A few years ago, if you’d asked Matilda Lawler—one of the stars of HBO Max’s hit series Station Eleven—if she had any interest in acting, her answer would have been a definitive no.
Matilda was raised in New Jersey by parents who are also actors. Her mother, Mara, is well known in the world of voiceovers. Her father, Matthew, played Special Agent Gabe Clements in ABC’s The Family. “I never, ever wanted to be an actor,” 13-year-old Matilda tells AIR MAIL Pilot. “I wanted to get away from it as much as possible.”
She stayed away until 2018, when all of her friends auditioned for a production of romance writer Erin Mallon’s play The Net Will Appear. “I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to audition for it,’ because I didn’t want to miss out,” she says. “I thought it would be fun. I had no intentions of getting the role.” But after nailing the audition, Matilda was cast as Rory, a precocious little girl who develops an unlikely friendship with her 75-year-old neighbor. At 10 years old, she took the role and realized she “absolutely loved” to act. From there, Matilda landed the part of Honor Carney in the Broadway production of Jez Butterworth’s play The Ferryman.
After Broadway, the young actress worked in both TV (Paramount’s Evil) and film (Disney’s Flora & Ulysses). Since 2021, she’s played Kirsten in Station Eleven, a dystopian mini-series based on a 2014 novel by Emily St. John Mandel.
The show revolves around two story lines: right as a flu pandemic starts to spread around the world, and several decades later, after the flu kills most life on Earth. Matilda plays Kirsten, one of the few flu survivors, at the beginning of the pandemic.
“There are tons of people who still feel like the trauma of COVID is still too fresh for them to watch a show about a pandemic,” says Matilda. “But I think for others, it’s a way for them to relate and to feel like they can connect to something. Station Eleven isn’t about the trauma and the hard things, it’s mostly about how we rebuild.”
The role of Kirsten is what first drew Matilda to the project. She likes “characters that are layered and not just shallow,” she says, and gravitates to ones that are “fierce, strong and powerful.”
While Matilda is much busier than your average teenager, acting has brought her closer to her family. “My dad and I bonded because he’s my acting coach,” she says. “I don’t think I’d be here if he hadn’t gotten me into it, and if we didn’t have the conversations that we have.” —Bridget Arsenault
There are a lot of ways to get rich in America. You can be born to money, of course; that’s the fastest way. You can also invent something, like iPhones or Mickey Mouse. You can gamble with someone else’s money (that’s called “finance”). You can even work really hard. Or you can be a more-or-less-normal teenage girl from Connecticut with slightly goofy charisma who’s also a pretty good dancer.
That’s what worked for Charli D’Amelio, who has 133 million followers on TikTok—the app’s biggest following. No one is really sure why she’s so popular, including, she’s admitted, D’Amelio herself. Air Mail Pilot suspects it’s because she looks like she could be a mean girl but comes off as nice and genuine—an aspirational pal. At any rate, in July 2019 she posted a dance video that went viral and now she’s a multi-millionaire.
According to Forbes magazine, which is famous for figuring out how much money people make, D’Amelio earned $17.5 million last year, or almost exactly $1 million for every year she’s been alive. (She’ll turn 18 in May.) That makes her TikTok’s highest-paid star. Second is her older sister, Dixie, 20, who also dances and sometimes sings and whom Forbes estimates made $10 million last year—or half a million for her every year on Earth.
That’s serious money for teenagers, or anyone. Even if the sisters quit TikTok tomorrow and spent their 20s and 30s running a dopey, money-losing cat cafe, they’d still have made more in one year than the average American earns over an entire lifetime of work—between $1.7 million and $2.7 million, according to different studies.
The Wall Street Journal did some more math and found that Charli did better income-wise than even a lot of people who run big companies, including the heads of Exxon Mobil, Delta Air Lines, and McDonald’s (who earned $15.6 million, $13.1 million, and $10.8 million, respectively). And if you’ve flown Delta recently, or eaten at McDonald’s, or worried about fossil fuels and climate change, you might think Charli deserves to earn more.
How do TikTok stars make money? The sisters have a series on Hulu, The D’Amelio Show, so that’s part of it. They also sponsor a clothing line with Hollister called Social Tourist. But like many influencers on TikTok and Instagram, they also sign endorsement deals.
That means when you see a video of Charli’s mom, Heidi, grabbing an iced coffee away from Charli in the car because she’s making too much noise drinking it, and Charli then grabs it back, Charli is getting paid because she has a deal with Dunkin’ Donuts—it’s the brand of coffee she’s drinking in the video. Or when she posts a video saying how much she loves her new Invisalign braces, she’s getting paid for that, too. That doesn’t mean she’s insincere. But if in her heart of hearts she prefers Starbucks or old-fashioned train-track braces, she’s not saying.
Air Mail Pilot should note that companies give us money, too. They give us money to run advertisements. (Which is how most publications are then able to pay their writers!) But Air Mail Pilot would never just say the middle of an article how great Michael Kors handbags are. Like most publications, we endeavor to keep ads and “content” separate. Like most publications, we also can’t afford to open a cat café anytime soon. —Bruce Handy
On Monday, after the wheels of her pint-sized airplane touched down on a Belgian runway, 19-year-old Zara Rutherford became the youngest woman to fly solo around the world. Stopping in 41 countries across five continents, the trip took her five months to complete. That’s about 250 hours of flying time.
Flying runs in the family: both of Zara’s parents are pilots. The British-Belgian teenager got her own pilot’s license two years ago, at just 17 years old. Before attempting to fly around the world, she had logged 130 hours of flight time.
At that time, the record for youngest woman to fly solo around the world was held by 30-year-old Shaesta Waiz. The idea to break that record came to Zara as she neared the end of high school. “As school was coming to an end I thought, Hold on, if I’m going to do something crazy this is the perfect time to do it,” Zara told The Times of London. “I have nothing planned, zero responsibilities. I could do whatever I wanted to do.”
Zara teamed up with sponsors like Virgin Airlines and SafeSky, an app for pilots, and practiced her flying skills before she started her journey on August 18 of last year. She took off from Belgium and flew west in a Shark Aero ultralight plane. The two-seater propeller plane is so light and delicate that it can’t fly through clouds—if water droplets attach onto the wings and freeze, the plane loses its aerodynamic shape. As Zara put it, “it turns into a block of metal in the air.”
The desert dunes and frozen tundra also posed dangers for the 19-year-old. Zara says the hardest part of the trip was flying over freezing Russia. While soaring above the country, she had to think about the worst-case scenarios. “Let’s say I can’t get back and the engine stops: I’d have to try and glide onto the snow on the ground,” she told The Times of London. “I think I could make it down safely but in remote Russia I’d be at -35C for hours while waiting for rescue to arrive. It was mentally very difficult.”
Another obstacle on the trip: sunset. Zara’s pilot’s license does not permit her to fly by night, so she had to get her flying done during the day. “When you’re flying, the horizon and the air can play tricks on you. You think you’re seeing a cloud when you’re not,” she told The Times. “I’d have to decide whether to carry on to the destination or turn back to the airfield I’d left from,” she says, “work out if the weather has changed [and] if I had enough fuel and sunlight to get back.”
Despite the challenges, Zara has arrived safely back in Belgium. Although she doesn’t plan on making the cross-planet journey again, she hopes her flight will inspire other young girls to fly planes. Zara’s next goal, meanwhile, is even more ambitious: to become an astronaut with SpaceX. —Alex Oliveira