‘Matilda’ Star Shared How Danny DeVito And Rhea Perlman ‘Distracted’ Her While Her Mother Was Sick

Jun 21, 2022 by apost team

“Matilda” is one of the most important books by renowned children’s author Roald Dahl. First released in 1988, the book followed the life of Matilda, a young girl who is ignored and abandoned by her parents. Matilda decides that she had enough and discovers that she has abilities that border on magical powers. The book gained an immense following, being appreciated by both children and adults alike.

The book was so successful that legendary actor Danny DeVito pushed forward with a film adaptation. After a long search, DeVito chose Mara Wilson to play the film’s heroine. Prior to her role as Matilda, Wilson impressed audiences with supporting roles in “Mrs. Doubtfire” and the 1994 remake of “Miracle on 34th Street.” Wilson’s part in Matilda brought her immense fame and she became instantly recognizable to any child of the 1990s. As Wilson basked in her newfound fame, she endured a tremendous storm in her home life.

During the filming of Matilda, Wilson’s mother, Suzie, was diagnosed with cancer. Wilson spoke on the Lorraine Show for ITV news about how the film “Matilda” meant so much to her mother, "My mother actually used to read it (Matilda) at my brother's school when they were 9 or 10, she would read it out loud because she could do all the character voices," Wilson revealed on the show. Following the diagnosis, DeVito and his wife, Rhea Perlman, offered their support to the Wilson family, saying that they would happily care for Wilson whenever the family needed them. The couple frequently invited the young girl to their home for pool parties and other events, and Wilson greatly appreciated all the acting advice the two bestowed on her.

Mara Wilson is best known for her role as Matilda Wormwood in the movie "Matilda." 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 that audiences recognized. Which raised the question: did Hollywood have space for a growing girl?  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. 


Danny DeVito, Rhea Pearlman, Mara Wilson (1996), (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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 10 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."

Wilson had also been going through other personal struggles, as she suffered a devastating loss in her personal life. According to PEOPLE, her mother Suzie had been diagnosed with cancer. Wilson’s father had told her, “It’ll be a horrible year, but we have to go on.”

The young actress did her best to stay professional while filming “Matilda,” but carried around uncertainty about her home life. According to PEOPLE, she only alluded to her mother’s cancer once during a conversation with a crew member, having said, “Not everyone dies of cancer!”

After filming wrapped, people close to Wilson noticed a change in Wilson’s demeanor. “Matilda” star Embeth Davidtz said, “It was like talking to an adult. She was saying, ‘I have this grief in front of me, and I don’t know how I’m going to deal with it.’ That was hard to watch, because she’s so brave.”

Rhea Pearlman, Danny DeVito (2016), (Robin Marchant/Getty Images)

Wilson spent plenty of quality time with DeVito and Perlman, as they helped her through such a tough time in her life. Speaking with Entertainment Tonight, Wilson said, “I realized later on that they would be planning these fun weekends and things for me to do… And that was all usually done when my mother was in the hospital.”

She added, “So it really did keep me distracted and it really did keep me happy, and I had a lot of people on set who really loved me and really took care of me.”

Unfortunately, Suzie passed away just after Wilson had finished filming on “Matilda,” never being able to see her daughter play the character they both loved so much. Wilson would later describe the immense feeling of sadness and despair that gripped her whole family in her book “Where am I Now?” One of the things that haunted Wilson was that her mother never got to see her role as Matilda. All that changed following a conversation she had recently with DeVito. 

Following her mother’s death, Wilson became close with DeVito and Perlman, saying that they became a surrogate aunt and uncle for her. When she expressed her sadness to DeVito that her mom never got to see Matilda, DeVito revealed a secret he kept for over a decade. 

In addition to acting in the film, DeVito also served as the director and producer of “Matilda.” As such, DeVito had access to early cuts of the film, he revealed to Wilson that he had shown Wilson’s mom an early cut of the movie. When Wilson heard about this she was so heart-warmed that her mother got to see the film because she knew how much it meant to her. 

What do you think of Mara Wilson’s special relationship with Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman? Have you ever had people be like second parents to you? Let us know, and make sure to show this article to any “Matilda” fans.

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