Phoenix Fan Fest is a celebration of comics, creators, and collectibles that brings the love of comics and pop culture to life. Now in its fourth year, Phoenix Fan Fest returns November 11th and 12th, 2017 at the Phoenix Convention Center. With a long list of local comic creators, authors, cosplayers, and nationally recognized television and movie personalities, Phoenix Fan Fest is the fall event you don’t want to miss.
This week, Phoenix Fan Fest staff had the incredible opportunity to chat with one of our featured guests, Mara Wilson, star of the 1990’s hit films Mrs. Doubtfire, Miracle on 34th Street, and Matilda. Mara talks about her career in movies, being a voice actress, her upcoming appearance at Phoenix Fan Fest, and the publication of her childhood memoir, “Where Am I Now?”. The full interview appears below.
This is Phoenix Fan Fest live with Mara Wilson talking about her upcoming appearance at Phoenix Fan Fest and her book, “Where Am I Now?”. Mara, thank you so much for giving us your time today. We are so excited to have you at Phoenix Fan Fest this weekend!
Mara: Thank you very much! I’m very happy to be there!
Great! Our fans, of course, know you from the classic films Matilda, Mrs. Doubtfire, and the 1994 version of Miracle on 34th Street. But since then you’ve had a successful writing career, you’ve worked as a voice over actress, and so much more. You’ve had a lot of success in at least three different fields!
Mara: [laughs] Thank you!
What is it like having fans who grew up with your movies who are now showing those movies to their kids?
Mara: It’s really remarkable! I find it incredible that these people are able to show it to their kids and they’re able to have the generational impact. It’s really great and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be part of something that means something to so many people. I kind of can’t believe it sometimes. I feel very lucky to have had that opportunity.
It’s great! Even I grew up with Mrs. Doubtfire. My dad and I would always watch it. It’s a great movie to grow up with and have all the valuable lessons that you learn from it.
Mara: Yeah! Thank you!
Since then, you’ve moved from film over to voice acting. So what got you into voice acting?
Mara: I’ve always loved voice acting ever since I was little. I did voice acting commercials when I was young. I was on Batman Beyond. I have a great time with it. I always thought it was really fun because you weren’t limited by what you looked like or your height or your age. You could pretty much be anything and that really appealed to me. That was definitely something that I always loved. I also think it’s a lot more analytical in a way. It’s all about the text and the words and playing with them to figure out the right way to say and do them. It’s like a puzzle. I think it’s really fun. It’s my favorite kind of acting!
Mara, you said that with voice acting, you’re not limited to what you look like. What’s the one voice over character that is so NOT like you at all?
Mara: Well, let’s see… “The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home.” I mean, I obviously have a face. [laughs] I’ve done all kinds of little things. I’ve done commercials, TV, etc. There are two parts coming up that I don’t think are very much like me, but I’m sort of keeping it secret as to what they are. But it’s really fun to be able to play a character that I don’t feel like I have much in common with. I mean, of course, I play this Spider on Bojack Horseman that was really fun. But that Spider was also part of a pretentious theater scene and I went to theater school in New York City so I actually know a lot of people like her.
[Laughs] Well, we will definitely look out for the announcements you’re keeping under wraps for now! Continuing with the voice acting a little bit here… did it take some adjustment to get into the animated role after your previous experiences in film?
Mara: I feel like it actually comes much more easily to me than film acting. I feel a lot more in control…. It felt a lot more comfortable to me. I really like it a lot and I like doing it. I think that it fits my personality a little bit more. I think if you are a very athletic and agile person who’s very good at being in the moment, you’d probably do very well in film and theater. It’s all about the reaction and the mentality. But if you are somebody, like me, who overthinks everything, then voice over is great because you think of a million different ways to say the lines. You hear everything in your head and you have to imagine everything. So, I think it comes a lot more easily to me.
That’s really cool! Now you’ve gone from film to voice acting, but it must have been an interesting transition to go from having everything you said written for you to writing it all yourself. How did you discover your love for writing and what made you decide to write your own story?
Mara: I always knew I wanted to be a writer. The reason why I got into acting in the first place was because I like thinking up stories and performing them. I always knew I wanted to make up stories and write. Even when I was on set when I filming as a child, I would use my free time to write stories, plays, and scripts. It was usually similar to whatever it was that I was reading at the time. That’s just what I wanted to do. So, when I got older, I started focusing more.
For a while, I thought that acting was my thing and I couldn’t be a writer. But then I started focusing on it more in college. I studied playwriting and really loved it. It felt like something that made sense. I started doing live storytelling and telling stories about my life as well. Because of that, I think I realized that this was something I really felt I could do.
I wasn’t sure if it would be a fiction book or a play that would be my first big thing. I started writing my book partly because there was interest in it. I know people wonder when someone is in the public eye and then disappears for a while, they will wonder where they went. So I decided to let them know. Also, I wanted to take control of my own narrative. I also wanted to prove that I could write and I wanted to pay tribute to all of the wonderful people I knew, worked with, and grew up with. It was partly for fun and partly for setting the record straight because people wanted to know. I’m really glad I did it. It is a really amazing feeling to know that I’ve written a book.
So, Mara, we’re talking about your book “Where Am I Now?” and this is an autobiography?
Mara: It is, but I like to say it’s a memoir of my childhood.
For our audience and attendees who come to our shows who may not be familiar with it, what can the readers expect? Is it a narrative or more storytelling? What can they expect to find out about you while reading?
Mara: What I really wanted it to be about is feeling a little young and a little out of place. It’s how I felt most of my childhood. It’s all short stories and short essays. There’s definitely a lot about Hollywood and the world that I lived in and how that shaped me. There’s also my perfectionism, anxiety, and my own issues as well as about my relationship with my family and friends and how those things have changed. There’s a lot of different things in there. I do think that it is for anyone who has ever felt a little out of place or a little too young to be where they are and what they’re doing.
I think your book is perfect for the people that come to Phoenix Fan Fest and Phoenix Comicon because we really are all about creating a place where people who have never belonged can belong.
Mara: Yeah, definitely! That’s what I like about cons. There’s something very familial about it.
This world of geeks and nerds who never quite fit in anywhere and never quite found that place where they actually belonged now have thousands of people around who are just like that… who never had a place to belong and figuring out that there are places that even the outsiders belong.
Mara: I think sometimes people assume that since I worked on children’s shows that they think my book is for children and it’s not. I would say it’s more for adolescents who are the ones that will feel like that the most anyway.
Right! And it’s really for anyone who has ever felt out of place. I think most of us can relate to that. So, can we expect a sequel to this or maybe another book? Do you think you might tackle a fiction book like you mentioned earlier?
Mara: Yeah! I’m just now getting to the point where I think I can write another book. There’s also just so much that I want to do. I would to write for TV, I would love to write for graphic novels, I would love to write screenplays. I definitely know I’d love to write more plays. I really miss writing them. I’d love to have a podcast. I’d love to have a radio show. There’s a million different things I’d love to do! [laughs] I really want to be able to try my hand at as many things as I can. So, I guess we’ll see! It’s just a matter of what happens next.
If you’re looking at screenwriting and plays, is there a general theme that you look to or is it kind of all over?
Mara: I do know that I tend to enjoy writing young people. That is something that is fun for me. I think that’s probably because I had three teenage brothers growing up and I eavesdropped a lot on their conversations. [laughs] During my formative years, I had this great chorus of teenage boys in the background. That’s definitely affected things a little bit with my writing. We’ll see what happens with that though!
Speaking of inspiration, whether it’s for upcoming projects or even while writing your recent book, is there a book or an author that inspired you or an all-time favorite book or author that you look to?
Mara: Oh my goodness. I read so many books while I was writing mine because I just wanted to make sure that I could write it well. I read everything from Joan Didion to David Rakoff and just every nonfiction writer that I could get my hands on whether they were fun like David Sedaris or serious like Leslie Jamison. My favorite nerdy book growing up was Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. I also loved his dark material. Of course, I was a Harry Potter fan because I was 12 when the books became a big hit. I also love a lot of graphic novels! The big, classic ones are really my favorite. I especially love memoir graphic novels or even fictionalized memoirs like Blankets [by Craig Thompson]. I can’t name one [favorite book]. I can name a lot!
It sounds like when you do start putting out new pieces of writing, it’s going to be very eclectic!
Mara: I do hope so! I wish that I could do more genre stuff. I really like sci fi and fantasy, but I’ve never felt that comfortable with writing it myself. But maybe someday.
So what is a valuable piece of writing advice that you would give to your best friend?
Mara: Don’t be afraid to fail. I think people think of writer’s block as a block that you have. But really what it is is that “deer in the headlights feeling.” It’s performance anxiety. And that’s something that happens to me as well. I think it happens to everybody. It’s you being nervous about whether or not what you are writing will work or not. And that, I think, is very difficult, but it’s not actually a block. “Writer’s block” is all about you not trusting your own instincts.
Another thing I would say is that everybody’s creative process is different. You can ask other people about their creative process, but ultimately you need to trust your own process and whatever is the most helpful for you. But I think the biggest lesson is don’t be afraid to fail. That’s one I’ve had to learn the hard way, being a perfectionist myself. Trust that you need to get through the rough stuff before you get anything good. You’re going to need to write a couple of drafts and think things over a bunch of times. Sometimes, you think you can just bang things out in one draft. But that usually means that you’ve actually gone through two or three drafts in your head, I’ve found.
That’s really interesting!
Mara: Yeah. And don’t be afraid of the work.
That’s some really good advice! So let’s talk a little bit about Fan Fest. You’re going to be here in just a few short days. Attendees will be able to purchase an autographed photo or get a photo op with you. Are you also going to have any copies of Where Am I Now? at your table?
Mara: Yes! We should be able to have that. I’ve had them at other cons that I’ve gone to and I really love when I get to. Sometimes people will come up and ask “So what have you been up to lately?” and I say, “Well you can read it right here.” [laughs]
It’s a good conversation piece right there!
Have you been to Arizona before?
Mara: Oh yeah! Multiple times. I know that area pretty well. There’s a special place in my heart for Arizona. A lot of my favorite writers and friends grew up out there. I’m really happy to be somewhere where I can see my friends and family and also be in a place I know and love.
That’s great! Maybe that means we can bring you out for another event some other time too now that we know you love Arizona!
Mara: Yeah! It’s also very easy to get to from LA now. I’ve gone out there in the summer, which is hard. [laughs] In the summer, we had to wait until it rained so we could use the pool. But I always have a good time there.
What are you looking forward to most at Phoenix Fan Fest this weekend?
Mara: That’s a good question! There is one actor from the Bravest Warriors there and I loved the show so much. It’s kind of hard to explain, but it’s kids whose parents were superheroes and now they’re sort of taking up their parents’ mantles and it’s set in the future so there’s a lot of space and time travel. So it’s really funny, dark, and philosophical. There’s also a creature called Catbug that is half-cat and half-ladybug and how can you not love that? That is a really fun show and I know at least one actor is going to be there. So I’m excited for that.
Also, I just watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with my brother a few months ago and I can’t believe so many of them are going to be there. That’s just incredible.
Right? Well, we will have to make sure to arrange an introduction with John Omohundro from Bravest Warriors.
Mara: Yeah! And he’s also worked with Maria Bamford and so many people that I love on that show. Also, I’m trying to see who my friends and family want to meet and see if I have any klout there. [laughs] I think it’s going to be a good time.
I know there are so many people who have been commenting on our social media about how excited they are to meet you. I’m sure you’ll get tons of questions about Mrs. Doubtfire and Matilda. Those were such iconic roles for you when you were first breaking into Hollywood.
Mara: It still really is incredible! I can’t believe that they’ve gone on for this long, but it’s really inspiring to see that it means so much to people.
Yeah! Matilda is one my family’s favorite movies and everyone is excited to know that you’re coming. One of those things that got me about your roles is that sense of wonderment that comes so naturally to you. You can see it on your face.
Mara: That was definitely my thing. I think it still is in some ways. [laughs]
It’s like the epitome of being a child because everything is wondrous and new and amazing! For parents, seeing that and showing it to your kids and seeing them get that same kind of expression is contagious. There are so many fans that remember [your roles] from when they were young, so there’s plenty of nostalgia that people will be talking to you about.
Mara: I’m really excited to meet people at cons. I always have a good time there!
We are so excited to have you! We really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today, Mara. We look forward to meeting you on Saturday.