Young Mara Wilson Builds A Fairy-Tale Film Career

Something is bugging Mara Wilson.

It's bugging her so much that the 9-year-old actress stops eating her nutritious meal at the Hard Rock Cafe - French fries, chocolate ice cream and soda pop - and describes in detail exactly what is bugging her.

Frankly, it's this whole age thing. Reporters seem obsessed with her age. That's all they want to talk about. They treat her like . . . well . . . like a child.

Take, for example, the other day. She was at a news conference for international media to talk about her role in the new film "A Simple Wish."

"They kept asking me the same questions over and over and over again," she recalls. "They were really nice people, but I'm sick of hearing those same questions. They asked me if I had a boyfriend, and they asked me if I get straight A's in school, and they asked me if I believed in fairy godmothers.

"Oh, boy, if I hear the question, `Do you believe in fairy godmothers?' one more time, I'll go crazy."

Don't get the wrong impression; Mara Wilson is no brat. She is as sweet and as cute and as normal as any fifth-grader. She has three older brothers and shares a bedroom with her younger sister in their Burbank home. She loves to swim and read, and adores Gwen Stefani of the rock band No Doubt.

OK, so there is one major difference between her and most other little girls her age: She has been in four feature films, and they have not.

Mara says she has wanted to pursue an acting career since watching her oldest brother, Danny, appear in commercials. When she was 5, she asked her brother's agent if she could get into the business.

"My first commercial was for Oscar Mayer Lunchables, and I don't even know if that was ever aired. Then I got commercials for Bank of America, Texaco and Marshall's."

"You know, most of my friends think doing commercials is so easy, but it's not. It's a lot harder than it looks. You sit around all day and wait for people to tell you what to do. My friends think it's all play and no work, but it's really all work and no play.

"Well," she adds with a sheepish grin, "it's all work and some play."

Despite the difficulty of the work, Mara says, she always liked doing the commercials, and then, on Valentine's Day, she learned that she had been invited to audition for the part of Robin Williams' younger daughter in the 1993 comedy "Mrs. Doubtfire."

She got the part, and the film went on to become one of the biggest-grossing comedies in Hollywood history. From that auspicious debut, she won the starring role - beating out thousands of little boys - in the remake of "Miracle on 34th Street."

Then it was on to the title role in "Matilda," with Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman, and an appearance in the NBC movie "A Time to Heal." She also has a recurring role on "Melrose Place."

All this work led to her being named this year as the youngest recipient ever of the "Star of Tomorrow" award at the Sho-West convention, an annual meeting of theater owners.

In her latest movie, "A Simple Wish," Mara plays a girl being raised in New York City by her widowed father (Mara's real mother died of cancer last year, leaving five children to be raised by her father). Mara's character makes a wish - for her father to get a big role - and her fairy godmother appears.

The only problem is that her fairy godmother is Martin Short, and he is as inept as he is funny. In his first attempt to grant Mara's wish, he mistakenly turns her father (played by Robert Pastorelli of "Murphy Brown" fame) into a statue in Central Park.

Complicating matters even more, there is an evil fairy godmother (Kathleen Turner) who has nasty plans that require her to thwart Short from turning Mara's dad back into human form. Confused? It's a comedy.

"I read a lot of scripts, but so many of them really bug me," the youngster says. "So many of them have the girl talking like a little girl. That really bugs me.

"I liked this script because it was funny and because it let me be more mature. That's what I look for in a script. I want to act more mature."

OK, but does she believe in fairy godmothers? Don't ask.