On a Sunday evening in August, Mara Wilson takes the stage at Joe’s Pub in New York’s East Village. It’s been 10 days since Robin Williams passed away, and she’s closing her show with a story about the late comedian. On the set of Mrs. Doubtfire, Wilson had just learned what sex was at the age of six. Her mother explained it was something only married people do. So, when she learned the film’s hairdresser was married, Wilson couldn’t resist: “Does that mean you do it?” Her mother was mortified. But, before she could get into big trouble, Williams came out in full Euphegenia Doubtfire regalia. Laughing, he said to the crew, “Did you hear Mara was asking the hairdresser about sex?”
In her dressing room earlier that week, Wilson and I decide not to discuss the late comedian, as she doesn’t want to make it seem as if she were capitalizing on the death of a friend. “I’ll say this. Without him, I wouldn’t be the storyteller I am today.” She’s referring to her latest project, What Are You Afraid Of?, in which she and a few other performers talk about their anxieties, phobias, and how they use humor to tackle them. “In a way I was raised by them — the comedians,” she says. We move on.
Many remember her as a child actor from films like Matilda and Miracle on 34th Street, but Wilson never fully took to the demands of Hollywood life. Instead, she’s developed a storytelling career, both on stage and on her blog, Mara Wilson Writes Stuff. Her latest show explores the darker side of life — the dark thoughts that keep you awake at night — but it’s also a riot. “I’ve been afraid my whole life. I’ve been an anxious person my whole life. But, if you can laugh at your fears, it takes the power away from them,” she says.