She was the sweet-faced child star who won over audiences with her roles in Mrs. Doubtfire, Miracle on 34th Street and Matilda. But behind the scenes, Mara Wilson was suffering from depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. She quit acting at the age of 13, after feeling ‘disenchanted’ with the film industry that exploited her talent and ignored her well-being.
Now 34, Wilson has opened up about the dark reasons behind her decision to leave Hollywood and pursue a career as a writer. In her memoir Where Am I Now? True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame, she writes: ‘You don’t know what happens between those IMDB entries. I knew there were people who felt sorry for me and people who were making up stories about me. I think I wanted to reclaim that narrative.’
Wilson says her love for acting faded after losing her mother to breast cancer when she was eight. She also struggled with obsessive compulsive disorder, which made her feel ‘guilty’ and ‘ashamed’. ‘I was very depressed, I was very anxious, I can barely even remember Matilda coming out,’ she told NPR. ‘I only have vague memories of the premiere, and it was really hard for me.’
She also faced bullying from her peers, harassment from older men and criticism from the media and the public, who expected her to be as cute and charming as her on-screen characters. ‘I would look at Keira [Knightley] — who is two years older than me — in magazines and think, “There’s no way I’m going to be as hot as her in two years. Things will have barely changed.” I felt — and sometimes I still feel this way — I felt upset when I would meet people, because they seemed disappointed that I wasn’t cute,’ she said.
Wilson realised she didn’t fit the Hollywood ideal of beauty when she was called to audition for the ‘fat girl’ in a pilot. ‘I realised, “I don’t fit their idea of what a Hollywood actress looks like, so there’s no room for me here,”’ she told People. She decided to focus on school instead of acting, passing up some great scripts like Arrested Development.
She says she felt a ‘great weight lifted’ after leaving Hollywood, but admits she still misses acting sometimes. She has made some occasional appearances in web series and podcasts, such as Welcome to Night Vale and BoJack Horseman. She has also written articles for publications like The New York Times and The Guardian.
Wilson says she is happy with her life now, and hopes to inspire other young girls who feel insecure or pressured by society’s standards. ‘I want them to know that they are not alone,’ she said. ‘I want them to know that they can do whatever they want to do.’