You may remember child star Mara Wilson from some of your favorite childhood movies, such as the adaption of Roald Dahl’s famous book, Matilda. Though she was a rising star, Wilson decided to leave the big screen. Why? Because, to no one’s surprise, Hollywood is obsessed with image, which Wilson found so “toxic” that she felt she needed to retire as a tween. In fact, she’s writing about her rise to and escape from the celebrity spotlight in a new witty memoir, Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame.
Wilson first came on the screen opposite Robin Williams in the classic 1993 comedy Mrs. Doubtfire as the youngest daughter, as well as in a role on the TV series Melrose Place that same year. She took off from there, gaining her first lead role in the 1994 Miracle on 34th Street reboot and making public appearance after public appearance. By 1996, Wilson was starring as the lovable and crazy intelligent title character in Matilda, making her a stand-out ’90s star. Oh, the nostalgia!
However famous she was as a cute kid, Wilson writes that by the time she hit puberty,”I wasn’t getting any parts.” She remembers being confused by this sudden turn of events. “Something didn’t make sense – at least until I was called for a role in a pilot,” Wilson recalls in her memoir. “I would be auditioning for the ‘fat girl.’ ” Ouch. That’s not something you want to hear as a pre-teen, no matter what your celebrity status is.
Yeah, OK pic.twitter.com/gW91TMoIkB
— Mara “Get Rid of the Nazis” Wilson (@MaraWilson) April 12, 2016
While there’s nothing wrong having extra weight, Hollywood deliberately assigns importance to it by casting skinny and conventionally beautiful females as the lead roles, while those who are considered ‘fat’ get minor or comedic roles. It was discouraging to know that, despite Wilson’s talent and former success, she was being looked down upon simply for the way she looked. She seemed to realize it right away; it was shortly after that audition that Wilson and her father decided she would begin to focus on school instead of acting. “I realized, ‘I don’t fit their idea of what a Hollywood actress looks like, so there’s no room for me here,'” Wilson told People in an interview. “It’s hard to come out of that sane and without some serious doubts about yourself.” That’s when Wilson essentially quit the acting industry.
Although she found passion in theater and writing in high school, the doubts caused by Hollywood followed her throughout her life. Seeing former friends and peers, like Hilary Duff, Scarlett Johansson and Kristen Stewart, on magazine covers only fueled that fire. Wilson didn’t want to quit film acting but felt she needed to escape the toxic attitudes that pervade the business.
“Even though part of me knew I wouldn’t go back to film acting, sometimes I wished I’d be in an accident where I’d injure my nose and jaw so I could get reconstruction guilt-free,” Wilson reminisces in her book. “As I saw it, I had three choices: get cosmetic surgery and go out on auditions for the cute and funny best friend characters, stay the way I was and go out for the meager character actor roles for young women, or accept myself and give up the idea of a Hollywood film acting career for good.” She decided to accept herself.
— Mara “Get Rid of the Nazis” Wilson (@MaraWilson) August 18, 2016
Since graduating college from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Wilson has continued to work in the New York comedy and storytelling scene. These days, she lives with her two cats, Milo and Theo, in Queens, where she writes comedy articles. She has both starred and guest-starred on web shows, most notably on the popular dystopian podcast Welcome To Night Vale. Wilson also frequently updates her blog, marawilsonwritesstuff.com, and other social media accounts, showing that she’s not afraid to be outspoken. She recently came out as bisexual following the Orlando gay nightclub massacre in June, self-identifying as a 2 on the Kinsey scale.
Still, the effects of her childhood carry on even today. “I’ve had people tell me, ‘The way that you judge yourself, looks-wise, is on this really strange level.’ Well, it’s because I grew up in Hollywood,” Wilson, now 29, explains. “I had good experiences there, but I always knew there were girls much prettier than I was, and I knew that I was always competing with them. That has followed me my whole life.”
“Things have gotten a lot better since I left Hollywood – a great weight lifted,” she definitively says. Wilson knows her book will put her in the public eye again, more than she’s been in for the last several years. But that’s alright. “This time,” she says, “it’s on my terms.”
Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame will be available September 13.