Mara Wilson on her top podcast picks
Mara Wilson is no stranger to showbiz. You may recognize her best as Matilda, Susan Walker from Miracle on 34th Street, or from her supporting role alongside Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire. From a young age, storytelling has always been Mara's "first passion in life" and a driving force in her work.
Between writing for various publications and her own Substack newsletter, Shan't We Tell The Vicar?, voice-acting for shows like Big Hero 6: The Series, and making occasional appearances on Welcome to Night Vale as The Faceless Old Woman, she made time to chat with us about her favourite podcasts! We dive into her career, the awkward teen years, and conservatism in Hollywood.
According to Mara: There are a lot of things about Night Vale that I think really resonate with people. I think that there is so much vivid imagery in there but there's also things that are just kind of left to left to imagination. Like, you don't know what [the host] Cecil looks like and you just kind of have to imagine it. And so now people through fan art have sort of invented what they think the people look like and it generally isn't what you would think! I think that maybe Carlos looks a bit like Dylan Marron (and Dylan Marron is a very handsome guy) but I think that the rest of us don't look like our characters at all, so there's a lot of imagination. Also, one thing that I love about Night Vale is that... the absurd is mundane and the mundane is absurd. And because of that I think they've actually been very, very sneakily progressive. [On the podcast] one of the the happiest and most stable relationships is a gay couple, and [their relationship] is something that's very kind and loving. And you know there is a lot of representation– what was it, five years ago when Night Vale started? I felt to me that when there was LGBTQ representation, at least in the United States, it always felt like it had to be forced, or had to be shoehorned in. There had to be a coming out story… and there never was anything like that in Night Vale. It just was "Yes these people are a couple." So these things that are still "unusual" or are still new in our society are just very well integrated [into the podcast] and that is something that I really like…
According to Mara: When you're a teenager everything is high stakes. Everything is the end of the world. Everything is the worst thing ever, or the best thing ever. Even if it's the smallest things because you have no idea of perspective when you're a child or when you're a teenager. Everything matters to you. I think because of that everything gets really heightened. At the same time, I mean, there are a lot of stories on Mortified where people go through things that are scary, or strange, or ridiculous, or they have struggled with addiction... and they don't even realize at the time how messed up it is because I guess, once again, they have no perspective. That is their everyday life. So I think that it's that lack of it, and looking back at it that makes it funny... I also think that it's good for these people [to tell their stories on the podcast] because it is cathartic for them to be able to laugh at themselves and to share them. And I think that there's a sort of paradoxical nature of storytelling where the more specific you are the more general it is, which is very strange, but the more detail you add to something the more people will relate to it. And I'm not sure why exactly but that seems to be a key component of storytelling... I didn't grow up wealthy in Miami Beach, and I wasn't a black girl in an all white school, or you know, I wasn't a gay teenage boy at a boarding school in England. I wasn't this or that, but I can still relate to these stories because I can relate to the feelings behind them.
According to Mara: One thing that I like about them is they will talk about things and it won't just be an all or nothing, "this is a bad song, this is a good song"... They will find the good in every bad song, and they will find the bad in every good song, and yet they will still be able to like it. And even when they don't like a song, or they think it's objectively bad, they don't hate on it. They don't say it's the worst thing ever. It's not about that, which I think is so different than so much of the music criticism, and just general criticism, coming from people today. And of course I'm not talking necessarily about professional critics. I'm talking about everybody because everybody is a critic these days! But yeah, there's this sort of idea that you need to align yourself and you need to take sides, and with [Punch Up The Jam] it really isn't. And even when they vehemently disagree on a song, a lot of times Demi will love a song and Miel really won't. Sometimes it's the other way around. You know that they're still going to be best friends at the end of the episode. You know that it doesn't matter.
According to Mara: I love this show because it's about design… Sometimes I'll look around myself, no matter where I am, and realize that anything that is not natural was in somebody's mind at some point. The architecture around us, in every building, was somebody's idea at some point. In the studio right now, the way that it's designed, that was someone's idea at some point. And these things are all around us all the time and we take them for granted. So I feel like 99% Invisible looks at design – and I mean the whole saying is that good design should be 99 percent invisible – and makes it seen, makes it noticed and makes you think about it. And I think that's really important.
According to Mara: I mean, it is a history podcast! That's the thing. It's it's not just about film history, it's so much about the culture at the time. I mean, film is something that obviously took off in other places, but I feel like it is a very North American art form. And so there's so much North American history in this – things that you wouldn't even think about. You really can't think about the McCarthy era in the 1950s during the Cold War in the United States without thinking about what it did to Hollywood, and all these famous communists being forced to speak before Congress, and all these tribunals and everything. And it will talk about that. It'll talk about that and World War II and all of these things that you wouldn't have thought about. There's so much history there. There's so much connection there. You can tell so much about a culture and society by looking at the art that it's putting out. And so that's what this is about. It is a history lesson told through film. It's not just a film history.