You can call Mara Wilson many things: a writer, the queen of comedy on Twitter, that actor from the Matilda movie but just don't call her cute.
That word made her miserable in the 90's when she starred in movies like Mrs. Doubtfire and Miracle on 34th Street and of course, Matilda.
By the time she hit her teens, she'd lost her mother to cancer, struggled with OCD and quit acting.
Mara Wilson describes her journey from child star to the writer and blogger she is today in her new book, Where Am I Now? True Stories Of Girlhood And Accidental Fame.
How accidental was your rise to fame as a child star?
I think that I didn’t ever think that I would be famous. And I think my family didn’t really think that I would be famous either. I don’t know why they let me act. I grew up in Southern California, in Los Angeles where child acting is not uncommon. It’s like kids in Canada play hockey and kids in the UK play rugby and kids in Texas play American football. You do these things at young ages and it’s a little bit dangerous and it is engrained in your culture and that’s the way that it was for was. It was just something that people would do.
One of my older brothers did a little bit of acting and I started going out on auditions because I was like, 'hey that looks like fun', and my mother tried to talk me out of it at first, but I was not swayed by the idea of rejection, so I started going on auditions for commercials and from then on a whim, because she didn’t think anything was going to come of it, she let me audition for a movie and that movie was Mrs Doubtfire. And then things just snowballed from there and I remember her saying, 'do you want to do more?'
At the time I just remember it was like going on vacation or summer camp, it was these fun little adventures I was going on. I never touched any of the money that I made until I was a grown up. I didn’t know how big it was and I think that my parents tried really hard to keep me grounded. They kept me sharing a room with my little sister, they kept me at the local public school – nothing too fancy. That kept me living a normal life and I think that made me realise that I didn’t really know how famous I really was. I didn’t really know what I meant to people.
You’re quite active on Twitter. There must be something about the connection with fans that you like, despite the potential for nastiness from strangers?
There is, there is something that I like. It makes me wonder what I would have thought of it if I were a child because I know that back then, talking to fans could be so exhausting because they wanted so much. They didn’t understand that you were a kid like them.
There was no way that you could ever do anything wrong. You couldn’t make mistakes because you were held up to this standard and if you did make mistakes then you were another disappointing child star who went off the rails like the rest of them.
But I like talking to people and relating to them one on one. I’m extroverted, I like meeting people, I like talking to people. I know that I can be funny and I know I can say and do funny things on there, so there is something that I like, I’ve met a lot of cool people there.
Your mother started off as your de-facto manager and she was quite protective of you and then she ended up with cancer while you were filming Matilda. A horrific thing for a kid to go through. Are your memories of Matilda and that character tied in with what was going on in that part of your life?
I don’t think filming it is tied in, but I do think that doing publicity for it very definitely is. There is very little of the year that Matilda came out that I can remember. That summer was just a blur. I was so sad and angry and anxious and confused. It was so difficult for me. But I think that it kept me distracted in some ways, in some ways it was good. You can see the look in my eyes has changed, when you look at photos of me from when Matilda came out. The light just doesn’t seem to be there and I just seem exhausted, which I was.
I think that while Matilda was being filmed, I was in denial of the fact that my mother was very ill. I saw it almost as… the way my friends’ parents might have diabetes or asthma. Something that you just live with, but then after we finished filming Matilda I had to face the fact that she wasn’t getting better and that’s when I started having really terrible panic attacks and obsessive compulsive symptoms. I was crying all of the time, even before she died. And then when she did after that, it became a haze and sometimes it was nice to do publicity, because it meant I could see Danny de Vito and Rhea Perlman, who were lovely to me the whole time, and Embeth Davidtz who played Miss Honey and Pam Ferris who played Mrs Trunchbull, who is just one of the nicest people I have ever met.
I wonder sometimes, should I have stopped acting then and then other times I think, that even though I do think I got a little burnt out on acting then, acting was the only constant in my life so I had to keep going.