How Mara Wilson Went from Child Star to Stand-Up Comic
There was a time when Mara Wilson was the most famous 9-year-old on the planet. She starred as Matilda, stole the show in Mrs. Doubtfire, and charmed Santa in John Hughes' Miracle on 34th Street reboot. And then, in an unusual move for child stars, she traded the spotlight for school and disappeared from the public eye. Now, with an NYU degree and seriously must-read book on her resume, she's tiptoeing back as a stand-up comic, highly retweetable pop culture commentator, and (occasionally!) actress. Here's how she got there.
As a child star, your life could have gone many different ways, but becoming a comedian-slash-author is a uniquely awesome trajectory to take. What was the impetus behind that?
I always wanted to tell stories. Whether I was jumping in front of the home video camera or brainstorming ideas for chapter books in my trailer between shots, it was what I wanted to do most. For many years, though, I thought acting was my "thing," and I had to focus on that. Then, in college, I took a playwriting class, and I fell in love with writing dialogue. This was the kind of writing I most wanted to do, which felt natural—not surprising, considering how much I'd eavesdropped on adult conversations on film sets!
You spent many years away from the spotlight. Was tip-toeing back in a conscious decision?
I had long wanted to try to put some of my writing out into the world, but I was scared. I still had memories of the anxiety being famous had brought me. Eventually, though, I had to take a risk. As simple as it sounds, knowing I had friends and family that cared for me no matter what really did help. Who I am online is only part of it. Having a big audience is great, but can still be daunting. My follower count on Twitter is now about the size of my hometown and the town next to it! So now I have to visualize myself using a giant megaphone to broadcast my thoughts over Burbank and Glendale, California, to make sure I really want that many people to hear them!
If you could tell your 13-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be? And your 20-year-old self?
"Your best guy friend, who you have a crush on? He's gay." No, in all seriousness, I think I would tell her not to be cynical. Being cynical and resentful ultimately only hurts you, and being sincere doesn't mean you're weak. If anything, it shows strength. The same goes for being able to admit when you're wrong! As for my 20-year-old self, I'd ask her to ask herself the same question every time she dates someone new: "Do I like the person I am when I'm with them?"
You've written about how being "cute" made you feel miserable, which is a really wise thing to be aware of when you were young. Lots of girls feel like they ~need~ to be cute, and play that up, in order to succeed. What are your thoughts there?
It is tricky, because the world still does expect women to look a certain way or not be taken seriously. But it's important to remember your appearance belongs only to yourself, and what you look like has no bearing on who you are as a person. (And judging other women on how they look only reflects poorly on you.) The way I see it, I'm already so many other things. Why do I have to be what the world considers "pretty," too?
You've been very open about dealing with anxiety. What's helped you the most, in terms of not letting it stop you from being the badass you are?
First of all, thank you! The most important thing I have done, I think, is accept that I am an anxious person. Being aware of my own anxiety and how it affects me, which thoughts or actions are really just a product of that anxiety, has helped tremendously. Another thing is to remember that while anxiety isn't fun, it's not deadly, and it will always, always pass. "This sucks, but it will pass" is my motto.