When “Matilda” Star Mara Wilson Was Faced With Family Tragedy, Her On-Screen Parents, DeVito and Perlman, Immediately Came to the Rescue
Matilda was released in 1996, and the audiences still remember the film about the brilliant girl. The story of its creation is full of heartfelt moments; during filming, young star Mara Wilson was going through a family tragedy. However, the film crew and co-stars, especially Danny DeVito and his wife Rhea Perlman, supported her and helped her cope with it.
Mara Wilson became an actress despite her parents’ objections
Mara Wilson was born to Michael and Suzie Wilson. When she was five, one of her older brothers started appearing in commercials. Mara wanted to do it too. At first her parents forbade it, but after much persuasion they reluctantly gave in. Wilson took part in a few commercials and then found herself in the world of film. She appeared in a number of movies, including Mrs. Doubtfire (1993).
This was the film in which Danny DeVito spotted her. By then, thanks to his daughters, he had found out about Roald Dahl’s book titled Matilda and managed to get himself into the director’s chair for the adaptation. He realized from the very beginning that Mara was his Matilda.
For Mara, the offer of this role had a special meaning. After the movie Miracle on 34th Street (1994), she received many scripts, but she agreed to play the role of Matilda without so much as a second thought. This is because both Mara herself and her entire family adored Dahl’s book. Her brother learned about the book at school, and their mother would come to classes where she would read it aloud, voicing all the characters.
Shortly after landing the role, the Wilson family got some terrible news
Mara landed the lead role in Matilda in early 1995. Her parents in the film were to be played by DeVito himself and his wife Rhea Perlman. But the Wilson family’s joy was soon overshadowed by tragedy: Mara’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. Suzie Wilson was determined to fight the disease.
When Suzie’s condition improved, she started helping Mara on the set of Matilda. The entire crew took care of the mom and daughter. The hairdresser made a wig for Suzie, and the makeup artists and costume designers would play with Mara to keep her entertained during long days on set.
Mara and Danny quickly became friends
Years later, Mara recalled that she and Danny DeVito immediately bonded, and she even called him her uncle. They understood each other perfectly: “I think that he was probably a lot like a lot of the other people in my family, just full of good stories and a good sense of humor, and very talkative and outgoing, but also very considerate. He thought a lot about other people.” And she could say the same about Rhea Pearlman.
Danny’s character in the film was quite rude to Mara’s character, but the actors did a great job portraying the dynamic while having fun in the process. Danny taught Mara many things, like how to fall correctly for the camera. Little Wilson was interviewed during the filming of Matilda, and in the interview, the girl shared that every day when she came to the set, DeVito would give her a hug.
In one of the scenes Mara had to dance. She felt she couldn’t dance very well, so she told DeVito how nervous she was about it. Danny found a way to support her: everyone on the set had to dance too, including Mara’s mom.
DeVito and Perlman took care of Mara while her mom was undergoing treatment
When Suzie had to go to hospital, Mara spent the night at Danny and Rhea’s house with their children. During one stage of her treatment, Suzie had to stay in the hospital for three weeks. The crew recalled that during this time Rhea Perlman simply doted on Mara.
But most importantly, filming Matilda and hanging out with DeVito and Perlman helped Mara cope with her anxieties about her mother and focus on the good things. It wasn’t until some time later that Mara realized that the couple were purposely coming up with entertainment for her. They would take the girl to the theatre, the cinema, and to their home, where she had lots of fun. This way, Wilson felt that she was surrounded by many people who loved her and cared about her.
Danny commemorated Suzie Wilson in the film
Mara’s mom passed away four months before the release of Matilda. The film was dedicated to her. This gesture by the makers of the film turned out to be very important for Mara: “They dedicated the movie to my mother, and I’m so glad that they did that, because my mother worked so hard and she loved that movie so much, and she loved Matilda so much, so I really loved that they did that. I felt so glad when I saw that in the credits, and I still feel happy when I see that now.”
Wilson was still worried, though, as her mom never got to see the movie itself. However, Danny later said that he had managed to visit Suzie and show her a copy of the film. Mara said she would forever owe Danny and Rhea for all they had done for her.
The actors kept in touch years later
A few years ago, Danny said that he still kept in touch with Mara. In 2013, they got together with other actors from Matilda for a tea party reunion, where they reminisced about their experiences working on the film. In addition, Danny, Rhea and Mara appeared on a TV show, to which they brought a cake and talked about the Blu-ray release of the film.
Danny and Mara don’t mind continuing Matilda’s story
In 2019, Danny DeVito admitted that he had thought about making a sequel to the iconic film: “I always wanted to do Matilda 2, but when the kid was still a kid. But that was like 20 years ago, 25 years ago, so maybe Matilda has a kid, and we can do something like that.”
Mara was later told about DeVito’s idea and asked if she would like to return to her role, to which Wilson replied: “For a long time, I was very resistant to the idea of a Matilda sequel because I was like, ’Well, the story wraps up so nicely.’ But I love working with Danny. The thing is I don’t act that much anymore, but when I do it’s usually with people I love. So I would not turn down the chance to work with him again.”