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Where Is Mara Wilson Now? BUST Interview

Mara Wilson Matilda

Mara Wilson is used to people recognizing her — in fact, in college, she had a one-woman show called "Weren't You That Girl?" As a child, she starred in classic ‘90s movies including Mrs. Doubtfire, Miracle on 34th Street, and, possibly best known of all, Matilda. But as a young teen, Mara quit acting — and went on with her life, attending boarding school, then NYU, then entering the world of professional writing and storytelling.

Now 29, Mara is taking control of her story with her engaging new book, Where Am I Now? True Stories Of Girlhood And Accidental Fame. Part memoir, part essay collection, Where Am I Now? covers much more than just Mara’s childhood movie roles. She also discusses her time at school, her family, her weird childhood habits, and her first ventures into writing and performing, as well as more serious topics like the death of her mother and Mara’s diagnosis with OCD.

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So, where is Mara now? Well, everywhere. She’s super active on Twitter, where she has over 300,000 followers and recently changed her handle from @MaraWritesStuff to @MaraWilson; she has a weekly storytelling show in Astoria, Queens, called “What Are You Afraid Of?”; she’s an active voice actor, lending her voice to the podcast “Welcome To Night Vale” and the Netflix series Bojack Horseman; and, of course, she writes — she’s been published in the New York Times, Reductress, Cracked, The Toast, and elsewhere.

BUST called Mara to talk about Where Am I Now?, her role as Twitter’s fairy godmother, and more.

 

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Your book title is amazing — where did it come from?

That was actually my editor’s suggestion, because it’s something that comes up in the book over and over again. When I was working on it, I had titled it “K for Kid,” because when you are a child in a movie, they always put a K next to your name for Kid on the call sheet, and that pretty much sums up my childhood. But I felt like that was a little bit too obscure. I also really like rhetorical questions. I have a show called “What Are You Afraid Of?” and in college. I wrote a one-woman show, some of which became this book, called “Weren’t You That Girl?” So I was thinking about it, and my editor said, "You talk about, 'Where are they now?' maybe this is what your book should be called," and I was like, “That’s perfect.”

Do you have people asking you about why you’re writing a memoir? I feel like whenever someone young writes a memoir, there’s always somewhat of a backlash.

There definitely is. I remember feeling hesitant to call this a memoir. I think it is very specifically a memoir of my childhood and adolescence. It’s very much about being young. There’s nothing in this over the age of 25. And there are things in there that I don’t talk about and deal with because they were things that happened later on in my 20s. And also because I think that relatively speaking, my 20s haven’t been very interesting, at least compared to the rest of my life.

Do you have any plans for future books?

I definitely do. I’m always working on a million different things at once. Even while I was writing the book, I wrote essays for other books, I was writing for Cracked, I was writing for Reductress, I was writing for the Toast, I was working on a pilot, I was working on a graphic novel, I was working on a young adult novel, I was working on a screenplay. I write a million things at once. I think right now I’m going forward on what might be a graphic novel, and I have some different TV pilot ideas I would love to work on. I studied playwriting in college, and playwriting is very similar to television because it’s very much driven by dialogue. But I’m just happy if I’m writing.

 

MaraWilsonMemoirCover copy

In your book, you are very open about the worst parts of being famous as a preteen, the pressure to look a certain way and the online creeps in particular.

People don’t often look at the reasons why people feel upset [in Hollywood] — people feel isolated, and people feel like their bodies and their appearances aren’t theirs to control. So I wanted to put it out there. My philosophy on writing is, “What is the story that’s not being told?”

You’re also very open about your mental health, too. Could you tell me about the decision to write so openly about it?

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That’s something that I have dealt with and it was something that was very hard for me. And if I could talk to other people about it and help other people with it, then I wanted to do it. I also think that it explains a lot about me. Other people have been controlling my narrative for a very long time. People construct a narrative based on an IMDB page. There are people who are interested in learning what happened to me, and while I have your attention, I’m going to be honest about it, and maybe some people will say, “I have this problem as well.” I feel very much like I’m taking control of my narrative, and I’m very happy to do a service, too.

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You were on Broad City in a cameo that was a tribute to Mrs. Doubtfire — what was it like to be on set?


It was a great set, and everyone on set was hilarious. Abbi and Ilana are so ridiculous on the show and so professional in real life. It was funny to see them, after you’ve seen them play these bumbling stoners, to see them working so hard in real. There was a lot of time for me to sit around and wait, and people kept apologizing to me for it, and I was like, “Guys, it’s taking two days to film. The original Mrs. Doubtfire scene that you're doing a take on took two weeks to film, so don’t worry about it.”

It felt special, but it definitely didn’t feel like something I would do again and again. Doing cameos is one perk of being a C-lister, and they’re fun! But I didn’t feel the need to make it any more than a cameo. And it was definitely done in service of them and their art and their comedy, which being a ridiculous, fumbling, neurotic Jew myself, felt important to me and like an honor to be there. People were asking, “Does this mean you’re going to be acting more?” And I was like, “Well, no.”


I also have to ask about your Twitter!

 

I probably spend too much time on Twitter. I think it was probably different when I was living with roommates because then I had people to talk to! I try to keep things funny, or I try to call attention to messages that I feel are important and need to be amplified. My friends call me the Twitter fairy godmother. I have a platform that I’m lucky to have, so I am going to call attention to other people, you know? That’s something I feel an obligation to do because I do have this built in audience from when I was a child. And then, a lot of it is just weird thoughts, and a lot of times it’s just shouting into the void, “Am I alone in this?”

You came out on Twitter recently, and it became such a news story. Were you surprised by the reaction to it?


I really was surprised. If I had known that it would be a news story, I don’t think I would have done it in that way. Personally, so many of my friends are LGBTIA, so it really didn’t feel like a big deal to me. I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to do it publicly because I didn’t feel like I needed to make a big announcement. And I really didn’t make a big announcement.

The fact that it was a news story still kind of surprises me, but it’s one of those things again where I had people coming up to me to say, “You gave me the courage to tell my parents,” or “I’m so glad you’re doing something about queer erasure,” so eventually I was glad I that I was able to help people. I would have preferred it if I would be able to talk to people about it, to talk to my parents about it before they saw it on the news. But it was an impulsive decision, it was an emotional decision, and everybody has those every now and then. And the good news is that my friends and my family love and support me no matter what.

 

Photos: Matilda, Twitter/Mara Wilson

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Erika W. Smith is BUST's digital editorial director. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @erikawynn and email her at erikawsmith@bust.com.

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