Mara Wilson on Being a Child Star and What Happens When “You Lose That Praise”
Mara Wilson is happy to prove that not all child stars end up like Amanda Bynes or Lindsay Lohan. Wilson, who starred in Mrs. Doubtfire and Matilda back in the 90s, is actually a successful writer and playwright. But she understands why most child stars have problems.
Wilson, who calls herself a ‘recovering child actor,’ remembers how hard it was to grow out of that cute phase. “You lose that praise. You lose what you had,” she said in an interview with NPR. “And you are so used to it; it’s almost like a drug. And all of a sudden it’s like withdrawal. You just go off of it, and you feel very rejected.”
The 25-year-old started acting as more of a hobby than a career choice. “I tried to take it seriously when I was on set and tried to be professional—as professional as a 6-year-old can be,” she said. “But I don’t think I really wanted to be an actor. When people asked me what I was going to do when I grow up, I always said, ‘I’m going to be a writer. I’m going to write screenplays. I’m going to write books. I’m going to write plays. That’s what I’m going to do.’”
Looking back on her child star days, Wilson acknowledges that the pressure of shooting movies was incredibly high. “I had a moment when I was a child where I was filming a scene, and a soccer ball hit me in the chest, and I had to keep on going with the scene even though I was hurt, because I didn’t know what else to do,” she recalled. “And as soon as they yelled cut, I started crying. Everybody on the crew burst into applause, and that made me cry harder. My mom said, ‘No, don’t worry, they just thought you were being professional.’ And that’s the kind of thing you have to do.”
“You’re also in this environment where you realize that, ‘Hey, I can’t really make a mistake because making a mistake is going to cost time and money, and it’s not going to help out the production.’ So you realize, or you think, rather, as a child that this is something that can’t happen: I can’t make a mistake. I have to be perfect. I have to get it right all the time. And that’s not a healthy mindset for a child.”