In the 1990s, Mara Wilson was one of the most successful and recognizable child stars in Hollywood, and her movies from the decade include some classics that are still loved today. As a kid, she starred in Matilda and the Miracle on 34th Street remake and also had a supporting role in Mrs. Doubtfire. But, after reaching the height of stardom as a child, Wilson decided to quit acting at age 13. As an adult, she's became a vocal critic of the way young entertainers are treated in the media.
In recent years, Wilson has started acting again but has not returned to the sort of big-budget projects she was once a part of. Read on to find out more about her life and career today at 35 years old.
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She quit acting in her early teens.
Wilson's final role as a young star came in 2000 when she was in Thomas and the Magic Railroad, which was released when she was 13. But, Wilson has said that she maybe should have stopped acting even sooner.
"Sometimes I wish I had stopped [acting] after Matilda because I think that that was really the peak for me," she told NPR in 2016. "There wasn't really anywhere that I could go from there. So I think that I was already starting to age out of acting." She explained that once she began puberty, "People didn't know what to do with me, and I knew it, and I felt it, and it really hurt."
A few months before the release of Matilda, Wilson lost her mother, Suzie Wilson, to breast cancer, which she said played a role in her continuing to act. "I think it would have been a good time to re-evaluate things," she said. "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."
She returned to acting years later.
Wilson stopped acting professionally onscreen during her teens, but she continued to act in plays. She went on to attend New York University where she put on a one-woman show titled Weren't You That Girl?
In the early 2010s, Wilson returned to performing—primarily in webseries, though she has taken on TV roles, as well. In 2016, she was on an episode of Broad City. She also voiced characters in BoJack Horseman and Big Hero 6: The Series.
"I still love voice-over acting, and I think I always will, because you can be anything and it doesn't matter what you look like," she told Collider in 2021. "It doesn't matter that I'm just another short brunette. One of the last characters that I played literally did not have a face, and another character that I played before that was a tall, hot, blonde billionaire evil genius. It's great because I'm not these things, but I get to play them, and that's awesome."
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She's a writer.
Wilson explored her passion for writing after stepping back from acting. "Writing I'd always loved," she told NPR. "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."
Wilson released her memoir, Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame, in 2016. She currently writes a newsletter titled Shan't We Tell the Vicar?.
She's critical of the way young stars are treated.
Speaking of writing, in 2021, Wilson wrote an essay for The New York Times about how the media and public treat famous young women and girls. The piece, titled "The Lies Hollywood Tells About Little Girls," focused on her own experience, as well as that of Britney Spears, whose treatment by the media has been reevaluated in recent years. Wilson explained that she went through the harrowing experience of being sexualized from a young age in interviews and by so-called fans.
In the interview with Collider, Wilson explained that she was "generally glad" she acted as a child. "I had wonderful experiences that I never would have been able to have. It definitely meant that I had an audience for what I wanted to start writing and performing more, as an adult, that I wouldn't have had otherwise. And it helped me pay for college," she said.
But, she explained, "I also do feel like that level of fame, for anybody, is not a natural thing and can be very dangerous for kids. I appreciate it, but I do think that there are a lot of things around being famous as a child that we need to talk about."
She recently reminisced about Matilda.
Matilda turned 25 in 2021, and Wilson shared some of her memories about making the movie with Entertainment Tonight.
"It was not a huge hit at the time. It did all right, but it didn't do very well," Wilson told ET. "It became a hit especially with VHS and with DVD, and I have been signing VHS that people kept and DVDs that people kept for 25 years now, and that is something that is really cool. And probably the coolest thing is when people tell me they introduced their children to it, so they will say, 'My daughter loves it, my son loves it. I watch it with my kids,' and that is really cool to know that you are a part of something that is generational."