Mara Wilson rose to childhood stardom with her breakout role in Mrs. Doubtfire, followed almost immediately by starring gigs in Miracle on 34th Street and Matilda. As part of EW’s Countdown to Tinseltown, she sat down with us to reminisce about her time on the Christmas-themed set. And no, it wasn’t all beard-tugging.
My role [in Miracle on 34th Street] happened very quickly: Mrs. Doubtfire came out at the end of 1993, and then we started filming Miracle in early spring of 1994. And I remember finding out that I got the part for Matilda while I was in Chicago filming Miracle. So as you can see, it just kind of snowballed. Everything was on top of each other. It was ridiculous and crazy, but fun — I like meeting people and traveling to places.
On set, anything that I got to do with Dylan McDermott and Elizabeth Perkins [was my favorite]; they were just lovely. In particular, the dinner table scene during Thanksgiving was really fun. Dylan was always making ridiculous jokes, and in one of them he was teasing me about how I always wanted to go to lunch. He said, “Let me tell you a story about a little girl who was always asking what time it was because she wanted to go to lunch.”
And Sir Richard [Attenborough] was just lovely, too. He was so fun, and he really did feel like Santa Claus to me. He was so kind. He made it a really fun movie to work on — even though it was kind of ridiculous to be wearing three layers all the time in the Chicago spring. I remember we had a big air conditioner that they called the Snake because it had a huge tube, and I would put my shoes and mittens in there so they would cool down before I put them on. We were just constantly sweaty.
There were so many other kids around, too. I didn’t actually believe in Santa, because I was raised Jewish, but if [the other kids] asked me about it, I would be polite and just say, “Yes, sure, that’s Santa Claus.”
An even better memory [of mine] is that the actor who plays the judge on Miracle [Robert Prosky] worked on Mrs. Doubtfire with me; I remember him doing a Donald Duck voice on that set and me just thinking it was hilarious. So when I had to do my scenes with him [on Miracle], it was this very serious scene that was an important part of the trial, I remember going up to him and doing my lines — and him doing all his lines back in a Donald Duck voice. That’s probably why, if you watch that scene, I’ve got this smirk on my face the whole time.
The promotion of Miracle on 34th Street was really fun, too: We traveled to London and Madrid and Japan. At the premiere in London, they built and ice skating rink indoors — but it wasn’t actually ice, it was just plastic with oil on it. It was still fun to skate on. There were a lot of holiday parties, and getting asked all the time if I believe in Santa Claus was pretty funny for me. We got all this gear [from the promotional tour] in different languages: I still have some fan books from Japan, and we all got sweatshirts that said Milagro en la Ciudad.
I don’t know if I actually took anything from the set, because it was a lot of heavy coats and things that I had no use for, growing up in Southern California. It’s ironic that I didn’t take anything, because there were a lot of cool presents there. But my mom was very strict about making sure I wasn’t getting too spoiled.
—As told to Seija Rankin