Mara Wilson is a girl on fire these days. Her first book, a memoir called “Where Am I Now?” was just released–which spans from her time as a child actress to becoming a writer living in New York City.
A lot has changed since she played the adorable 6-year-old girl known as “Matilda” from the 1996 film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic book.
In a recent interview with NPR, she said how she really wanted to be Matilda:
“I wanted to be her so badly. She’s kind of like my big sister overshadowing me.
[She] gained power through knowledge, [and was] a young girl who was intelligent, and thoughtful, and considerate of her friends, and had a strong sense of justice.”
The 29-year-old, who said she got casted because she had an ear for dialogue at a young age (the result of voracious reading!) recalls how her acting career took a different turn right after “Matilda” came out when she was 8, because of her mother’s death:
“Sometimes I wish I had stopped [acting] after Matilda because I think that that was really the peak for me. There wasn’t really anywhere that I could go from there. So I think that I was already starting to age out of acting. … I think it would have been a good time to re-evaluate things. But I think that after my mother died, I felt like I had to keep going because film was the only constant in my life. …
I was very depressed, I was very anxious, I can barely even remember Matilda coming out. I only have vague memories of the premiere, and it was really hard for me. So I think that I definitely became kind of disenchanted with acting, with Hollywood, while, at the same time, it was a crutch for me. It was something where, when it was done, I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
Of course, this doesn’t account for the fact that going through puberty, especially as a girl in Hollywood, is devastating. That experience truly had a lasting impact on her, and not altogether a healthy one:
“They always want child actors to play parts that are a few years younger than they are, but when you’re a 12-, 13-year-old girl and your body’s changing and your voice is changing, you can’t. I couldn’t play 10 anymore. I didn’t look 10 anymore. I wasn’t as cute anymore because I looked halfway between a child and an adult — which is what puberty is. People didn’t know what to do with me, and I knew it, and I felt it, and it really hurt.
When you’re in middle school, when you’re a preteen, you always worry: Is everybody talking about me behind my back? And everybody was.”
Because of this, Wilson ended up switching to writing, which she found much more satisfying:
“Writing I’d always loved. Even on the sets of various movies, I would always be in my trailer writing stories — usually very similar to whatever Judy Blume or Beverly Cleary or Bruce Coville book I was reading at the time — but I loved to write. I started writing dialogue, and I started doing performance pieces — like 10-minute solo performance pieces — and eventually I did a one-woman show, and that felt so much more real than being on a set every day.”
Writing, for Wilson, has been a way for her to reclaim her own identity–which makes perfect sense to me as I’m a writer myself. You’re naturally much more in control of how you are perceived, and what kind of lifestyle you have–which seems to be the complete opposite of acting in Hollywood. It’s refreshing to see Wilson speak so candidly about her experience–and to witness her blossom. She explained why she ultimately has found a home in writing:
“I feel good about myself, and I feel like I’m sort of in control of my own story and my own narrative. Which is a really good feeling to have, because I don’t think I had that when I was a child. I felt like somebody else was always telling my story or making up stories about me. … Making up stories and telling stories, and telling true stories, has always been what I wanted to do, and it is what I am still doing.”
Nothing is more important in life than finding happiness within yourself. Go Mara!