Danielle Fishel Reflects on the Legacy of 'Boy Meets World' & Topanga Lawrence
Danielle Fishel remembers when she first realized Topanga Lawrence’s iconic hair was a big deal to people. The actress, who portrayed the beloved character on Boy Meets World and its spinoff Girl Meets World, goes back to a summer conversation with co-creator and executive producer Michael Jacobs.
“I wanted to cut my hair, but I knew better not to do it on my own without talking to him,” she said, now decades later.
“He was like, ‘No! You can’t. Your hair is your trademark.’ I think that was the first moment. The thinking of, 'Am I really known for my hair? I never thought about that.' He was like, 'Well, if you want to cut it let me at least write an episode about it.' I thought it was so silly. Like who was going to care about me cutting my hair?”
The “Hair Today, Goon Tomorrow” episode from Season 4 of the TGIF staple served as a turning point for Topanga and is a favorite among Boy Meets World fans. You could say her famous mane is right up there with Rachel Green's. Those clamoring to feel like Topanga now can, thanks to the new Be Free by Danielle Fishel hair care line.
TV Insider caught up with Fishel to talk about her business venture, life in quarantine and marking 20 years since Boy Meets World left the airwaves.
Your son Adler is about to turn 1. How has it been for your family quarantined at home?
Danielle Fishel: It has been interesting because on one hand there are so many milestones and changes that happen in the first year of having a baby, so I feel really lucky that I have this forced time to slow down. Also, I feel lucky he is at the age he is at. He is about to be 11 months, which means he didn’t have to be taken out of school. As far as Adler is concerned ,this is just the greatest time ever. It just means mom and dad are home all the time. He gets tons of one-on-one time with us. He enjoys that and is not missing anything.
On the other hand, the downside is he was born premature. He spent the first three weeks of his life in the NICU. Then he came home, and he had to shelter because he had fluid in his lungs. He was back and forth to doctors. It was flu season, so they’re telling us to make sure he doesn’t get sick because his lungs would fill up with fluid again. Then he was sequestered at home for flu season. Now it's spring and we can take him outside.
But then COVID-19 happens, so he is sheltered. I’m a little afraid for the first time we’re able to have people over. He is not used to seeing anybody else. His first year of life has been very strange. As far as he’s concerned though, he is happy. I’m trying to enjoy it, too.
What has been keeping you sane?
My husband Jensen [Karp] and I have been hosting a live game show on Instagram Live three nights a week called Scorantine that is really fun. We heard so many great things from people that it has been a real bright spot in this dark time. We ask questions and for correct answers we give them gifts that are just things we found around our home.
We’ve given away a Crock-Pot, partially used gift cards to restaurants. We’ve also been giving away a lot of Boy Meets World stuff. I gave away a cast and crew cardigan from the 1995-1996 season. We’ve given away a signed Cory and Topanga Funko Pop! Vinyls, so we’re enjoying that. I’ve been able to focus on Be Free by Danielle Fishel, which is my total passion. I’m really proud of that.
At the end of 2019 you launched the hair care line. A few months in, how is business going for you given these circumstances we are under?
On the one hand we just launched the business in December. We’re a super small company, and trying to build a new beauty brand. It requires what I was hoping to be a lot of hands on experience. We had mall appearances booked. We had pop-up shops booked. We had all these opportunities for me to go out and meet people and talk about the benefits of our products and really show my passion for it. Unfortunately, all that had to be canceled.
Then, on the other hand, it was a great opportunity because one of the things we had on our list this year was to start a subscription service. We ended up launching it during the quarantine, which is kind of perfect because you can have your shampoo, conditioner and the scalp refresh delivered to you. It comes beautifully packaged right to your doorstep. It’s the safest way to have your products brought to you. We’re just hoping like any other small business that we can make it through this time intact.
It’s hard to believe the last episode of Boy Meets World aired 20 years ago, on May 5, 2000. Your birthday. Is there anything you and the cast did to mark the occasion?
We didn’t, actually. We haven’t been able to see each other but have all kept in touch. Rider Strong (Shawn Hunter) actually created a nice little email chain among some of us checking in on how we’re all dealing with COVID-19 and quarantining. A few of us have been responding to that. We couldn’t really mark the occasion.
Will [Friedle] (Eric Matthews) lives right down the street from me. My husband and I’s big outing every day is walking the dog. In the morning we take a slightly longer walk in the morning and pass his house every morning. As we walk by we say, “Morning Will. Morning (wife) Sue [Martens]. Morning (dog) Dash.” We just say hello to their house. We did that to mark the occasion, but we do that everyday.
There are casts from all these shows reuniting to do these virtual table reads. A Boy Meets World one would be fun.
Well, you’re the first person I’m telling this to, but on May 23 [at 2 p.m. ET] we are actually doing a live watch-along of “And There Was Shawn” through a company called ReedPOP, which puts on all these conventions. The entire cast will be together for it. We’re going to watch the episode, and then we’re going to do a panel after where all of the proceeds will go to the teachers charity DonorsChoose.
What does it mean to you for the show to resonate still after 20 years?
It’s really special. I try to keep in mind all the time that the cast was just as lucky to be a part of that show as the fans who are so appreciative of how it impacted their life. We’re just as lucky. I could have been anybody in those roles. It could have been anybody to have those experiences we got to have. I constantly think about how lucky we are. People ask me all the time if it bothers me that I'm only known for being Topanga. I think no because it could have been so much worse.
There are so many characters that would really bum me out to be known as when I look back at the course of TV. Topanga was so cool. I’m so lucky that’s the character I'm known for. I feel the same way about the lessons. We were so lucky we had the writers we had, who cared about the audience and never wanted to talk down to the audience. Who insisted in keeping the episodes real and tried to get as much into those 22 minutes as they possibly could without making it too cheesy.
Those who follow you on social media know you’re also a proud wrestling fan. Did that start when you had WWE superstars guest starring on a few Boy Meets World episodes back in the day?
Having Vader and Mick Foley on our show opened my eyes to wrestling back in the ‘90s. Obviously, I was a huge Rock fan. Who wasn’t? As a matter of fact the only reason I know how to raise one eyebrow is because of The Rock. I didn’t know how to do it in his heyday. I remember asking someone if you can teach yourself how to raise an eyebrow. I think it may have been Marilu Henner. I was doing a TV movie (Rocket's Red Glare) with her at the time. I think she said to me, “Yeah, you can teach a muscle how to do something. The only way to do it is stare at it in the mirror and tell it what to do what you want it to do.
I had to be in hair and makeup for this movie for at least 30 days. So, every morning while I was getting my makeup done I would stare at my left eyebrow in the mirror going, “Raise!” Both would raise again and again until finally I could perfect raising one eyebrow. Wrestling and The Rock is the reason I know how to raise an eyebrow.
I dated someone in the late ‘90s who was super into wrestling. He took me to WrestleMania and Raw and fell in love with it. Then over the years I was a casual watcher. My husband is also a big fan. He took me to some independent shows at a place called PWG (Pro Wrestling Guerrilla) out here in the San Fernando Valley. It was there I met [former WWE superstar] Lio Rush. I saw a lot of the superstars that we see today. I’m into that scene.
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Who would you say in the business has the best hair?
I mean Seth Rollins has some pretty great hair, but I think Jungle Boy has the best hair in wrestling.
Aside from your acting and entrepreneurship, you’ve been able to sit in the director’s chair on a number of shows with most recently being Raven’s Home. What have you gotten out of that experience?
I’ve been so lucky with being able to direct for Disney Channel. After directing for Girl Meets World and the show ended I made the decision I wanted directing to be the next stage of my career. As anyone who has ever changed jobs or had a major life change where you want people to take you seriously for something else, it can be hard. I went meeting after meeting, shadowing director after director. I would sit on sets.
I went to visit Raven’s Home and for the entire week sat there silently and observed and tried to show to them I was serious about what I wanted to do. Finally, [EP] Mark Reisman from Sydney to the Max gave me the opportunity to direct in the first season, which was a huge honor. I’m so forever appreciative of that because it opened the door everywhere else.
I love it so much because I get to work with these amazing children, who for a lot of them are the same age as I was when I started on Boy Meets World. It really feels like a way to give back to my younger self.