Danielle Fishel’s first day as Topanga Lawrence was almost her last. During a recent episode of the “Pod Meets World” podcast, hosts Fishel, Rider Strong and Will Friedle, were joined by director David Trainer to look back on “Boy Meets World.”
After Fishel first auditioned for the role on the ABC sitcom, she never received a callback. However, when the original actor didn’t work out, Trainer asked Fishel to read for the part again.
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Fishel received the call on a Friday night that she got the part and had to be on set on Monday as Topanga. At 12 years old, she spoke very fast, something she worked hard on all day during rehearsals, until it was time for producer run through with the show’s creator, Michael Jacobs.
“I had never been a part of his marathon notes session. This was my first one because it was my very fist week,” Fishel said. “Michael starts off the notes by saying, ‘Danielle, I’m going to give you your notes all at one time, at the end and I’m going to give everyone else their notes now, because if I made everyone sit here through all of the notes I had for you, we would all be here for hours and no one would ever get to go home. So you’re just going to wait for the end.’ From that moment on, my eyes welled up because you know, I’m now in front of everybody — all the producers, all the writers, all the cast and all eyes are on me for a second.”
After Jacobs finished with all the others’ notes, he called Fishel’s mother down from the audience to join the two of them at a table on set.
“He went through every single one of my lines and what he wanted and what I wasn’t doing right and how slow I needed to talk,” she recalled, noting that she’s sweating now, nearly 30 years later, while talking about it. “What I know specifically was said is, ‘All I know is, if you don’t come back tomorrow doing this entirely differently, you are also not going to be here,’ referencing the girl I had replaced.”
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Afterward, Fishel and her mother went through every single line until the middle of the night.
Following the story, Trainer chimed in. “I worked for Michael for years on multiple shows. This is a hateful story,” he says. “There’s many wonderful things about him, but there’s hateful things. This is one. To hear this, you’re sweating? I’m really pissed. It’s enough to make me want to sign off of this podcast. I don’t want to be associated with anything that guy is associated with. This is just not how you do things. I’m glad it became a hit, but this is disgusting.”
He continued, “Everybody who worked with Michael understood, implicitly or explicitly, whenever Michael lurched to one side of the boat, everybody went to the other side to keep it from going under … The job was — and that’s why I hated it ultimately — was to do your job but to also prevent swamping and drowning.”
While Fishel really wanted to “get it right,” she admitted she wasn’t focused on perfecting the part, but instead on making Jacobs happy. “That’s the problem for me, that’s what I remember feeling. That’s what I don’t think is healthy,” Strong said, as Friedle agreed.
The next day, Fishel remembered, Jacobs stood up and said, “Let’s give Danielle a round of applause, you did exactly what I asked of you. Thank you, thank you. Congratulations, it was wonderful.”
“He gave me some praise about some specific things and then, he started notes. There were no more threats of being fired, I had done the work and I had shown him that I was worthy,” she said. “It totally sets up that you go after that every week. You’re chasing the dragon of Michael approval.”
Friedle noted: “He set it up in such a way that for now when he gives you the standing ovation, it’s like the sun is shining on you. It had nothing to do with your acting. It was just, make Michael feel good.'”
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