suzie’s death came just before post-production for the film had finished, which meant she never got to see the film. A young Mara was so upset that her mother, who loved the original book, never got to see her star in the film. Or so she thought. In her memoir, Where Am I Now?, Mara discusses an interaction that Danny Devito had with Suzie right before her death. At the time Mara never knew about this, but since finding out, Mara will be forever grateful.
When It All Became Too Much
The trauma of her mother’s death certainly played a part in the decline of Mara’s acting career. Mara admits, “My father became so overprotective he wouldn’t even let me cross the street by myself.” She began saying no to many scripts that came her way, and the addition of negative comments on her appearance that followed losing her mother to cancer, was too much for the young star to handle. After she got older and became happier with herself, she had something to say back.
Telling It How It Is
Mara has shared that, “next time someone hiding behind a username decides to tell me what would make me prettier, I will tell them about going through puberty in the public eye after my mother died of cancer… that the only real acting I do these days is voiceover, where no one can see me. I will tell them how my mother wanted me to prove myself through my actions and skills, rather than my looks.”
A Big Revelation
In 2016, Mara had a big confession to make, and it seemed prudent to share it publicly in the wake of the tragedy that had recently taken place in Orlando. She came out publicly as bi, though now prefers to label herself as queer. As part of her public announcement she wrote, “I think that if you’re in a place of security and privilege — which I can admit that I am — it’s important for you to [come out],”
Feeling The Backlash
Her personal announcement regarding her romantic preferences unsurprisingly garnered a lot of backlash. Mara may have been accustomed to criticism from anonymous people, but it still stung. She shared, “I often wish that I hadn’t done it then because I got accused of taking advantage of a tragedy for personal attention. Now clearly I like attention, but I am not so callous as to make a tragedy about myself, my life and my story. That isn’t what I was going for.”
During the publicity tour following the release of Miracle on 34th Street, Mara was amazed by the public reaction she received, particularly in Japan. Little did she realize just how much the word being thrown about to describe her childhood film appearances would haunt her throughout her adolescence. The Japanese called her “kawaii” meaning cute. While it thrilled Mara so much that the young star wanted to immediately move abroad, she didn’t realize just what a negative force being “cute” would be on her life.
Facing Her Demons
It wasn’t enough that Mara had to struggle with the bullying that came with being a child star and losing her mom at such a young age. In recent years, Mara has begun to open up about her struggles with mental health, conditions that were made worse by the public scrutiny she was always under. In 2014, she wanted to do something constructive with her illnesses, and began using her panic attacks and struggles with OCD for a stage show she developed.
Finding A New Outlook
Mara wanted to turn her inner demons into a constructive outlet. In an interview about the show she created, she shared what changed her outlook. “There is something beautiful and painful about being so vulnerable [when telling stories rather than jokes]. I was a very cynical teenager. I hate cynicism the way an addict hates a drug that ruined their life: it made me miserable and it made everyone around me miserable, and it accomplished nothing.
The Secret Is Out
It was only a couple of years after Suzie’s passing that Danny DeVito shared his secret with Mara. While she was under the belief that her mother never got to see her shine as Matilda, for which she won the award for “Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Comedy Film,” this was not the case. DeVito revealed that he had in fact visited Suzie while in the hospital to let her see the completed version of the film adaptation of her favorite book.
Peace Of Mind
Upon discovering this secret, Mara confesses that she will forever be grateful to DeVito for his visit to her mother. Mara finally got the peace of mind she always wanted, knowing that her mother got to see her daughter star in a film she would have been so proud of. DeVito may have mistreated and neglected Matilda in the film, but he was definitely a huge part in Mara Wilson’s life, both for giving her the role in Matilda, and for being there in her greatest time of need.