From Winnie Cooper and Kevin Arnold’s first kiss to the songs of the 60’s as a kid growing up in the 80’s you undoubtedly watched The Wonder Years. It was a series that shaped a generation by revisiting a defining moment in our countries history through the eyes of an average American family of the 1960’s.
Recently I had the privilege to participate in a group interview with the women of The Wonder Years (Alley Mills, Olivia D’Abo and Danica McKeller) to discuss the show in preparation for the upcoming launch of The Wonder Years Complete Series DVD box set.
Full interview and DVD pre-order info after the jump!
To pre-order your copy of The Wonder Years Complete Series visit www.TimeLife.com/WonderYears
With the series in the 60’s, I am curious for all three of you, how did the time period … What did that add the experience for you guys as opposed to doing the show that would be set in the 80’s? Did you learn anything about the 60’s through the experience?
Alley Mills: Okay. I am going to start because I’m the oldest and I lived through the 60’s. That was when I was in high school. Okay. The reason the 60’s was so important in this show and I had a great honor of teaching all of it to Olivia who kept going, she was the big hippie and I went, “We need to talk.”
I gather all these CD’s of the music. Told her everything even though her father was a rock and roll guy, she didn’t really know the joy and the hope and the incredible energy behind the movement in the 60’s. I think the whole point of the one period was this was the beginning of the end of Wonder.
The whole series began with the introduction of the Vietnam war into our little TV in the kitchen and it was at that very time that the whole country, I think began to feel the pain of the war and the ramifications of that whole joyous movement.
I think the back of the period was everything about our show and that was what for me, gave it all the beauty, “Here’s Danica,”
Danica McKellar: And from my perspective, my character was almost acting independent of the time period except for the wardrobe. What I thought was the meaning of the show was that it paralleled with a few things going on in the world.
Then, what seemed like a huge things going on to a couple of kids who their whole life revolved around whether or not they’re about to have their first kids or of course, we need to bring [inaudible] Vietnam at the beginning of the show but he could have died from anything. It’s lossand it’s very universal things that happen in every time period which is why I think people can relate to the show even if they weren’t, if they didn’t experience the 60’s.
For me, what I am saying is I didn’t have to know very much about the 60’s unlike these two who I am sitting with who are more interactive with the world around them [inaudible] are interactive with school and interactive with Kevin Arnold and Paul Pfeiffer and dealt with things that are absolutely universal.
Did this guy like me or not? Am I popular? All those [inaudible] on school. All those things. My parents in the show separated, things that happened at any time.
Olivia d’Abo: Except for Go-go boots [inaudible].
Alley Mills: I had to wear this pants for the second episode with the flowers in all of them. I was horrified. I hated them. I was like no other pair of pants that I bring in to [inaudible].
Olivia d’Abo: I just heard they’re putting them on and being like, “I’m on Pinterest.” [inaudible].
Alley Mills: That, I like. I like that outfit.
Olivia d’Abo: Yes. I did too.
Alley Mills: I love it, but the second episode, I have to wear this awful pants.
Olivia d’Abo: I wonder where it is today.
Alley Mills: I don’t know. [inaudible]
Olivia d’Abo: No. Me too. It [inaudible] so much. I forgot the question you asked… This is Olivia d’Abo.
Alley Mills: Yeah. How did the period affect the show or how then it’s different right now?
Olivia d’Abo: I think with the exception of Alley and Dani, who luckily lived through the 60’s because I think still for this day, everybody I know including myself feels like it was the most pivotal, just incredibly exciting electric time that we’ve had probably compared to the renaissance. I think the period from my character, she was a teenager. She was burst into this incredible time where she was experiencing free love and tuning in and tuning out and being very politically proactive in terms of being not pro-Vietnam but anti-Vietnam.
I was really amazed to learn as much as I could in a very short amount of time about the thing I studied. Luckily, I was able to watch it on video, a decade of shows for the fabulous 60’s which basically covered Woodstock and every year that transpired between 60’s to 1970’s.
I got really a very thorough education and I spend an entire summer with n acting coach of mine at the time at the Acting Center and I just studied. It was like going to college for the 60’s. Then, I read letters to Vietnam which is incredibly moving. It was a really palpable experience for me because I think actors are very sensitive and very emotionally connected to stuff that they are playing, if they are passionate about it.
I just digested it, jumped right in and immersed myself in music that Alley was kind enough to … She was a huge anchor for me by the time I met her and got on set because she was actually a lot like Karen was. It was …
Alley Mills: We took [inaudible] and me together.
Olivia d’Abo: Yeah, exactly. It was just great to have that camaraderie to shoot things off with in terms of being able to say, “Am I off here? Am I in the right zone?” We have some improvisational stuff which we got to do luckily, I think within the first season where there were no words but the camera was on Fred and there was [inaudible] narration.
Those are some really pivotal times where we got the times to explore terrain that was without words but very much about the vibe of the period and the emotion behind like when Karen disappears and goes to Woodstock and the car breaks down.
Then, there’s a scene between myself and Alley and Dan and Kevin is watching and getting to know Karen a little bit better and seeing a very different side of her, it was beautiful that those kinds of things were able to be explored without dialog.
With just a fact that we are characters who develop and will establish by that stage and we all love each other so much and works so well with each other that we just let it rip and work with the local osmosis between each other.
Have you guys missed the characters? Do you ever say, “I wish I could go back and visit them again.”?
Olivia d’Abo: We do every day. It’s a part of our DNA. It’s a [inaudible] Yes, definitely.
Danica McKellar: Well, everyday somebody recognizes one of us on the street which is every day. We get to be that character in some form. We get to see people looks on their faces and they’re going to say, “Oh my gosh, that show I miss so much. My family watched it together.” We get to feel how special the experience was over and over again.
Was this really a life changing job? There’s many acting job that’s just acting jobs, but this is something that really sticks. It’s one of those things that’s not just temporary. You know what I mean?
Danica McKellar: Yeah.
Olivia d’Abo: Yes. I think that every actor’s dream, every artists’s dream is that you want to be part of something that’s cyclical that comes around every 20 years and that makes you feel like all of the hard work that you’ve been putting into your craft is actually paying off [inaudible] most importantly but hopefully you get into it to really have a purpose and address something out there in the world that’s really going to be … It’s going to resonate and be memorable and touch people and make them laugh.
Luckily, I think we hit on all of those things with our show sort of bitter sweet, but there was a lesson in every show I think that’s stuck with everybody and when you watch it today, it resonates even more I think because the world has changed even from the 80’s when we shot it let alone the 60’s.
Danica McKellar: Now, nobody has to miss the characters because it’s coming out on DVD.
Olivia d’Abo: Good answer [inaudible]
Danica McKellar: I think …
Alley Mills: [inaudible] This is not an answer to the character question but To , “did I change us?” Working on the show, I think it’s very rare and I am the oldest at the group and once you’ve been around the block, you can see what things resonates, Karen, she said it wrong. What things resonates and what things stick in the hearts of people and the thing that this show did and nobody really knows what that magic ingredient was, except I always say it starts with writing, probably goes half way with writing and ends with writing, but it was also that we got to be part of it.
It was a great gift of that, but something that can touch every walk of life, every economic background, every color, every nationality, it’s so rare that writing can do that. It’s like any great novel. It’s like Shakespeare in the theater. Those things last and were we luckier than I won’t say the “F” word because I am sitting here with two young girls, but luckier than anything to be part of that.
Olivia d’Abo: Was lucky as shit [inaudible] ?
Alley Mills: Norma would never say that. Danica was being somewhat facetious about now we get to see it on DVD, but the truth is it’s amazing that right now, all of us run into like eight-year old Hispanic kids on the street in LA who get to watch this show and I am so thrilled that now, my grand children, because it’s not probably running anymore on Nick at Nite which they got to see on and it’s running out on Hispanic TV.
They’re going to now be able to go on and on and always see this because I think the show is always going to just have that human link that make shows magic and they can laugh. Long answer. Sorry.
Olivia d’Abo: That’s all right.
The show has been several years at the top of the list of the shows that people want to see on DVD. To what do you attribute the ongoing popularity of the show? Have you watched it over the years? If so, how does it hold up for each of you as a television show?
Danica McKellar: I haven’t watched it in a while to be honest. I haven’t watched the full episode although I did watch the first kiss recently because we had the outtakes for the first kiss from the pilot and Fred and I had to give commentary on it.
Olivia d’Abo: How many?
Danica McKellar: There are like [inaudible] Yeah, but the reason I think the show – part of it and this is of course is in fact, the writing, why did the show make such a splash? Why did it resonates so much in people? Why does it still matter? I think it’s because this was … From my perspective, the first show that really honored the strength and the emotions that kids have at such a young age where most TV shows up until that point is all about parents and the kids were there too.
This is the first show that have the narration. You’ve got inside the mind and a heart of the small child and I don’t think that it had been done yet and we all when we’re little have huge emotions and the world doesn’t really honor them in the same way that they honor adult’s feelings because – they’re just kids.
You’re not in control of your own lives yet. You can’t make your own decisions and, “Oh, it’s puppy love. Oh, it’s this. Oh, it’s that. Come on, buck up or whatever.” Well, we all have memory of thosepainful early years and elation of those early years, the huge feeling, the Christmas morning is never the same from adult as it is to a child. The huge strong emotions and the show honored them and made them say, “Yes, this is valid , this is real, this happened.
So we all get to go back and say, “Oh, yes. I am validated.” As a child, I had these strong feelings and now I see that it mattered. I don’t think any other show had done that before and we got to be a part of something that was ground breaking and gave just a new perspective for people on their own childhood.
I think that’s why,for kids watching it, it mattered. For adults watching it, it mattered because we’ve all been …
Olivia d’Abo: We’re all there.
Danica McKellar: Yes, exactly. That’s just my long answer in that.
Alley Mills: I have one other answer, I totally agree with Danica about that and I think the fact that the format was in one half hour, a story was told that would make you laugh and at the end, always than I have watched it with my grand children recently, make you cry is another phenomenon that I think is why the show was so successful like a little more morality tale almost, every single week that again, transcended to be barriers somehow that could affect everybody as Danica just said young and old but also all walks of life were moved by this.
People that didn’t even speak English that watched it in different language. I think that’s another reason that it does hold up. My grand children of course like things that change every 15 seconds, “Boom, boom, boom, boom,” on their little iPads and stuff but they love the show. That moved me.
Olivia d’Abo: I think that’s also a really interesting point, Alley in terms of you see that your grand kids they like stuff that changes every … However, quickly because their generation is so used to that and I think that the positive thing about that generation now watching this show is that we can start to … Knowing that they would love the show as everybody else does, it can kind of rewire their mind a little bit to have the kind of concentration to actually get through an actual scene and be moved by it, which is very rare.
I think in the modern day world, that’s the thing that I think is really exciting and poignant and positive about it being released to this new generation of kids.
Danica McKellar: So you’re saying , it’s actually healthy for them.
Alley Mills: It’s healthy. Obviously, it’s healthy.
Danica McKellar: It’s healthy for [inaudible]
Alley Mills: It’s like a [inaudible] for … It’s almost like, I have taken the kids to the theater and they’re rapt. They sit there like, “Huh.” They didn’t know that they could concentrate without [inaudible] in the class but I think that it might have that effect on this new generation to just – tranquility of an actual human story which is getting lost.
Olivia d’Abo: Yeah.
Danica, you mentioned a lot of the universal themes and Kevin and Winnie taught so many of us about love, what have you learned from their relationship that helped you in your own relationships and how would you describe those relationship?
Alley Mills: Oh, girl. [crosstalk]
Danica McKellar: What did I learned about love from Kevin? Well, I remember thinking that when I had my first kiss … Yes, I had [inaudible] myself. I learned how to kiss. I learned that things aren’t straight forward. Things aren’t black and white. I am remembering in the second episode called Swringers and Kevin and Winnie go back to the same place where they had their first kiss but they don’t kiss, they set down and swing and they act like little kids again and he said that maybe, I remember just thinking about progress not being straight lined and sometimes, it’s … I don’t remember the quote. We can probably look at it, but it’s a great quote.
To be honest, I haven’t even seen this episode for probably 25 years but I still remember this moment of progress doesn’t always move forward sometimes we have to swing back and forth a little bit. That’s a beautiful and important message that relationships are not straight forward. They’re not black and white and that sometimes things don’t always going in a straight line. And that’s okay.
Love can be very confusing. The show was told from the point of view of Kevin though. So I also learned that women are fickle, and not to be understood. [inaudible] Which I though was a little strange since to me, we make perfect sense. But one thing I will say too is that not even so much me learning from Kevin and Winnie’s relationship.
Kevin and Winnie’s relationship was in some ways defined by my friendship with Fred and some of the things that we would say. The writers would actually take lines from things that we were saying to each other off camera. I am putting to the script. There’s this whole episode dedicated to, “Do you like him?” Or, “Do you like him like him?”
That was the expression that he and I used when we’re talking about some guy that I had a crush on in real life and then, it showed up on the script a few weeks later. There was a lot of blurred lines and oh, the other interesting thing is I broke up with my first boyfriend in real life about a week before we shot the episode where I have to break up with Kevin on the show.
It was fascinating how many parallels [inaudible] there were and real life informing TV, TV informing real life. It was fascinating.
I’ve been struck by the juxtaposition you were making a show about an era that was a couple of decades in the rear view. Now, we are celebrating the work that you did then looking back on that era and we’re about equal distant in time. I was just wondering if that …
Alley Mills: I know.
… Passage of time has colored your perspective of your personal experience with the show and the impact of the show. How it might have colored that?
Alley Mills: Well, I would say that yes, there’s no question that the time passage from the end of the show until now we’re in a different world to be honest with you than we were 20 years ago and we were in the different world when the show started like exactly what you’re saying, it’s a really good question. I love that question.
Alley Mills: I personally am very worried about the world. I worry about my grand children. It doesn’t do any good [inaudible] actually worry, but my heart is heavy for what they are facing. I wish I felt like it was a better world in some ways, there’s a lot more information and that’s really great and they’re incredibly smart, my grand children and that’s great but when I look at the media, the thing that I missed about the period of time that the Wonder Years was lucky enough to land in was we could actually have a little morality play for half an hour on network television.
They even put it on after the Super Bowl, the pilot which was incredible for a show that was so out of the box. This was not normal. No one had ever seen the comedy like this before. For Brandon [Stannard 00:58:02] at ABC to put it after the Super Bowl was a very bold move on his part. The time has made me really happy that they have decided that the Time Life put money behind putting these DVD’s out right now because a show like this, I don’t know if the network were pick it up which breaks my heart like the things that they’ve got.
Not only network television but all the cables [inaudible] and show time and everything. Some of them were smart but boy, are they mostly cynical and not things that I really want my grand children to be watching and the Wonder Years was a great thing. It wasn’t sentimental and it wasn’t sappy and it wasn’t stupid. It was smart but deep. It was funny but moving.
You learned something from every week about human nature and human life which was really rare. The longer we get away from it like you said, which I think is a fantastic question. For me, the more it packs, itstill packs its punch and I just really hope that a whole new generation of kids will be encouraged to watch it with their parents. That’s the other thing.
What on earth can you watch with your parents? My kids always say, “Want to watch this with me grandma,” and look at them like, “No. I can’t,” I want to do things with them. I go to the zoo with them and I’ll read with them. I don’t want to watch TV with them, what they watch. I don’t like it.
It’s so rare to have a show and I don’t know what it would be today. I can’t think of one that you could watch with your parents or your grandparents. That’s the major thing about the time passage and you’re right that even then when we were doing the show, it was probably years before or actually 68 [inaudible]. Yeah, at 80 almost. It was a 20-year thing back and [inaudible].
I think I’m just stuck with line, because I got an echo here and maybe you can say something.
Olivia d’Abo: You know what? I think that Alley answered the question just beautifully and really succinctly. I think there’s this disarming quality that the show has whether you followed it since the very first episode where Winnie’s brother dies and just that pilot episode, I don’t think could have been conveyed in a more brilliant way but I think again, the word disarming and nostalgic just comes to mind.
I think even if you’re so young that you don’t quite know what that means. It’s something that you feel. It’s this role of immediate experience that you have when you watch this episode and I was really so profoundly affected recently through watching about 12 of the episodes that started back [inaudible] just to recap before our reunion and I was just amazed at the consistency of all these characters and how they grew and they blossom through each and every year that we covered.
Notably, there was very little that was left out. I think that we got all the great aspects, the positive and the negative aspects that happened during the duration of that time from the 60’s into the 70’s and what transpired with the country. It’s a history lesson to me as an actress, I can sit there and put the show on and teach my 18-year old, “Look, this is the way America used to be and this is something to be very, very proud of. Just look at this world with electricity and what was going on politically and what was going on socially and how the genesis of so many things that were born out of that time I think were documented brilliantly on the show.”
It’s almost like the way Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a history lesson for young kids. I feel comparatively for television, the Wonder Year is a history lesson for young people in television. I am very, very proud of that and as an actor, I feel just incredibly honored to have been part of that because it’s a huge contribution.
Alley Mills: Here, I just want to add one thing and I don’t know how many reporters are left listening other than Chip, but Olivia has just mentioned StarVista. I just wanted to say one thing because I don’t know how many family does reporters no this but the reason that we couldn’t have DVD’s until now, the reason has been this 20-year of passage just because the music in the show is so important and in that role and phenomenal.
Star Vista was the only company that came up with doing these DVD’s with that music in it which we are so incredibly indebted to them for it was very expensive. We did not secure the rest of the music, I don’t know why ABC didn’t do that but they didn’t. That’s why we haven’t had DVD’s and why this generation wasn’t able to access them. I just wanted to say that and thanks to them because of them, we are able to have this roll out and somebody was asking a question of what would we get in the set and everything.
That’s the major reason that it’s been so incredibly expensive to do the DVD’s and the cast and everybody is just so incredibly grateful that they’re doing this. I just wanted to add that at the end.
Olivia d’Abo: Yeah.
Alley Mills: Yeah. You just asked me that, I wasn’t going to say anything. Yeah, my heart was really full right now. The question was did it change our lives? Yeah. In such an incredibly profound way, I think we were both so grateful to have been a part of something that Neil and Carol conceived – that brilliant people were involved in executing and such phenomenal kids … I likened it to somebody, I think and I don’t remember, to the signing of the declaration of independence.
How did all those founding fathers happen to be on this planet at the same time and make that constitution blows my mind. Well, I feel as an actor that kind of gratitude for being at something that’s iconic, I just do. I feel it every day. I feel really grateful. I never feel bothered when a fan comes up to me ever about the Wonder Years.
It’s just different because it was such a deep thing and I know that when people come to ask me something, it’s because they’re lives were moved for various reasons depending on what the episode was. I would like to just add that that I carry that gratitude in my heart everyday and I am so excited that a whole new, not only this generation of people will be able to see it but then they will be able to have it because my [inaudible]
I have a [inaudible] of all the VCR and they’re terrible. They’re all broken up right now because it’s been so long and they don’t last, but these will last. [inaudible]Do you want to say something, sweetheart?
Olivia d’Abo: Yeah. I have a lot of gratitude and it’s just a very, very special time in my life. This will be kind of re-immersing itself and to be reconnecting with Alley who I love and adoreand I don’t see often enough but it’s like we pick up where we left off, there’s a kindred spirit thing that I can’t even explain Its just super, super special as well as the rest of the cast members and just the [inaudible] who runs all this. These are such, such hardworking exceptionally committed people who clearly are so passionate about the show and it’s evident in every single year book that I signed and that Alley is about to sign the 500 beautiful maroon year books in front of us as we speak.
They had their work cut out for them and they’re doing incredible things and I am so grateful for them for bringing this all together and doing this, properly presenting this to the world in a very timely manner, I think that the world really needs it so that we can have that sense of love in our hearts that maybe missing a little bit in the world right now. but again, great writing, great performances and something to be very, very proud of as being an American.
I think we need to put the pride back into this country. I think this is a really great example of how we’re doing so.