Those who grew up in the '90s probably know Mara Wilson as the precocious pint-size brunette girl with a ribbon in her hair. Well, here's a newsflash: The former child actor is now 29 years old, out of the spotlight, and behind a computer screen, embracing her new life as a writer and Twitter bigwig in N.Y.C.
In her just-released memoir, Where Am I Now? True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame ($10; amazon.com), she candidly discusses her short-lived career, losing her mother to breast cancer at age 8, and the Internet coming to terms with her becoming a grown woman—with breasts. Below, we talked to Wilson about crazy fan interactions, why she decided to leave Hollywood behind, and her recent stint on Broad City.
First off, why the title "Where Am I Now?" Is that something you get asked a lot?
I think it works on a couple of levels. There are people that were really into my movies and when I disappeared from the screen wondered a few years later, "Hey, what happened to her?" But also one of the major themes of the book is looking around and thinking to myself, What am I doing here? It's a question I've been asking myself most of my life.
Do you still get recognized on the street?
It tends to happen a lot in retail situations because that's a time when people have direct contact to you. There are a lot of young women in retail, and [Matilda] was a cult hit for young women. I'm used to it by this point. It's not like I forget that I was mildly famous—it's just a part of who I am. But my friends sometimes do and it always surprises and amuses them when I get recognized.
What's the strangest fan interaction you've ever had?
One time a cashier got really excited and kept asking her co-worker, "Do you know who she is?" I really wanted to pay and had to get to a meeting and she wouldn't give me back my card. For the most part, though, people are really nice.
Were you at all similar to Matilda as a kid?
I definitely felt like I had a lot in common with Matilda, even though I clearly wasn't a child prodigy or a child genius or telekinetic. I loved to read and learn and I felt a sense of justice about the world. So I felt a special kinship with her—she was a character that I always loved. That's why I was so happy to play her.
Why did you ultimately decide to leave film?
I've done some cameo work here and there, but I do feel that it was a mutual breakup. Sometimes I consider rekindling the flame, but it's not who I am anymore or what I want to do.
Speaking of cameos, you recently made an appearance in a Broad City episode that paid tribute to the iconic restaurant scene in Mrs. Doubtfire. How did that come about?
Every comedian I know is involved with Broad City in some way—either they write for it or they've been on it. They [creators Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson] told me they were doing an homage to Mrs. Doubtfire, so I suggested a cameo. I'm happy with how it turned out, but I still don't think that I'm going to go back to Hollywood. In Abbi and Ilana terms, you get serious FOMO on a film set. You think about all of the other things you could be doing.
What were some things you really hoped to include in your memoir?
I wanted to explain who I was as a person. When you don't understand what happened to somebody, you tend to make up your own story. I also wanted to pay tribute to all of the people in my life who were so incredibly wonderful to me, from Sally Fields to Robin Williams to Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman and my mother.
What's next for you?
I definitely want to write more. I'd be happy writing pretty much anything. I also love doing voiceover work—that's one form of acting that I've always loved.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.