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Magic continues for Mara Wilson

By Bob Thompson, the Toronto Sun - July 25th, 2000 - Many thanks to Jeff Hurley for telling me about this article.

Mara Wilson turned 13 yesterday, and it showed. Wilson was taking pictures of herself at a Sutton Place hotel suite with Sun photographer Greg Henkenhaf's camera, and was having a riot doing it. A few minutes later, she pretended to get serious when a fee was negotiated if the pictures appeared in The Sun. "Okay, $15," Wilson said, settling for that high-priced rate. She's working cheap. The in-demand young actress usually earns a great deal more.

She has been featured in major studio pictures such as Mrs. Doubtfire, Matilda and Miracle On 34th Street, since getting into the business nearly a decade ago. "Not quite that long, emphasis on quite," she corrects smiling. Wilson was in town to promote Britt Allcroft's Thomas And The Magic Railroad, which opens tomorrow.

It's a homecoming of sorts for the Burbank, Ca., native. She shot a great deal of the film in Toronto last November and December, and will reunite with her on-set tutor while she stays in the city this week.

Allcroft, who says she hired Wilson for her grace and charm, created the Brit-TV kids show called Thomas The Tank Engine and Friends way back in the early '80s. Two separate programs, based on the original, came to North America. There was Thomas The Tank Engine and Shining Time Station, which was Wilson's favourite. For her movie, Allcroft went back to the original concept, combining both, but highlighting the same sort of whimsy that made all three of the TV shows hits among the junior jumper set. So, in the film, there is the human world of Shining Time Station, and the talking train world -- Thomas The Tank Engine and Friends -- on the Island Of Sodor.

Wilson plays the granddaughter of lonely Burnett Stone (Peter Fonda). Alex Baldwin portrays the miniature magical conductor who loses his sparkle dust. All three try to find the dust and a magic railroad line during the course of the kids' action.

Generally, Wilson was thrilled with the just-for-fun results, but suggests that the movie also deals with more serious things like "friendship, family and responsibility."

Meanwhile, she'll be considering some new roles as she prepares for Grade 8 next September at her "regular public school in Burbank." "I'm not getting a big head or anything," she says of being a sort of celebrity there. "At school, some people say I'm a snob, others followed me around for a while, but mostly they don't bother me or don't care."

SHE'S A REGULAR KID Regular school means that she's a regular kid, although she confessed to not really getting into the usual "Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys" kind of pop. "That's my sister," she says of seven-year-old Anna. In fact, in her bedroom, Wilson said she has "too many posters of kittens and a Matilda poster" from her starring role in that picture, which makes her "feel like a real egomaniac." Then she remembered something else. "I'm an Internet junkie," said Wilson, who sometimes visits a site dedicated to her. "I signed on the message board once, and half the people didn't believe me, and other half did and went crazy." And what will the new teenager do for her birthday later in the day? "Go out and get dinner or something," she said suddenly grinning again. "And," she added enthusiastically, "I'm probably getting my ears pierced."