'Matilda' Star Mara Wilson Revealed Pressure To 'Get Cosmetic Surgery' Led Her To Give Up Acting

May 13, 2022 by apost team

Mara Wilson is best known for her role as Matilda Wormwood in the movie "Matilda." Based on the children's book by Roald Dahl, the film was a magical escape from the world of cruel school teachers, neglectful family members, and recess bullies. Her witch-y character charmed young audiences and remains a fan favorite to this day. Even Wilson herself is still fond of Matilda. "I can't remember my life before her," she revealed to Vanity Fair in a 2018 interview.

Wilson was only eight when she starred as Matilda. The character, Wilson reflected, "display[ed] what [Dahl] considered to be the best virtues: a love of learning and an innate sense of justice, courage, warmth, and a dry wit." In Wilson's eyes, Matilda was also "thoughtful and self-confident, but never obsessive or conceited. She [was] extraordinary, but never elitist. She [was] perfect." 

However, the young actress revealed in her 2016 book, "Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame," that coexisting with her character wasn't always easy. "Hey, Matilda! Show us your magic powers! From elementary school to college, I heard that at least once a week," Wilson admitted. In many ways, the role made Wilson feel "trapped by her past." 

Wilson had become defined by that role and struggled to appeal to audiences afterward. She was Matilda, but she also wasn't Matilda. In the movie, she had that "big eyes, big forehead kind of [look] that indicate[d] cuteness," but she was quickly outgrowing her childish looks. She was no longer the youth audiences recognized. Which raised the question: did Hollywood have space for a growing girl?  

Mara Wilson (1994), (Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images)

The challenge was that Wilson no longer looked as cherubic and doe-eyed as she once had, and yet she didn't look like an adult yet either. This left her in a strange position casting-wise. Even though she was just barely a pre-teen, Wilson was no longer "young" by industry standards. In an interview with NPR, she stated, "They always want child actors to play parts that are a few years younger than they are, but when you're a 12-, 13-year-old girl and your body's changing and your voice is changing, you can't. I couldn't play 10 anymore. I didn't look ten anymore." The young actress realized she "wasn't as cute anymore because [she] looked halfway between a child and an adult — which is what puberty is. People didn't know what to do with me…it really hurt."

However, at the time, Wilson remained somewhat oblivious to this heavy-handed reaction to her growing body until she landed a role in "Thomas and the Magic Railroad." She recalled a day on set when she showed up "after a few months away, and people were kind of giving each other worried looks." She recounted how the director brought her "sports bras," explaining how her "body was changing." Recalling the moment, Wilson said, "I was horrified. I felt embarrassed. I felt like I'd done something wrong." Wilson found that she was suddenly, simultaneously too old to be young and too young to be old. And Wilson was only 12. It seemed Hollywood had no room for this version of herself.


Mara Wilson (1996), (Derek Storm/FilmMagic/Getty Images)

As she continued to grow, Wilson also had the uncomfortable realization that "it had become okay for strangers to discuss [her] body." It appeared Wilson was not adult enough to be cast in movies, but she was being written about as if she was old enough to be talked about in adult terms. Wilson described how all that press confirmed: "every fear [she] had about [her] pubescent body."

In a piece she wrote for Elle, Wilson warned of "the potential impact" of such writing, stressing the need to let teenage girls be teenage girls. She drew parallels to today's stars, namely "Stranger Things" actress Millie Bobby Brown. When one of Brown's outfits provoked a lackluster Twitter response that unabashedly asked, "why is she dressed like that?" Wilson sprang to Brown's defense. She asserted, "Dressed like what, exactly?" She reminded readers that "we—the public, the media—are all grown up…[and] need to act like it."

As Wilson herself became an adult, she struggled still to find her place in the film industry, questioning whether she should "rekindle" her career. She recalled, "I had three choices: get cosmetic surgery and go out on auditions for the cute and funny best friend characters, stay the way I was and go out for the meagre character actor roles for young women, or accept myself and give up the idea." 

Wilson ended up doing what book-loving Matilda (and maybe even Dahl) would have approved of most: she wrote an autobiography about the life of that magical girl we all love.

Mara Wilson (2019), (Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

What was your favorite scene from Matilda? Let us know — and be sure to pass this article on to friends, family, and 90s movie fans!

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