Mara Wilson

On this date in 1987, actress and writer Mara Elizabeth Wilson was born in Burbank, Calif., to Suzie (Shapiro) and Michael Wilson and was raised Jewish in her early childhood. She played Natalie Hillard, the daughter of Robin Williams and Sally Field in “Mrs. Doubtfire” when she was 5 and had a role in the remake of “Miracle on 34th Street” in 1994.

She had the title role in 1996 in director Danny DeVito’s “Matilda,” an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s young-adult book. Her mother died of breast cancer during filming of the highly acclaimed movie when Wilson was 9. She received the National Association of Theatre Owners’ Young Star of the Year award in 1995. She retired from acting after her role in “Thomas and the Magic Railroad” (2000). “I like to think of it as a mutual break-up: Hollywood didn’t really want me anymore, and I was over it, too,” she later wrote on her website Mara Wilson Writes Stuff.

She returned to acting in 2012 but not in any serious way, with relatively few appearances. She writes extensively, and her work has appeared on, McSweeney’s, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, the Daily Beast, Jezebel and other outlets. Her play “Sheeple” premiered at the New York International Fringe Festival in 2013, and she is the author of the 2016 autobiography Where Am I Now? True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame.

Wilson has been open about her struggles with mental illness since her OCD diagnosis at age 12 and about her lack of religious belief. On the live show and podcast “RISK!” (Dec. 14, 2015), she talked about her Catholic stepmother’s efforts to get her and her younger sister Anna to convert: “[Anna] became Catholic, and I became an atheist.”

“Mara came out publicly as bi — although she now tends to prefer the label queer (‘I like queer more than I like bisexual, but I have no problem with people calling me bisexual,’ she says) — on Twitter in the wake of June 2016’s tragedy at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando.” (“Matilda Is Bi and So Am I,” Sept. 20, 2017) She was the American Humanist Association’s 2019 LGBTQ Humanist Award recipient.

Wilson read the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman when she was 15: “It’s a retelling of ‘Paradise Lost’ with the premise that the God that we know is not actually God. I was OCD and I worried a lot about what God thought. These books put forward a pretty good case that maybe there was no God. I remember breaking down and crying when I read it because it altered the way I saw the world.” (TheaterMania interview, Aug. 7, 2013)

In 2018 she was offered a script about a Christian redemption movie that suggested famous child actors for roles in the movie. On Twitter she said she rejected the movie’s premise, which implied that child actors somehow need to be redeemed. “It’s as if they want us to be part of a very specific redemption narrative. Being a child star, falling from grace and public view, then finding Jesus and making liberal Hollywood safe for right-wing Christians.” (@MaraWilson tweet, May 25, 2018)

She wrote in a follow-up tweet: “The idea that our lives might be more than a cautionary tale, or some cheap inspiration, is beyond their comprehension.” In a 2017 NPR interview, “The Simpsons” voice actor Nancy Cartwright said the young Wilson inspired a character’s voice in the episode “Bart Sells His Soul.”

PHOTO: Wilson in Los Angeles at the premiere of the movie “Knives Out” in 2019; photo via Shutterstock by Featureflash Photo Agency

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