The sad backstory behind the filming of Matilda.

It was 1996 – now 21 years ago, that the film Matilda was released.

Based on one of Roald Dahl’s most loved children’s books, Matilda explores the fantasy world of a young genius named Matilda (played by eight-year-old Mara Wilson) surrounded by adults who despise kids.

Matilda’s parents (played by Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman) are crude, distant and discouraging of her education, and so Matilda harnesses the power of telekinesis to protect herself and others.

But as horrible as DeVito and Perlman were to Wilson onscreen, behind the scenes told an entirely different story.

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During the filming of Matilda, Wilson’s mother, Suzie Wilson, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

As her mother underwent treatment, and her father took on all the family duties, DeVito and Pearlman became like surrogate parents.

Wilson writes in her book Where Am I Now?, that they would invite her on their family trips to the movies and take her to summer pool parties.

“It was very hard… and they were very nice,” Wilson writes. “While my mom was sick and in the hospital, they would invite me over and take care of me and get my mind off things. I felt very familial.


“Danny and Rhea were like my favourite aunt and uncle,” she added.

Mara Wilson in Matilda. Image via TriStar Pictures.

Six months after filming for Matilda wrapped, and 13 months after the initial diagnosis, Wilson's mother died.

In an interview with U.S talk show LorraineWilson said, "I was worried she wouldn't get to see the film. I didn't know this until later, but Danny DeVito took it unfinished to the hospital and showed it to her.


"She loved it. My mother always loved the book as well and used to read it to the children at my brother's school, so it was a real family affair," she said.

"My heart was warmed as she was involved until the very end."

In an interview with Radio Times, Pam Ferris who played Miss Trunchbull, recalled that in the iconic scene where Matilda dances around the kitchen moving objects with her mind, she made DeVito dance off camera so she wouldn't feel silly.
Miss Trunchbull. Image via TriStar.
 Ferris also said that when they began filming, she tried to "stay aloof" from many of the children, so when they interacted on camera their fear would appear more genuine. But despite her best efforts, it didn't quite work out that way.

“It broke down very quickly because they were daring little ones there that just came straight up to me and put their hand in mine between takes. I fell in love with them completely and there were a couple I wanted to bring back to Britain with me," she said.

In order to play Miss Trunchbull, Ferris also had to wear a fake nose, fake teeth, fake eyelashes on her chin, and was made up with perceivable "veins and blobs" all over her face, to make her appear more intense.

Although it would have been one of the worst periods of Wilson's life, the cast did their best to serve as a distraction - and for that she is eternally grateful.