This year marks the 20th anniversary of the 1993 Chris Columbus comedy “Mrs. Doubtfire” starring Robin Williams and Sally Field. Seven years after it hit theaters, “Mrs. Doubtfire” was named by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 Funniest American Movies of All Time. It was also one of only five films to make the list that was made after 1990 (the others were “There’s Something About Mary,” “Groundhogs Day,” “City Slickers” and “Fargo.”)
Along with Williams, Field and a svelte Pierce Brosnan pre-James Bond, “Mrs. Doubtfire” also starred three young actors as the children caught up in a custody battle between their parents. The oldest of the children, Lydia Hillard, was played by actress Lisa Jakub. Jakub, who started her professional career doing TV commercials at the age of four, went on to star in other movies, including “Independence Day” and “A Walk on the Moon.”
In 2000, Jakub bowed out of the acting industry and has since lived a quiet life as a writer in Virginia with her husband and dog. She keeps everyone up to date on her life at her blog lisajakub.net.
During an interview with me a few weeks ago, Jakub and I talked about what it was like growing up in the industry as a child actor, the advice from actor Robert Duvall she’s always remembered, and what it would take to get her back in front of the camera after a 13-year hiatus.
On your blog you mention a friend has told you that you’re dodgy about your old life. You go on to explain that people treat you differently when they find out you were “that girl in that movie.” Can you give me an example of how people might treat you differently?
I think there’s a general assumption that actors are not relatable and that the experiences they go through are so much different than the normal person. They think it’s going to be really hard to find common ground. I feel sometimes people think that about me at first. Hopefully, we’re able to get past that really quick and they realize that’s not true. We’re all basically the same. You just have to have a conversation with the person and realize that.
You were about seven years old when you started working as an actress. Did you understand the industry at that age, or was it more of a game and just something fun to do?
I actually started working when I was four, so I was even younger and with less of an idea of what I was getting myself into. I started doing commercials in Toronto, which is where I grew up. I think it felt very much like a game. The way it started was that I was in a market with my parents and this man came up to us who was involved in the production of a commercial and he wanted me to be in it. So, it was a very random experience that evolved into a career. When my parents asked me if I wanted to go in for an audition, I was a little kid. I was up for anything. It was something exciting and new and would get me out of school. It seemed like a good idea to me!
In your blog you write about not wanting to be one of those “former child actor” types – a cautionary tale in the industry. If you had stayed in the business, do you really think that could’ve been something that happened to you?
I think it’s a very easy trap to fall into. I was very lucky I didn’t have an addictive personality. I wasn’t very interested anyway in any of the drugs and alcohol, but it was still readily available. While that was never my scene ever, I could see how people could fall into traps like that. I definitely think all of that has gotten a lot more intense since I left. There was never TMZ when I was [in Hollywood]. I’m grateful for that. That can create some real pressure for people. I’m very happy I got out before all that.
You also write that “parts of your job were really wonderful for a while.” Can you give me an example of something that has stuck with you all these years?
I was lucky enough to work with Robert Duvall when I was 11 years old in a movie called “Rambling Rose.” He was just an incredible person. He was so kind and so generous to me. We used to spend a lot of time just hanging out and talking. It was really wonderful for a young actor who was getting into the industry to be able to hear the perspective of this veteran, incredible, season actor. One of the things he told me that I always remembered was, “Never forget, it’s only a movie.” For me, that meant not to get stressed out or freaked out. It’s just a movie. I think it was really important for me to understand I didn’t have to build up the film industry to this incredible degree because it could become something damaging to you.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of “Mrs. Doubtfire.” Does it feel that long ago or can you remember it pretty well?
In some ways it feels like a lifetime ago. In other ways it feels like yesterday. I remember a lot of it. It was a wonderful experience. We felt like a family on that set. And that doesn’t always happen. I think that came through on screen as well.
As the years go by, how do you feel when “Mrs. Doubtfire” begins to cement itself into film history little by little? I mean, the American Film Institute named it one of the funniest comedies of all time.
I feel honored to be part of something like that. There were just so many people passionately involved with that movie. It wasn’t just a silly movie about drag. We really wanted to say something about divorce and family. I feel really proud I was able to be part of that.
You’re working on your memoir now about your life as a child actor. Was going back and reliving some of those years a challenge for you? Were there things you realized now that you didn’t then?
Yeah, I think that’s always a fascinating thing – looking back at your life and realizing how one thing led to another thing. It’s very cathartic and very educational to go back and rebuild it and put it all back together.
It has to be kind of fun for you to Google your name and see what new things pop up every so often. I mean, I’m here in San Antonio and I think I saw you at Wal-mart, too, a few years ago. (In a section of her blog called “What I’ve Been Up to (According to the Internet),” Jakub refutes a post that showed up somewhere online that gives a detailed albeit false account of a run in she apparently had with someone at a Wal-Mart in San Antonio, a city she has never visited). Do you have a Google alert at least?
(Laughs) I don’t have a Google alert because I think that would just freak me out! It’s always very interesting to see what comes up. There are true things and there are not-so-true things. I think it’s always good to remember to take everything with a grain of salt.
You’ve stated before that you’d never get back into the film industry. Is there any scenario at all where you would change your mind? Let me give you a couple: 1) A personal call from Martin Scorsese himself saying that he misplaced your last audition and just got around to seeing it a decade later and loved it and wants you in his next film. (Jakub’s last audition for a movie was done on tape for Scorsese for the film “The Aviator.” The role of 1930s film star Jean Harlow ultimately went to Gwen Stefani). Or 2) A role in “Independence Day 2” comes up where you play the main alien villain and get into a fistfight with Bill Pullman.
(Laughs) Oh, wow. Well, here’s what I would say: I am fully retired and I love being a writer. I do feel like the acting part of my life is finished. However, I love [“Independence Day” co-writer] Dean Devlin and [“Independence Day” director/co-writer] Roland Emmerich so much, I would kind of do anything they asked me to do. If your friends are telling you to do something in certain circumstances, you do it.
When can we expect your memoir to come out? You’re editing it right now, correct?
Yes, it is a very long, but fun process, so hopefully sometime next year. I will keep my blog updated with any information about that.
Is there anything specific you have to have to get into writer mode? I mean, do you need to be somewhere really quiet? Do you have to have a glass of wine? A bottle of wine?
(Laughs) I have to have my dog under my desk. That’s my main requirement. She is my writing partner. I find it very difficult to write anything without her. A cup of tea is helpful, but I definitely need the dog.
I know you’re not in the movie industry anymore, but are you still a movie watcher? What kinds of movies do you enjoy – stuff that just entertains you or do you like films that are deeper than that?
Yeah, it’s funny because I definitely watch fewer movies now than when I was in the film industry. I think my taste really ranges, but I love documentaries. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed. I continue to love great documentaries. Some of them can be such a great way to get a message across.