Wilson discusses passing on 'Arrested Development,' growing up in Hollywood, and having Rhea Perlman and Danny DeVito as babysitters

By Madeline Raynor
September 13, 2016 at 12:00 PM EDT

Where Am I Now?

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Mara Wilson, the former child actor known for playing Matilda, channels her love of storytelling into her first book Where Am I Now?, a collection of autobiographical stories, out Tuesday.

She talks about her experience as a young actor in Hollywood, playing the aforementioned beloved role, working with Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire, and transitioning from an actor to a writer and storyteller. Her book is full of show business revelations: stories from on set, going on auditions, meeting famous people, and more. Here are nine of the most memorable revelations from Where Am I Now?.

1. On working with Robin Williams on Mrs. Doubtfire

“I always looked up to Robin. It seems like everyone around me did, too. On the set of Doubtfire, a fourteen-year-old Danny had, after weeks of being too nervous, asked Robin, ‘What is it that makes you hold your audience so well? How do you do it?’ Robin smiled and responded, ‘It’s very simple, really. It’s what you leave in and what you put out.’ Not leave out and put in, but leave in and put out.”

2. On being babysat by Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman during Mrs. Doubtfire

“I was welcome at their house whenever I felt like it. And I loved it there: they had a trampoline, a pool and hot tub, a pinball machine, a tiny movie theater in a guesthouse, amazing food at any time of day or night, a room dedicated just to art projects, all kinds of pets, and best of all, three secret passageways. It was a kid’s paradise, and something of a refuge at a time when I really needed it. The weekend my mother had a mastectomy, Danny and Rhea let me sleep over at their place, and I had so much fun I completely forgot she was in the hospital.”

3. On a having a bad experience with a journalist she was a kid…

On the red carpet at the premiere of 1995’s Nine Months, a journalist asked her if she’d heard about Hugh Grant getting arrested. “‘I, uh… Yes, I heard he was arrested.’ It was all over the news. ‘So what’s going on there, huh? What happened? What do you think?’ ‘I…’ All I knew was that it had something to do with sex. Suddenly, I felt very small. I looked away, trying to see if I would find my mother. ‘I don’t know.'”

4. Why she had a problem with her Miracle on 34th Street character being labelled as “cute”…

Wilson writes that her mother was annoyed that the changes that were being made for the sake of cuteness. “‘Why is she wearing a hair ribbon to bed?’ ‘Well, you know,’ [director Les Mayfield] would say. ‘It’s cute.’ I could sense the disappointment. They were making Susan as cute as possible, and taking away what had drawn me to her—her intelligence and complexity. She was becoming a caricature.”

5. Fox wanted her to be the next Shirley Temple…

“There was also a large box addressed to me, which my mother opened. ‘What is it?’ I asked her. ‘It’s Shirley Temple movies, from Fox,’ she said. ‘They’re saying they want you to be the next Shirley Temple….’ Did I admire her? Yes. Did I want to be her? No. My mother knew and I was starting to sense, that being cute meant being controlled.”

6. On growing up in Burbank…

“My father worked as an electronics engineer at CBS, NBC, and the local channel KTLA. Classmates came to school in cars with license plate frames reading ‘PART OF THE MAGIC: WALT DISNEY COMPANY,’ and my brothers would borrow movie screeners from friends with well-connected parents when we didn’t want to wait for video. Given the omnipresence of the entertainment industry, getting into acting wasn’t an unusual thing for a Burbank kid to do.”

7. On meeting Scarlett Johansson when they were both child actors…

“I watched her pull a balloon off a display, suck in the helium, and sing, ‘We’re the Chipmunks! C-H-I-P-M-U-N-K-S!’ She wasn’t in such a serious mood anymore, and it made me like her more. There was something very attractive about her, a kind of cool older sister vibe, and I wanted to be her friend.”

8. On having to wear a sports bra for Thomas and the Magic Railroad after going through puberty…

“‘I know it’s embarrassing, but you really can see the difference,’ [my on set caretaker] said gently. I nodded and looked down at the floor again, tears stinging my face.”

9. On passing on Arrested Development

“After a year of no callbacks, my father said what we had both been thinking. ‘Maybe you should just focus on school right now.’ It would mean having to pass up some great scripts I was getting—like an ‘experimental’ comedy series called Arrested Development—but it was the right move.”

Where Am I Now?

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