The beloved 1993 film Mrs. Doubtfire opens with a family of five navigating a painful divorce. Although the film’s jumping off point is a tad heavy, the movie takes on a lighthearted tone after Robin William’s character, patriarch Daniel Hillard, transforms into an elderly housekeeper named Mrs. Doubtfire to maintain contact with his three children. Any fan of this comedy probably remembers the Hillard’s youngest child, “Natalie,” who was played by then 5-year-old actress Mara Wilson. Wilson stole the show with her bright blue eyes and angelic personality, and she became a cherished child star overnight. But while many of us still might think of Wilson as that precocious little girl in the movie, she’s now a stunning woman in her thirties. Time flies, doesn’t it?
After the massive success of Mrs. Doubtfire, Hollywood was Wilson’s oyster. She went on to star in the 1996 movie adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, acting alongside Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman. Even though the movie was another hit for Wilson, she reportedly contemplated quitting acting after the film’s release due to the death of her mother, Suzie Wilson. Suzie was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly before Matilda began filming, and she passed away months after the movie wrapped.
Although Wilson felt distraught and lost after Suzie’s untimely death, she took on a few other acting jobs post-Matilda. It’s a decision the actress later came to regret, telling Parade in December 2013: “I found it kind of overwhelming. Most of the time, I just wanted to be a normal kid, especially after my mother died.” The California native said she should have gone to “counseling or something” instead of working because when she was the “most famous,” she was the “most unhappy.” Wilson also referred to acting as her “crutch,” admitting to NPR in September 2016 that she “didn’t know what to do” with her life after Matilda.
The good news? Wilson eventually found her true calling during her college years at New York University, where she was a student in the school’s interdisciplinary theater program. Wilson didn’t excel in directing or stage design, but she was a natural storyteller. “…what I did very well in was playwriting and a class we had called ‘creating original work’ where we had ten minutes to go up on stage and do whatever we wanted,” she explained to Longreads in November 2014. “…I told a lot of autobiographical stories, and I always wanted to be a writer.” During her time at NYU, Wilson performed a one-woman show about her childhood fame, Weren’t You That Girl. The show “sold out every night,” and it gave Wilson the confidence she needed to pursue her new passion.
Amid Wilson’s journey of self-discovery and success, she suffered another loss after Williams committed suicide in August 2014. The actress said she was “shocked, confused angry, regretful, and above all, sad” to learn of her former co-star’s death. She described Williams as “warm, gentle, expressive, nurturing, and brilliant” in a post shared to her personal website. Wilson also paid homage to Williams in her 2016 memoir, Where Am I Now? True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame. The book also addressed her mother’s death, her dating life, and everything in between. She explained why she wrote the book in an interview with Mashable. “I felt like, being in the public eye, people were only seeing a fraction of my life,” she said. “And sometimes I only wanted them to see a fraction of my life. But there were things I wanted people to know.”
Despite Wilson’s openness in the book, she didn’t reveal her bisexuality until after the horrific Pulse nightclub shooting in June 2016. She has discussed the reasons she neglected to address her sexuality sooner, telling Gay Star News: “I had so many other things going on. I was neurotic, anxious, and had the loss of my mother… and I was like, ‘oh, I can’t be queer, too.'” Wilson later expressed regret about coming out publicly when she did, revealing to Lambda Legal that she was “accused of taking advantage of a tragedy for personal attention.”
What’s interesting about Wilson’s long and winding road to happiness is that it ultimately led her back to acting. The actress flexed her creative muscles in April 2016, when she had a brief cameo on Comedy Central’s Broad City. She even paid homage to an iconic scene in Mrs. Doubtfire, an experience she talked about in an interview with Brooklyn. Wilson revealed that, while she doesn’t want to stick in her childhood roles forever, she’s “working on embracing” the past, and she stayed true to this pledge when, in November 2018, she attended a Mrs. Doubtfire reunion with co-stars Pierce Brosnan, Lisa Jakub, and Matthew Lawrence. “I do think that being a child actor was difficult in some ways, like it made me more of a perfectionist,” she told Entertainment Weekly in a post-reunion interview. “There were a lot of people out there who were very cruel. But I had a lot of great opportunities that a lot of other people didn’t and I met a lot of wonderful people. You kind of have to come to peace with it all.”
We’re happy to hear everything has worked out for Wilson. Shine on, girl.