Most kids who came of age in the 90s recognize child actress Mara Wilson. She starred in three classic family films from the decade, including Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Miracle on 34th Street (1994), and Matilda (1996).
Wilson retired from the business just a few years after becoming the most popular and sought-after young actress in Hollywood, working alongside industry greats including Robin William and Danny DeVito. But before she did, her Matilda co-star gave the young girl a priceless gift. She didn’t even know about DeVito’s act of kindness until years later.
Mara Wilson played the perfect Matilda
The movie Matilda was adapted from the Roald Dahl book by the same name. The fantasy-comedy film told the story of a girl genius named Matilda Wormwood who uses psychokinetic powers to outsmart her despicable parents (DeVito and Rhea Perlman) and the evil principal at her school, Agatha Trunchbull.
DeVito both starred in and directed the movie, which was a critical success that’s still beloved to this day. Matilda grossed $33.5 million nationwide. Over the years, it retained a cult status thanks to the hilarious hijinks and talented actors. Wilson absolutely shone as the book-loving Matilda.
Wilson’s mother was diagnosed with cancer during filming
In March 1995, Wilson’s mother Suzie was diagnosed with breast cancer. This bad news made filming more difficult for the 7-year-old, though she got through it with help from DeVito and Perlman, who are married in real life. It helps that they’re not nearly as despicable as they appear in Matilda.
“I remember feeling, when I was part of Matilda, that it was nice because I could focus on that and I could focus on everything good that was going on in my life,” Wilson told Parade in an interview.
“It felt very familial on that set. I was going through a hard time and I know I had hard days, but everyone on the film was so nice. Danny and Rhea were like my favorite aunt and uncle. It was wonderful.”
She said their support helped her survive a terrible family tragedy. “I remember feeling anxious when the movie wrapped, and it was really hard to go back to being normal and dealing with my mom’s sickness,” Wilson continued. “I definitely feel like having that family there, and having people willing to take care of us and help us out, made it easier.”
Danny DeVito gave Mara Wilson a precious gift
Sadly, Wilson’s mom Suzie died a few months before Matilda premiered in Aug. 1996. Wilson was devastated that her mother, a huge fan of Dahl’s book, never got to see her perform in the movie. But it turns out she did secretly catch a glimpse of her little girl as Matilda.
According to Wilson’s memoir, Where Am I Now? (via littlethings.com) DeVito visited Wilson’s mom in the hospital before her death and showed her a cut of the movie prior to its premiere. He didn’t tell Wilson about his kind act until years later. But it’s a heartwarming gift that Wilson will always cherish, and that proves DeVito is nothing like Frank Wormwood in real life.
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