On 'Girl Meets World,' Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel meet parenting

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Image Credit: Eric McCandless/DISNEY CHANNEL

It’s a rehearsal day on the Girl Meets World set. Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel have traded the polished working-adult garb they wear on taping days in favor of casual, loose-fitting T-shirts. They have gathered in Savage’s dressing room for their interview, and though they play the parents on Disney’s upcoming Boy Meets World spin-off, sitting side-by-side cross-legged on the floor, they look just as youthful as when viewers first watched them on the small screen in 1993.

And, as the pair, both 33, explain in their sit-down with EW ahead of the show’s June 27 premiere, little has changed since then too. Oh, except they’re parents now.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What are you working on today? Last time I was here, you had dried milk on your face.
BEN SAVAGE (Cory Matthews):
Cereal! Well, this episode is Riley’s first date, and it’s sort of the parents — really Cory — terrified that his daughter is going on her first date. It’s basically how he’s handling it and then the date, and then Topanga’s character is a lot cooler and a lot more confident and happy.
DANIELLE FISHEL (Topanga Matthews): Yeah, all season long, the kids have been a foursome. They’re a group. But there are obvious flirtations between our daughter and her crush Lucas (Peyton Meyer). It’s the end of seventh grade, and people are starting to show an interest in coupling up. So this episode is really about Lucas getting up the nerve to ask Riley (Rowan Blanchard) out on a date, and it is Riley dealing with her first foray into a real adult situation like dating.

Neither of you are parents, but has working on the show taught you anything about parenting?
SAVAGE: Oh, yeah. I can’t speak for Danielle, but this is our 20th episode at this point, and I feel like we have become this mini-family. Rowen and Auggie, who plays our son, have become like these children of ours that I feel protective of and really, really care about them deeply. I feel like I’ve picked up parental qualities as the show has gone on and progressed. And I think I’ll continue to do that.
FISHEL: Absolutely. And I think there are things that I wasn’t even aware I would feel so strongly about that I now suddenly feel very, very strongly about. And it does have to do with the protection of them. And I feel like because I’m a woman, I feel especially protective of the girls. I’m protective of them in several different ways. I want them to be smart and well-rounded and have interests and goals and aspirations and also be supported and supportive of each other. And I try to encourage that in my personal life and lead by example. And I think, luckily, the Topanga character is a perfect example of that. So I try to, in my personal life, the way I would want the girls to behave and be represented is how I’m trying to represent myself as well.

Who’s the cooler parent?
SAVAGE: Me.
FISHEL: [Laughs] You’re definitely the most fun parent.
SAVAGE: I agree with that. Wait, you mean on TV or in life?

On TV. But you can tell me real life too.
SAVAGE: Cory is terrified of his daughter dating. I think Topanga is a little more OK with it. I think. At least this week. But Cory always never wanted anything to change ever. He’s very happy with Topanga as his wife and two kids. So my character, since 1993, has never been comfortable with change. And he wanted this girl and he wanted her pretty much since day one. There were little bumps in the road, and I think he’s very happy, sitting at home, playing board games in pajamas, ordering in food and going to bed early. And that’s just Cory. He likes thing settled and perfect and tied up in a nice little bow. So [the episode we're filming today] is a challenge for him, because it’s a change and his daughter is getting older and it’s something he doesn’t want to accept. I think that’s something, again, that a lot of dads go through.

Danielle, what’s changed about Ben since Boy Meets World ended and Girl Meets World began?
FISHEL: Well, Ben has always had an amazing sense of humor and can make anything — in real life or on television — that seems benign, Ben can make funny. We’ve had conversations about coffee pots where I felt like I was laughing so hard my stomach hurt. And there’s nothing funny about a coffee pot. It’s the way he can talk about a coffee pot. He can talk about anything and make you laugh. But I think when he was younger, there was that sense of humor but maybe with a little less focus because he was a kid. And we all had that because we were kids. Ben now is incredibly focused and has a very good vision for what he wants to see this show become and has a good vision for the entire show’s trajectory. And I think he’s constantly in line with that and that’s one of the things I value the most.
SAVAGE: Thanks.

Ben, same question.
SAVAGE: [Deep breath] I mean, she’s a very… [exhales]
FISHEL: [Laughs]
SAVAGE: I mean, how do you sum up a person in one question? I don’t know. This has been my best friend since 1993. There was a period where we lost touch because the show was off the air for 13 years, but I think she’s an extremely strong and confident woman and really has a strong sense of what she believes in — what’s right and what’s wrong. And I admire that. I don’t know if that’s “change” though. She’s always been like that. I think she’s always been a great person. Someone was saying to me the other day, “Danielle has always been wonderful.” I think I was talking to my dad.
FISHEL: Awww!
SAVAGE: I think she came over and said hi to him. But she’s always been wonderful. She’s always been a sweet person.
FISHEL: Your parents sent me an email on my birthday. Did I tell you that? I thought that was the sweetest thing ever.
SAVAGE: Yeah, and you replied.
FISHEL: Yes, of course I replied! [Laughs]
SAVAGE: So, anyway, I kind of resent the question.
FISHEL: [Laughs]
SAVAGE: [Deadpan] So get the hell out. But, no, I would say Danielle’s always been wonderful, and she’s grown into a confident and remarkable woman, and I like watching her continue to grow and continue to become more confident, if that’s possible. She’s funny, she’s talented. I don’t know. I just directed her in an episode, and whenever Danielle was on set or in a scene, I relaxed. I could breathe a sigh of relief.
FISHEL: That’s nice.
SAVAGE: I knew that the scene was immediately going to go perfect.
FISHEL: Thank you.
SAVAGE: Not that it wasn’t going perfect without her.
FISHEL: [Laughs]

Whenever I talk to actors who work together very closely — especially ones who are dating or married on screen — they say it’s like a marriage. You learn what makes the other person tick and their beats while acting. But do you ever get on each other’s nerves?
SAVAGE: Never. We work together very closely all day. But I know Danielle very well. [Laughs] And she knows me very well. We’re two strong personalities, but I think we jell together very well.
FISHEL: Ben and I can spot instantly — without even having to say a word — I can look at Ben first thing in the morning whether he is in a positively shiny, happy mood or whether there are some things on his mind. And he’s the exact same way with me. And the good thing is we know these things about each other but we also know whether it’s a mood where it’s good to implore and try to drag stuff out of each other. “Let’s talk about something.” Or if it’s a mood and you need to give that person some space.
SAVAGE: [Begins ripping apart a plastic six-pack ring from a package of diet soda]
FISHEL: We, for the most part, handle that very well. We do work very closely together. [She looks at him, puzzled] And other than a director, we’re the only two adults on set, and sometimes when you’re two adults and working with seven children…
SAVAGE: …and really it’s just Danielle who’s the adult.
FISHEL: It feels like that sometimes, sure.
SAVAGE: He says, playing with the Diet Coke thing. Sorry.

You’re just thinking about the seagulls and the fish.
SAVAGE: I don’t want those dolphins to get hurt.

You were saying…
FISHEL: I think that’s important. We need each other and we need to be on the same team. And one of the first conversations we had when we knew we were coming back to do this was a discussion about from here on out — we’ve always been a duo — but we really solidified that we were equal partners and if we feel differently about something, we will have a discussion about it and come to a mutual agreement in whatever way it is.
SAVAGE: In other words, she’s always right.
FISHEL: [Laughs]
SAVAGE: [Jokingly mocks her] [Growls]
FISHEL: [In robust voice] Maaannnnn. [Laughs]
SAVAGE: But, no, she’s right.
FISHEL: [Laughs]
SAVAGE: No, really, she’s always right. You know what’s interesting? We get passionate about very distinct, different things. So when she’s passionate about something, I’m like, “It’s all you.” And when I’m passionate about something, she’s like, “It’s all you.” So it works out really well. I don’t care about things she’s passionate about, and she doesn’t care about things I’m passionate about.
FISHEL: [Laughs]
SAVAGE: “I don’t care!”
FISHEL: He has said that to me! I’m very riled up about something, and he’s like, “You know, I really, I don’t have an opinion. So, yes, with what you’re saying.”
SAVAGE: If Danielle Fishel is in your…
FISHEL: …face…
SAVAGE: …and passionately saying something and you don’t have an opinion, what are you going to say? “No”? No, you say “sure.” “I don’t think this should be this!” “OK!”
FISHEL: [Laughs]
SAVAGE: Not that she yells. But look, we’re actors. We’re artists. At the end of the day, we’re artists and have grown up as artists. That’s how we live our lives. Danielle — as I am — is a very emotional, passionate, sensitive person. And Danielle really feels life. She’s a canvas every morning and things are thrown at her and it’s how she handles it. She feels things. And I respect her as an artist and a person.
FISHEL: And likewise.
SAVAGE: I think we know how to work with each other well and really trust each other’s opinion….
FISHEL: Can I make one point about this episode? One of the things I was thinking of as we were talking about parenting and different styles of parenting. I think a good way of summing up our different styles of parenting — so that we’re talking specifically about this episode, it’s a first date episode
SAVAGE: Cory and Topanga or Ben and Danielle?
FISHEL: Cory and Topanga.
SAVAGE: Got it.
FISHEL: Cory wants to avoid all situations where there is potential risk for anything happening.
SAVAGE: [Chuckles]
FISHEL: Topanga is very much of the mind-set of “I trust my child because I’ve raised them well.” And so I feel more comfortable letting them possibly make a mistake when I know the outcome when they make that mistake is going to be “I recognize it’s a mistake and I’ve learned from it.” So Topanga is more ready and willing to let her child into the world and trust that there may be mistakes that were made, but she will always come back to what’s right. Whereas Cory is “hide her under a blanket, let’s protect her from the risks of the world.” So in this episode, I don’t think Topanga is more ready or more excited or more lackadaisical about her daughter going on a date, I think she’s just more willing to let her start experience life, and he wants to shelter her from it.
SAVAGE: Cory is risk-averse. Topanga [thinks there will] be ups and downs and she experiences life. But that’s how the character of Topanga has always been.
FISHEL: It’s what makes them a good pair — one of the things. They balance each other out.

Girl Meets World debuts June 27 on the Disney Channel.

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