‘Matilda’ Turns 25

By: Nick Thomas
Roald Dahl’s beloved 1988 novel “Matilda” found tremendous success when it was released as a movie nearly a decade later. Today, it remains an enjoyable family film to watch with children and grandchildren, 25 years after its release in July of 1996.
Mara Wilson played Matilda, who battles and eventually overcomes adversity. It was one of four films in the 90s that made Wilson famous. Matilda, she said, was a role she was thrilled to play.
“It was my first favorite book,” Wilson told me in a 2017 interview. “The film became a touchstone for girls who grew up feeling a little awkward and out of place.”
She continued: “When I was little and people would recognize me at the airport, park, or mall, I used to think, ‘Why do they care?’ But I’ve come to realize how important some films can be to people.”
Despite Wilson’s performances in other 90s hits “Mrs. Doubtfire,” the remake of “Miracle on 34th Street,” and “A Simple Wish,” Wilson had slipped from the public spotlight by the decade’s end — an exile that was largely self-imposed.
“I grew out of that cute stage and didn’t develop into the classic Hollywood beauty as I got older,” she said. “I didn’t like being reduced to adjectives — you’re thin or short or tall or blonde — and was no longer comfortable going to auditions. I still do some fun TV or web projects for friends and I love voice-over work because no one is judging how I look or how many times a week I work out!”

Maria Wilson with Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire.

She fondly recalled working with Robin Williams during the filming of “Mrs. Doubtfire.” She said he was “kind and gentle, but rather shy which is not uncommon for actors.” Not surprisingly, he was hilarious on set and responded in his usual style when she told him of her fondness for musicals such as “The Sound of Music” and “South Pacific.”
“He started singing ‘Nothing Like a Dame,’” Wilson said, “which was funny because there he was, a man dressed like a woman singing there was nothing like being a woman!”
While her films from the 90s were largely comedic or sentimental, Wilson is proud her Matilda character has helped kids overcome abuse.
“They were living in abusive families or with parents who didn’t care about them, and the movie showed them there was a way out and that they could find people who cared,” she said. “It’s a comforting movie about feeling powerless, then finding power. People write to me all the time about the impact it had on their lives, and I love that.”
Wilson’s autobiography, “Where Am I Now? True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame,” was published in 2016.

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