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Danny Devito and Mara Wilson Share a Bizarre Off-Screen Relationship

A few family films live on and are passed from generation to generation. They’re so beloved that parents want to share them with their children.

Matilda is one of these rare gems. It didn’t perform well commercially when it came out but was a critical darling. It’s since become an inspiring story for all ages, and the tale of how it came to be is just as special.

Like and subscribe for behind-the-scenes secrets about this cult classic. Keep watching to learn why Danny DeVito and Mara Wilson share a bizarre off-screen relationship that’s as touching as the movie itself.

Mara Wilson the Child Star

Mara Wilson was born on July 24, 1987. She became a child star at the age of 5. She rose to fame as Natalie “Nattie” Hillard in the 1993 film Mrs. Doubtfire.

That breakout role led to several others, making her one of the most popular and in-demand child actresses of the 90s. She had an arc on the popular show Melrose Place. She also starred in films such as Miracle on 34th Street and A Simple Wish.

Her most famous performance came after that. She starred along with Danny Devito in Matilda. It’s a role she’ll always be closely associated with and recognized for.

Making Matilda

Matilda was based on a 1988 book by children’s writer Roald Dahl. It told the story of a 5-year-old girl with abusive parents Harry and Zinnia Wormwood. They’re obsessed with their television sets, but she leaves to read books at the library. She builds her brain so much that she develops telekinetic powers that help her escape to live with her teacher Miss Honey.

The story has been adapted in several ways since then. One other famous attempt was an audiobook reading by Kate Winslet.

Danny Devito directed and produced the film. He also narrated it and played the role of Harry Wormwood. He cast Mara Wilson as the lead when she was 9 years old. The cast also included Danny’s actual wife Rhea Perlman as Zinnia Wormwood, Embeth Davitz as Miss Honey, and Pam Ferris as evil headmistress Miss Trunchbull.

Matilda almost never saw the light of day because of script issues. Roald Dah’s widow Felicity didn’t like Danny Devito’s script and refused to sell the rights at first, but they eventually reached an agreement.

The film was positively reviewed, with Roger Ebert praising the characters. It only grossed $33.5 million, making it a box office flop. It’s grown in popularity since then and is a cult hit that holds a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Mara says that she and the rest of the cast always hoped it would be a hit but never imagined how popular it would become. It was one of only a few movies where intelligence and resourcefulness are rewarded and little girls get to show off their inner strength.  

There has never been a sequel to Matilda, but Danny said he’d love to create one. He wants Mara to reprise her role but have the story focus on her daughter. 

Danny Devito the Father Figure

Matilda continues to be an uplifting family favorite, but it came at a time in Mara’s life when she also needed a pick-me-up. Her mother Suzie encouraged her to take the part because she always loved the story. What made it difficult was that she had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer on March 10, 1995.

The cast and crew made sure to keep both of them comfortable. Danny Devito and his wife stepped up to take care of Mara any time her mother had to rush to the hospital. They even offered to take her back to their home more than once.

He also made sure she was comfortable in other ways. The shy little girl was nervous about filming the scene where she danced around using her powers to the tune of Thurston Harris’s “Itty Bitty Pretty One.” He had everyone else on set dance along with her. It worked, and a famous movie moment and popular Tik Tok trend was born.

Mara says that she had an immediate connection with the actor and that they understood each other. This was clear when they developed a code word for her powers. All he had to do was tell her to “whammy” up a chair and she knew exactly what he meant.

Mara would often call Danny Devito and Rhea Pearlman “her favorite aunt and uncle.” They would spend entire shoots making sure she was okay and often took her out for fun distractions and let her join family trips.

Danny even let her have her say in certain aspects of the film’s creation. He let her design her character’s doll Wanda. She took household materials and drew a picture of what she wanted it to look like, and her vision is what made it into the final film.

Danny remembers making Matilda fondly as well. He enjoyed working with all the children on set. He said that he had so much fun doing it and that it was one of his favorite jobs.

Mara even felt anxious when the movie wrapped. She was worried about having to go back into the world and deal with her mother’s illness without Danny and Rhea. Her mother tragically died in April of 1996.

Like and subscribe to Facts Verse for more on the deep connections between film cast members. Keep watching to learn more about how Danny Devito and Mara Wilson share a bizarre off-screen relationship and how it’s affected them in their later life.

Danny’s Gift to Mara

Matilda came out a few months before Mara’s mother died. She was sure that she’d never get to see the film they were both so attached to.

Danny eventually revealed that he’d shown Mara’s mother an early cut of the film in the hospital. She was able to see it in a nearly-finished state before her tragic passing. He even dedicated the final film to her memory.

Mara didn’t realize this for years because he never told her about it. She later expressed her feeling about the gift in her memoir, which is also dedicated to her mother. She wrote that she’s always happy to see it in the credits now and was so happy that it had been added.

A Sweet Reunion

A sequel to Matilda may never come, but that doesn’t mean that the cast never gets together. They remain friends and remember their time filming the iconic cult hit.

Danny says that on the 20th anniversary of Matilda in 2016, he created a Blu-ray remaster of the classic film. He included footage of the cast reuniting for a garden party in the middle of the new version. It made the Blu-Ray stand apart from all other versions and honored the fact that the cast had, in a way, grown up together.

Danny Devito Today

Danny Devito may have shown off his soft side while creating Matilda, but he’s been playing villains since he took on the role of The Penguin in the 1992 film Batman Returns. He continues to take on similarly despicable roles, and it’s helped his career thrive.

Danny is currently 76 years old and has been in several other movies since Matilda, including Man on the Moon, Erin Brockovich, Big Fish, and Jumanji. He’s also been on TV in the show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia for nearly 10 years and 17 seasons.

His relationship with Rhea hasn’t fared so well. They had 3 children, Lucy, Grace, and Jacob. They were married in 1982, separated in 2012, got together again in 2013, and split officially in 2017. The good news is that they are still friends.

Mara Wilson Today

Mara also dealt with other struggles in her early life in addition to her mother’s cancer diagnosis. She had a difficult time with her body image as a child. She had to deal with bullies in school and even film reviewers who said she was odd-looking.

Being sexualized as a child in the press didn’t help. She would often get inappropriate questions from interviewers who wanted to know if she had a boyfriend or who she thought the hottest celebrities were. Her pictures would even show up on fetish sites.

Mara also struggles with her mental health. She was an anxious child and received a diagnosis of OCD, anxiety, and depression at the age of 12. She’s now an advocate for awareness about these conditions.

Mara retired from acting for approximately 10 years to focus on school. She appeared in Thomas and the Magic Railroad in the 2000s and didn’t get another role until the 2011 short Missed Connection.

Mara posted in 2012 that she didn’t enjoy film acting anymore. She needed to step away from it to find herself. She went to college at New York University and earned a drama degree. That was also where she began to nurture her love of writing.

Mara’s net worth was only $500,000 at the time. She had to hold down several odd jobs such as a barista, cashier, and working at a box office.

Mara also came out as bisexual in 2016. It was not her first time using Twitter to make a major statement. She has 600,000 followers there and 100,000 more on Instagram. Social media is the primary way she interacts with her fans.

In 2016, she wrote a memoir entitled Where Am I Now: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame. She narrated the audiobook version, and it won a Shorty Award and a nomination for Goodreads Humor Book of the Year. She’s also an associate editor at The Atlantic.

Mara is now reviving her acting career but only when she enjoys the projects, saying it’s more of a hobby now. Her roles since 2011 include portraying herself on THe Nostalgia Chick and Our Popcorn Movie Dystopia and voice roles in BoJack Horseman and Big Hero 6: The Series

Have you passed a favorite childhood movie down to your children? Let us know in the comments below. Like and subscribe to Facts Verse for more on the behind-the-scenes relationships of the casts of the most nostalgic films in Hollywood history.

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