Matilda Looks Transformed At 35 Years Old

“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. 

Now, Wilson is 35 years old, and her life looks a lot different today than it did when she starred as the titular role in “Matilda.”

Mara Wilson is an actress that first found fame at a very young age. She was born on July 24, 1987, in Burbank, California, and has three older brothers and one younger sister. At the young age of 5, Wilson found a strong interest in acting and began pursuing it after getting her parents’ permission. She started out by acting in commercials for a variety of companies before being invited to audition for the comedy “Mrs. Doubtfire.” Wilson clearly impressed the casting agents and producers as she was cast in the role of Natalie Hillard and appeared in the 1993 film alongside Robin Williams. The following year, Wilson was cast in the remake of “Miracle on 34th Street.”

Afterward, Wilson landed a recurring role on “Melrose Place.” According to Express, she sang “Make ‘Em Laugh” at the Academy Awards in 1995 alongside Tim Curry and Kathy Najimy. This was also the year that she was named the ShoWest Young Star of the Year.

Wilson’s career continued to escalate as the years went by, and it wasn’t long before she landed the role that made her truly famous. She is best known for her role as Matilda Wormwood in the movie “Matilda.” The film starring Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, Embeth Davidtz and Pam Ferris was released in 1996, but is still recognized as one of the greats.

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 added:

“She was ‘born’ the year after I was – 1988 – but in many ways, she’s been like a big sister: someone I have admired, someone I have aspired to be like, and at times, someone I have resented. On some level, she’s an archetype, beloved and widely appreciated. On another, I feel as if we have a unique connection – that I am one of the privileged few who really understands her.”

Wilson was only 8 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. 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.”

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.

Even though Wilson was able to lean on others during such a difficult time in her life, she still needed to take some time away from the spotlight in later years to really reflect on herself and learn more about her identity.

According to Express, Wilson worried about her looks from an early age. She frequently compared herself to others, including fellow actress Keira Knightley. In December 2021, she stated:

“I would look at Keira (Knightley) – who is two years older than me – in magazines and think, ‘There’s no way I’m going to be as hot as her in two years. Things will have barely changed.’ I felt – and sometimes I still feel this way – I felt upset when I would meet people, because they seemed disappointed that I wasn’t cute.”

In her autobiography, “Where Am I Now: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame,” Wilson spoke more on this. According to Express, she wrote:

“As I saw it, when it came to careers, 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 meager character actor roles for young women, or accept myself and give up the idea of a Hollywood film acting career. When you see that somebody’s last credit is ‘Thomas and the Magic Railroad’ when they’re an awkward 12-year-old, you’re like, ‘Oh, how sad.’”

The actress ultimately took a break from the spotlight around the year 2000, allowing herself to be as normal and accepting of a teenager as possible.

Part of accepting herself meant being honest about who she was. In 2016, Wilson came out as bisexual at the age of 28. According to Us Weekly, she shared more about her personal life through a series of tweets, explaining how even though she thought she was straight at the time, she had “felt so welcomed” at a gay nightclub she went to 10 years prior.

“I have never had a better experience at a club than I did then,” Wilson shared. “Great music and people. And one of my best friends met his partner that night!” She continued, “I haven’t been to one since college, except once when a friend brought me along. I didn’t feel like I belonged there. But the LGBTQ community has always felt like a home, especially a few years later when I, uh, learned something about myself. So thank you.”

The actress received plenty of support from her fans and was sure to express her gratitude the following day. She wrote, “I think I’m going to stay off Twitter for a few days. I had no idea this would be such a thing, but I guess it’s flattering. Thank you so much to everybody who has sent me words of support. I support you all, too.”

As Wilson shared more of her life with her fans, she also reflected on her past. During a 2018 interview with Vanity Fair, she looked back at the character that helped shape her into the person she is today and initially brought her so much fame – Matilda.

Wilson explained:

“I wonder if, like me, Matilda ever felt trapped by her past. I wonder if she ever felt like she was lost or floundering, like I did in my teens and early 20s. She has known what it is to be a hero, a prodigy, a genius. How many children labeled ‘gifted’ suffer when they grow up? I don’t like to think of her in despair; she had enough of that in her life as a child. I would like to think – as idealistic as it may seem – that she didn’t let her past heroism define the rest of her life. She knew what mattered was not the labels, but the learning.”

Today, Wilson is 35 years old and is embracing her life to the fullest. She came back to the acting scene after a more than 10-year hiatus, making her return in 2011 with a short called “Missed Connection.” Since then, Wilson has channeled a variety of characters in films and TV series and has even dabbled in voice acting.

Some of her voice acting credits include “Demo Reel” in 2012, “BoJack Horseman” in 2016, “Big Hero 6: The Series” from 2018 to 2019 and “Helluva Boss” from 2020 to 2021. During this time, Wilson also appeared in other TV series and films, proving that she didn’t have to fit any particular mold to have a long-lasting and successful career in Hollywood.

Although Wilson’s IMDB page doesn’t reflect any work for 2022 or the upcoming future, we’re happy to see that the actress has found a place where she belongs in the entertainment industry and is continuing to live her honest, authentic life.

What was your favorite scene from “Matilda?” What do you think of Mara Wilson’s life today? Let us know — and be sure to pass this article to your family and friends.