Alley Mills, Olivia d’Abo & Danica McKellar – Looking Back in Wonder
by Jay S. Jacobs
On January 31, 1988, just moments after Washington killed Denver in Super Bowl XXII, ABC aired the premiere of a new little series about suburban life in the 1960s.
The Wonder Years broke a lot of rules in television, and wrote many to come. It was a comedy, but it was also often quite dramatic. It was a single camera show filmed on a soundstage in Culver City, California, in which they created a dream suburbia of the end of American innocence.
The Wonder Years was created by Neal Marlens and Carol Black. It was the story of Kevin Arnold, played by Fred Savage, who grew from twelve to eighteen years old right before our eyes. Kevin lived in a generic American suburb (very pointedly, the show never said where it took place) during the late 60s and early 70s.
His father Jack (Dan Lauria) was a low-level business exec, mom Norma (Alley Mills) was a stay at home mom. Kevin had two older siblings, a beautiful teenaged hippie sister Karen (Olivia d’Abo) and the bane of his existence, his obnoxious brother Wayne (Jason Hervey). His best friend was the nerdy, hyper-allergic Paul Pfeiffer (Josh Saviano). The girl-next-door was Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar): his first crush, first love, first heartbreak and eventually the one who got away.
The Wonder Years took us through this entire stage Kevin’s life: through junior high and high school, first love and first heartbreak, early jobs, Vietnam and moon shots, his first color TV, and all the other suburban milestones.
After it’s post-Super Bowl launch, the show became a smash success. It was not just popularity, the first six episodes of the first mini-season were as close to perfect as television comes. In fact the first for seasons were quite extraordinary and The Wonder Years was a huge hit during that time. During the last couple of seasons, the quality and the popularity waned a bit, but even in those years there were some wonderful episodes. When the final two episodes aired back-to-back on May 12, 1993, all of America tuned in for the bittersweet farewell to the shows and the characters.
For well over a decade now, The Wonder Years has been hovering right at the top of the public’s wish list of TV series that should be released on home video. However, due to the massive amount of music used on the show, licensing fees proved prohibitive, making it impossible to release at a reasonable cost.
Finally, StarVista, a division of Time-Life, has worked out the legal machinations and has put together a deluxe box set of the entire series of The Wonder Years, complete with multiple extras and a cool school locker packaging. Due to the licensing costs and the massive amount of content (six seasons on 26 disks), the set is a little pricey, but for a Wonder Years fanatic who has been salivating for this release for years, it’s worth every penny. For the more budget conscious, individual seasons will be released down the line.
We recently had the opportunity to take part in an hour-long media conference call with the women of The Wonder Years. (Danica McKellar had to leave about halfway through because her son had a doctor’s appointment.) Here’s what McKellar, Olivia d’Abo and Alley Mills had to say about life on the iconic series and the excitement of it finally reaching home video.
How did the time period add to 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: 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. The 60’s were so important in this show. I had the great honor of teaching all of it to Olivia, who kept going that she was the big hippie. I went, “We need to talk.” I got her 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 of the 60’s. I think the whole point of The Wonder Years 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. It was at that very time that the whole country began to feel the pain of the war and the ramifications of that whole joyous movement. The period was everything about our show. That was what for me gave it all the beauty.
Danica McKellar: 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 huge things going on in the world. Then, what seemed like a huge things going on to a couple of kids. Their whole life revolved around whether or not they’re about to have their first kiss. Of course, Winnie Cooper’s brother died in Vietnam at the beginning of the show, but he could have died from anything. It’s loss and these very universal things that happen in every time period, which is why I think people can relate to the show even if they didn’t experience the 60’s.
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. My character interacted with school. Interacted with Kevin Arnold and Paul Pfeiffer. Dealt with things that are absolutely universal. Does this guy like me or not? Am I popular? Doing well in school. All those things. My parents in the show separated. Things that happened at any time.
Alley Mills: Except for go-go boots.
Danica McKellar: I had to wear this pants for the second episode with the flowers in all of them. I was horrified. I hated them like no other pair of pants that I ever wore in my whole life.
Olivia d’Abo: And the pink dress. The pink dress with the go-go boots.
Danica McKellar: That, I liked. I like that outfit.
Olivia d’Abo: Yes. I did too.
Danica McKellar: I love it, but the second episode, I had to wear this awful pants.
Olivia d’Abo: I wonder where it is today.
Danica McKellar: I don’t know. That little dress. Probably some warehouse somewhere.
Olivia d’Abo: No. These two have enamored me so much. I forgot the question you asked…
Danica McKellar: Yeah. How did the period affect the show?
Olivia d’Abo: Alley and Dan luckily lived through the 60’s. I think still to this day, everybody I know – including myself – feels like it was the most pivotal, incredibly exciting, electric time that we’ve had. Probably compared to the renaissance. The period for my character… she was a teenager. She was burst into this incredible time where she was experiencing free love. Tuning in and tuning out. 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 period. I studied. Luckily, I was able to watch it on video. A decade of shows called The Fabulous Sixties, which basically covered Woodstock and every year that transpired between 60 to 1970. I got really a very thorough education. I spent an entire summer with an acting coach of mine at the time at the Actor’s Center. I just studied. It was like going to college for the 60’s. Then, I read Letters to Vietnam, which was incredibly moving. It was a really palpable experience for me because 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. Immersed myself in music that Alley was kind enough to [give me]. She was a huge anchor for me, by the time I met her and got on set. She was actually a lot like Karen was. It was …
Alley Mills: (jokes) Yeah, we took LSD together.
Olivia d’Abo: Yeah, exactly. (laughs) It was just great to have that camaraderie. To shoot things off in terms of being able to say, “Am I off here? Am I in the right zone?” We had some improvisational stuff which we got to do luckily within the first season where there were no words but clearly the camera was on Fred and there was Daniel Stern’s narration. Those are some really pivotal times where we got the time to explore terrain that was without words but very much about the vibe of the period and the emotion behind [it].
Like when Karen disappears and goes to Woodstock and the car breaks down. Then, there’s a scene between myself and Alley and Dan. Kevin is watching and getting to know Karen a little bit better. Seeing a very different side of her. It was beautiful that those kinds of things were able to be explored without dialogue. Just the fact that we are characters who develop and well established by that stage. We all loved each other so much and work so well off of each other that we just let it rip and worked 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. They are a part of our DNA at this point. Yes, definitely.
Danica McKellar: Well, every day somebody recognizes one of us on the street. Every day we get to be that character in some form. We get to see people’s looks on their faces. They 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. They’re both nodding right now.
Was this really a life changing job? There’s many acting job that are just acting jobs, but this is something that really sticks. It’s one of those things that’s not just temporary.
Olivia d’Abo: Yes. I think that every actor’s dream. Every artists’s dream. You want to be part of something that’s cyclical. That comes around every 20 years. That makes you feel like all of the hard work that you’ve been putting into your craft is actually paying off. Hopefully you get into it to really have a purpose and address something out there in the world that’s 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. It’s sort of bitter sweet, but there was a lesson in every show that stuck with everybody. When you watch it today, it resonates even more. 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. (They all laugh.)
Olivia d’Abo: Good answer.
Alley Mills: This is not an answer to the character question but to did it change us? Working on a show, I think it’s very rare. I am the oldest at the group. Once you’ve been around the block, you can see what things resonate. What things resonates and what things stick in the hearts of people. The thing that this show did… 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.
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 “S” word because I am sitting here with two young girls… but luckier than anything to be part of that?
Olivia d’Abo: Lucky as shit? I’m sorry, I said it. (They all laugh again.)
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 eight-year old Hispanic kids on the street in LA who get to watch this show. I am so thrilled that now, my grand children [can see it], 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. I think the show is always going to just have that human link that make shows magic. And make them 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 a 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 six takes. The reason I think is of course is in the writing. Why did the show make such a splash? Why did it resonate 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. Most TV shows up until that point were all about parents and the kids were there too. This is the first show that have the narration. You got inside the mind and a heart of the small child. I don’t think that it had been done yet. When we’re little, we all have huge emotions. 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.” We all have memory of those painful early years and the elation of those early years. The huge feelings. Christmas morning is never the same from adult as it is to a child. The huge strong emotions. The show honored them and made [people] 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. We got to be a part of something that was ground breaking and gave a new perspective for people on their own childhood. I think that’s why, for kids watching, it mattered. For adults watching it, it mattered. Because we’ve all been …
Alley Mills: We’ve all been 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. 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 when I have watched it with my grandchildren recently, make you cry. [It] is another phenomenon that I think is why the show was so successful. Like a little morality tale almost, every single week. [It] transcended barriers somehow that could affect everybody, as Danica just said, young and old. 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 grandchildren 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: That’s a really interesting point, Alley, in terms of what you see that your grandkids. They like stuff that changes quickly, because their generation is so used to that. I think that the positive thing about that generation now watching this show is knowing that they would love the show as everybody else does. It can 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. In the modern day world, that’s the thing that I think is really exciting and poignant and positive about it being re-released for 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 their brain development.
Alley Mills: It’s like a Mulligan Stew 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 for that long in the quiet. It might have that effect on this new generation – [the] tranquility of an actual human story, which is getting lost.
Danica, you mentioned a lot of the universal themes. 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 their relationship?
Alley Mills: Oh, girl. She wears go-go boots.
Danica McKellar: What did I learn about love? Well, I had my first kiss. Yes, I had my first kiss on the show. 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 “Swingers.” Kevin and Winnie go back to the same place where they had their first kiss. But they don’t kiss, they sit down and swing and they act like little kids again. 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, 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. Relationships are not straight forward. They’re not black and white. Sometimes things don’t always go in a straight line. And that’s okay. That’s okay.
Love can be very confusing. (laughs) 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. (laughs again) Which I thought was a little strange since to me, we make perfect sense. 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 and put it in 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. Then it showed up on the script a few weeks later. There was a lot of blurred lines. 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 there were. Real life informing TV. TV informing real life. It was fascinating.
Have you watched it with your fiancé now and have you guys discussed that?
Danica McKellar: No. I have not watched the show with my fiancé. We know when it comes out on DVD, when we get the box set, I’m sure we’ll pull out much of the episodes.
Danica, I read you and your sister were both auditioning for the role Winnie Cooper. What was that like?
Danica McKellar: Yeah. Actually, in fact, we didn’t just both audition for the character of Winnie Cooper. It came down to the two of us. I still remember that audition. We kept going on and there were fewer and fewer girls in the room. Then we’d go back in again and there were three of us. Then, there was just the two of us. They told my mom, “Look, we’re going to cast Danica because she’s a little older and there’s a kiss in it, but we love Crystal so much we want to write a part for her if this goes to series.” The other interesting thing is that Winnie Cooper was not supposed to be a series regular. We didn’t know that we are competing for a life-changing role. It was just a guest spot on the pilot.
That was helpful because then, it wasn’t such a big deal. It was just a one-time guest role. As it turned out, midway through shooting the pilot, they asked if we would sign the series contract, which is really exciting. By then, Crystal knew that they were going to be writing a part for her and they did. She ended up doing nine episodes. She played Becky Slater and it all worked out. She’s a lawyer now, no longer acting and I am, so it all worked out. She’s making all the money.
There were so many topics discussed and played out on this series? Was there a one that you wish that they would have tackled or maybe something that they touched on and you wish maybe would have been gone into a little bit deeper?
Alley Mills: You want to take that?
Olivia d’Abo: It’s interesting. It’s hard to think, because there were so many topics. I can’t think of one topic that wasn’t tackled other than gay marriage. That’s a great question. I think Alley and I … we’re letting things percolate here to see if we can …
It was just such a topical time.
Olivia d’Abo: Can you think of anything? Is there anything that you think you would have like to have seen that maybe we can nod our heads and agree with? I know that there was a lot of stuff covered with the family and there was a lot of stuff clearly with the kids… Josh and Fred and Danica. That stuff was really golden. Danica has so eloquently answered a little while ago that you really got a perspective of what it was like for kids that you hadn’t really gotten before on the television show. What they were really experiencing in a very real and personal way.
Personally one of my favorite stepping stones was with Norma and Jack. When you got to dive in to their relationship as baby boomers. I would have like to have seen topically a little bit more explore about what happened with their relationship a little bit more. I found that just as interesting and I am sure other people would have as well.
I am trying to remember what the episode was, it was “Pottery.” It’s just brilliant moment in that scene where Norma and Jack are at the kitchen sink. Karen and Kevin and Wayne, we look at them and it’s this momentous occasion where as their kids we get to see how truly in love they are. How there is this that wonderful softness and vulnerability in the relationship which you otherwise really… I don’t know if it was explored as much on the show.
I would have like to have seen that more just because it was so tender and so sweet. You really get in those moments. We got to see a few of them on the show but maybe not as many as I would have like to see why they are really together. Why they’re so solid. And I think why they raise their kids the way they do. The togetherness of them as a team.
Alley Mills: I think actually that “Pottery” episode was the only episode where you saw us fighting. Honestly in life, that happens more than once in a seven and a half period. Where a child walks through a door, or in this case, Fred was in the living room down the hall and heard us having a huge argument. It was about my ashtray but it was really about his jealousy of my taking a pottery class and being out of the house and not just being his wife. I think like Olivia just said, they could have done more about the intricacies of an adult relationship seen again by the eyes of a young boy, a ten-year old boy. I don’t know if that answers your question.
Why do you think there isn’t yet a show that conveys the moment in time in the early 2000 starting with when we all saw the planes at the Twin Tower on September 11th. Do you think that concept would work for a show today?
Alley Mills: Look, can I clarify your question? Are you saying the actual 9/11 experience and that whole concept of America being vulnerable to outside forces?
With The Wonder Years, it’s a snapshot of what life was like then at that age. For me, I was at high school when everything happened in 2001. It doesn’t seem like an era yet that can really be captured the way the 60’s were when you were from the show in the 80’s or like the 90’s or now or the 70’s or the 80’s are.
Olivia d’Abo: I think we’re probably a little bit of a ways out before we can tap into that in hindsight and have a really clear view. Translating it appropriately. People are still quite sensitive about it. I think it’s just a question of… I mean we’re in the tweens again which is really crazy.
Alley Mills: I think it’s a really good question, because in the same way that when Vietnam started because I was alive and 18. That war for the first time came into the American public’s living room, which is very much what The Wonder Years were based on. How it’s just the end of an innocent period. I think the fact that our country was invaded for the first time in your childhood is a very important issue. How it’s affected your generation would be a great show. I don’t know why they haven’t done it.
The jury may still be out in terms of how it has affected you, because I feel as a grown up now that there’s a cynicism in my grandchildren’s generation that I don’t like. They’re younger than you, but one of them is 17. I am worried about how removed we are from the effects of that act. Everybody remembers that day, the same way that I remember the Kennedy assassination and I remember Vietnam, both the invasion and as people were being lifted out and the people left behind.
It’s a crucial thing about this country and that we’re now not the safe country that’s got water all around it that we used to be. I think the ramifications of that on your generation would be a great show… but I haven’t seen it either. (laughs) I am not in love with a lot of television right now, to be totally honest with you. That’s why I’m so happy that this DVD is coming out, because I am not in love with a lot of what my grandchildren are watching.
Is there anything throughout your years working on the show you were surprised to learn about yourselves as actresses that you’ve carried with you?
Alley Mills: Well, I’ll start with that, because, yes, for me for sure. I had never played a house wife. I was shocked when they cast me as Norma Arnold. (laughs) I was not married. I did not have children. I was Karen in my youth. I was a hippie. In the business, I played tough single women up until that point. I’d done ten other series that hadn’t lasted like The Wonder Years, but I was always a rebel character. (laughs again) They told me to put on a shirt waist and Keds and pearls and keep your smarts to yourself. It was a great experience for me. I fell in love with this woman whose priority was her family, not herself.
I had always looked down on that. My mother was a feminist, and a divorcée and worked. Very smart. She went to Vassar. She was always, “Be independent and work.” But I grew and have so much admiration for that generation of women who carried their family on their backs and who didn’t complain, but weren’t weak either. At all. Just kept their strength inside and put other people first. I ended up not being a feminist. I’m in love with those women and have said so all across the country as Norma for the past whatever it’s been now, almost 30 years.
Olivia d’Abo: She’s the best. Amazing. I knew it really. It’s a very interesting question. This whole experience of the DVD coming out and me re-engaging again with the show. Watching these shows that completely hold up. My son loves the show. You can put it on with anybody. It’s rare that you can do that. Interestingly enough, whenever I do put the show on, the first thing my son says is, “You know mom, you’re just like Karen. That’s so you.” I’m still like that. That being said, while doing the show – just in terms of wanting to keep up my chops and I wasn’t necessarily in every single episode – I did go out and do other roles. Explore and experiment. What’s interesting is there’s certain parts that come about in your youth, if you’re very lucky, that are as well written as Karen was. Or as Norma was. All the characters that were involved in The Wonder Years.
Again, I have to go back to the writing, but the casting was just so incredibly well thought out. The way that Carol [Black] and Neal [Marlens] just knew what people to put in these roles. That also has a lot to do with the sustainability of the show. Like I said to Alley now, she is just still exactly the same person that she was. A lot of the qualities that are so quintessentially Alley are in Norma, though interestingly enough, she wasn’t cast in roles like Norma.
I wouldn’t think that I would have been cast in a role like Karen. But when I read it, it was like, “This is my role.” I knew it was meant for me. Now that I look back and I have played villains, I’ve played nerds, I’ve played sexpots, I’ve played mothers. I play mothers now. I always track The Wonder Years and compare it in terms of what a high barometer was set for the kind of work that we did.
It’s hard. After doing something that are so brilliantly put together and has that kind of sustainability and has such a profound effect on others, as well as yourself. It’s really hard to go out and do crap. (Alley laughs.) You just can’t. I’d rather wait tables, quite honestly. Because you’ve made your mark. I’ve been very privileged to go off and be on Broadway. I got to do The Odd Couple with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. That’s the kind of stuff that I compare to The Wonder Years. Being on stage and having that amazing chemistry with such great actors.
It’s a pale comparison amongst the stuff that’s out there. The kind of roles. You really have to seek them out, lift up rocks and dig to find something that even compares. In my life as an actress, I am happy to be engaged in it now and say, “Yep, she was a really smart, strong minded, pig headed, stubborn, sensual, fearless woman, young woman.” I challenge myself to continue to hold that up in the roles that I continue to play.
Alley Mills: I just want to share one story of when I met Olivia.
Olivia d’Abo: (laughs) Oh, please, no! You’re going to tell the bra one.
Alley Mills: I know it. We both auditioned together. Here comes this gorgeous young girl, really skinny in these blue jeans and a piece of silk on the front. And nothing in the back, but a string. Because I could see the string, [I knew] she had no bra on. I was already in the room. I had already read with Danica. In she comes and she’s got these lovely 15-year old breasts and – not small. Because I was in my shirt with dress and Keds that they told me to wear, I turned bright red. (They both laugh.) I started laughing. I couldn’t stop and I couldn’t speak!
They just went, “Okay, that’s it.” I think we were cast literally from that moment of chemistry. She completely shocked me. (They laugh harder.) I felt like a housewife. I had never felt that way. I didn’t think you could shock me! But I’ll never forget that as long as I live.
Olivia d’Abo: Anyway.
I think we’re all huge fans of the show obviously. I am very, very excited to finally get to see this out in DVD, but my question is the price for the DVD is like $250. Can you talk a little bit about what extras we get in this DVD experience?
Alley Mills: Well, I don’t know if you know this, but we all just got together a couple of weeks ago and there’s hours and hours and hours…
Olivia d’Abo: 23 hours of bonus features on 26 of the DVDs.
Alley Mills: … They came to our homes…
Olivia d’Abo: (reads off from list of extras) “Two notebooks with detailed episode information, production photos, a replica yearbook with behind-the-scenes photos and signatures by the cast and crew. Custom Wonder Years magnets to decorate your locker!” How’s that?
Alley Mills: No, but honestly speaking from my point of view, other than the things that you get – we’re now sitting here right now signing the year books, which are filled with all kinds of memorabilia and stuff. These interviews I think are going to be for fans of the show, really at trip. It was so great to see everybody again. I hadn’t seen some of the cast members for I think, 16 years. Since we’ve seen each other once.
Olivia d’Abo: At the Writer’s Guild event.
Alley Mills: But what’s happened to their lives? Their experiences of the show behind the scenes. They’ve interviewed our writers, our producers. Skip Cook, who was everybody’s favorite person on the crew. I think that of all the things is going to be the richest thing for people to see because it’s been amazing for me to see what I’ve been able to see so far. Does that answer your question?
Can you say a little bit about maybe one or two things that we might learn about the show or a fun memory or fun experience?
Olivia d’Abo: I think the behind-the-scenes stuff that’s never been seen before is worth all the money in the world. For people who are really die hard Wonder Years fans, or even people who are just really curious and becoming familiar with the show, those are always added pluses, those bonus features.
Alley Mills: Like the six takes of the first kiss? (laughs)
Olivia D’Abo: Yeah. Exactly. The six takes of the first kiss. Just the amazing music. That’s really one of the things that’s prevented the show from being released from DVD up until now. I mean, that stuff is an amazing added plus. Also, I think the interviews with each individual cast member, talking about nostalgic moments for them and how they got the roles and what specifically…
Alley Mills: They’re like ten years old when they get their first kiss.
Olivia d’Abo: If you have families who relocated from East Coast and Chicago. For all of us when we actually get interviewed about how this impacted our life, I think those stories in and of themselves are really, really interesting and will be really quite something for people to hear about.
Alley Mills: I don’t know if it will be as interesting to you as it was to me having known these kids as children, but when I got to get with them a couple of weeks ago, it blew my mind to see the men and this woman sitting across me. I was so proud of them. It was so unlike the children that I’ve seen grow up to be adults in this business, because it’s a very tough business for children. We worked so hard to protect their integrity. We had fantastic teachers. I was very close to all of their mothers. I just left that day, so impressed with these boys that have become this amazing men. Fred is a formidable director and a very good, good man. Jason, the butthead, (they laugh) has become a glorious guy. Yeah, he’s a really cool guy.
Olivia d’Abo: He’s come into his own.
Alley Mills: The CEO of a company. And Josh is a lawyer, who is actually a good man as opposed to a mean lawyer. It’s things like that I think will really interest fans, too. I was amazed to see what these children have become. And Danica, of course who we’ve just been sitting with. A beautiful young woman and phenomenal.
It was really great to see so many different generations represented from the show. Obviously, Danica being the youngest at the time on up to Alley. What are the biggest lessons you might have learned as actors working on that series. Looking back on it now, how do you feel that you’ve evolved since that show in your craft?
Alley Mills: In our cast as opposed to in our lives?
Alley Mills: Okay. Well, I will speak first. I don’t know if you were in on this entire conversation that we had, but I was already saying how playing the character of Norma changed me as a person, definitely. It has changed my attitude towards women profoundly. In terms of my craft, when you do a show for seven years, which I hadn’t up until that point. I had done ten different series but nothing that lasted for this period of time. It’s like doing a play for a couple of years, every night. We did one show a week. So it’s like being fully immersed in another character. I think that as a woman, it made me relax. It changed my stakes because I’d already done The Wonder Years. I felt like now I can just do what I want to do. I put all that money in the bank. That changed my need to be doing other lesser things as an actor. That was an amazing blessing that came out of it for me. I got to play weirder roles. I did a lot of independent movies and I played stranger roles.
I found myself, oddly enough, back in a full time job for the past 8 years on a soap opera because I played a bipolar weirdo on CBS. Again, I like living inside one person a lot. I find it really interesting. I find it interesting to be able to tell different stories from that one point of view instead of always playing other people, which is what I’ve always loved to do as a theater actor. I guess what I learned the most craft-wise was doing something every day. Playing the same person everyday brought a relaxation to my work as an actor if that makes sense to you.
Olivia d’Abo: I completely agree with what Alley just said. I think the relaxation part is huge because there was a very high barometer that all the actors set on this show. We needed to know our lines. It was just so much fun by the end of the first season once all of our characters will really establish and developed that there was just fluid freedom that came with being able to really play with the material. Just make it our own and just trust that we were cast because we were right for these roles. Sometimes it’s a question mark when you first saw the job or a TV show. Seeing how you’re going to embody this character. What you’re going to be able to bring to it seven years down the line. But because the material was so amazing. We knew that it had a potential to have a lot of longevity. Dan Lauria said to me the first day, “Kid this show is going to go. It’s going to for many years. We’re going to get very rich. You better get ready.” (Alley laughs) For me really, it was very, very liberating.
Still looking back, I can’t think of any other role that I’ve played with the exception of what Alley mentioned. I played Nicole Wallace on Law & Order [Criminal Intent]. I’d been [Vincent] D’Onofrio’s nemesis for six seasons reoccurring. She was much darker and fiercely intelligent because she was a sociopath. She’s always ten steps ahead. A very smart woman but a much darker role.
With Karen, what getting that role got me excited about as an actor because I was so young when I did it, was how to really explore researching a role. Diving off the cliff and jumping off the cliff and getting in the life of the character. I’d had a lot of Stanislavsky training by that stage. It was the perfect prototype of a role for me to really go and just let it rip. It carved out a procedure for me that I now go about with every role that I have taken on since then. I take it very seriously. Like Alley, I also really like to just play one role if I can. If it’s really interesting, you can just explore everything that another person will do – from brushing her teeth to dressing to the inner thoughts that would go on in their mind. I had seven years of being able to play a really amazing character. I feel very blessed. In many ways, very spoiled. (laughs) But very blessed nonetheless.
Alley Mills: The other thing that we’re very lucky about is for the first… I think it was the whole first 17 episodes, we had one director. Steve Miner. He was fantastic. He was there when Olivia came in without a bra for the audition. (Olivia laughs.) He started laughing so hard and I thought, “Okay. I know this is chemistry.” He really walked us through. From wardrobe, they took such care of taking every single thing that we wore on those first episodes. The color of my hair. My hair was dyed three times because they wanted it to be…
Olivia d’Abo: They put a yellow, a blonde.
Alley Mills: They tried blonde. Then, they tried another in the pilot. You can tell it’s been a brown and then, they made it really bronzy. They tried it for film. They tried out and took it every night the DP, the film, to test it and dye it. So it had this old fashion sepia look to it. I mean, they were so meticulous. These producers, Carol and Neal, in those first seasons about every single little detail of how we acted and reacted to things. Because it was a comedy but not a comedy. That was another ground breaking thing about The Wonder Years. It was a comedy without a laugh track. They were only doing that very little before our show. One camera. I’ve done one other one camera comedy.
They were trying it out as a new comedy form. Then, a lot of people said, “It will never work without it. You have to have a laugh track. Got to have an audience. You got to be the sitcom.” All that stuff was taking the line ratings of comedy like, “Don’t go for the comedy.” Just say something and it’s just so corny that it’s going to make people laugh. I remember I knocked on the door of the bathroom, “Are you all right in there, Kevin?” I said, “I can’t do this, can I?” All the crew went, “Yeah! Everybody’s mother did that!” Stuff like that. We just took so much time on the show and that was again… like really, really spoiled.
Olivia d’Abo: That’s where we were spoiled. That’s exactly it.
Alley Mills: Do you have anymore?
Olivia d’Abo: Yeah. It’s really good. FYI. But with that being said, if we’ve had the opportunity to work on The Wonder Years and it gives us a little bit of gravitas if I’m maybe so bold to say, I think that we’re very lucky. From the stand point that because we bring that with us, in our repertoire of work, if we want to ask for a little bit more time to find things I think we’re probably… there’s nothing wrong with asking. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. You just say, “Hey, this is what we did on The Wonder Years and that did pretty well, right?”
Have you heard from the sizable online fan base? It seems like a lot of the reception has been really positive, but there’s always going to be fan that takes things a little too far. What are your overall experience has been with dealing with the fans?
Alley Mills: Taking it too far in a negative place?
Olivia d’Abo: Well, I personally think that is nice that they are still passionate about the show. Could you give us some example of how they get a little crazy? You mean, possibly with the Fred and Winnie stuff, or what in particular just so that we can answer your question appropriately?
I guess if there’s any fans that have ever crossed the line? I don’t know, approached you in a way that made you uncomfortable?
Olivia d’Abo: You’re talking about in public when did we just go out and …
Alley Mills: Or on the internet?
Olivia d’Abo: Or on the internet? I personally have never had a bad experience with people who are Karen Arnold fans. What’s really nice is it’s going to hit this new generation of young women who are 18 or going into college who are just discovering the show. They really connect with Karen’s sensibilities and her plight. For justice and civil rights and just rights. What’s right and what’s wrong and the way things should be. She’s a truth seeker.
I see that being a component in young women today, especially women in college or younger. Where they don’t filter things as much as they used to. They don’t feel like they necessarily have to have a steady boyfriend. They’re really more career-oriented and wanting to seek out their empowerment. My experiences with fans on the internet or on Twitter have been that. I just implore them to continue that wonderful spirit that they’re running with. I think it’s a positive thing. An empowered young woman is only going to make the world a better place.
Alley Mills: It’s funny, I find the fan of The Wonder Years very, very different than say, soap fans, because I’m now on a soap opera. Those fans can get really kind of bizarre. (chuckles) I’ll be honest with you. Bless their hearts. I’ve had even a stalker in that department, in the soap world. It’s a very different audience than I have found from The Wonder Years, even though as I said it crosses all these boundaries of race, color and economic background and everything.
People that love The Wonder Years just tend to be really cool people. (laughs) That’s been my experience. I don’t Twitter, because I’m an older person, but I did the other day. We had this huge Twitter day. Olivia did it and Danica did it and everybody was incredibly respectful there. And those were the hard core Twitter, “hang in there Wonder Years” fans from forever.
We had a gagillion calls. All the questions were really respectful. I just never had a bad experience with a Wonder Years fan. I ran into tons of women going across the country, during that time especially but even now. I find in the Mid West, that’s where Norma’s people are. (laughs) Mothers that felt totally understood, because of the show. I love my little fan base, all the housewives. I love them. Okay.
People have danced around my question for the last hour but 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. 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 grandchildren. It doesn’t do any good to worry, so I don’t 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. They’re incredibly smart, my grandchildren 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 Stoddard 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 Time Life put money behind putting these DVD’s out right now. Because a show like this, I don’t know if the networks would pick it up, which breaks my heart.
The things that they’ve got – not only on network television but all the cables now, HBO and Showtime and everything – some of them are smart but, boy, are they mostly cynical. Not things that I really want my grandchildren to be watching. The Wonder Years, the great thing was 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, the more it still packs its punch. 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?” I 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. 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. You’re right that even then when we were doing the show, it was twenty years before. It was ’68 and we were doing it [starting ’88]. It was a 20-year thing back.
Olivia d’Abo: 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 pilot episode where Winnie’s brother dies. Just that pilot episode, I don’t think could have been conveyed in a more brilliant way. The word disarming and nostalgic just comes to mind. Even if you’re so young that you don’t quite know what that means, it’s something that you feel. It’s a visceral, immediate experience that you have when you watch each episode. I was really so profoundly affected recently through watching about 12 of the episodes that they gave to the cast, just to recap before our reunion. I was just amazed at the consistency of all these characters and how they grew and they blossomed 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. 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.” This is something to be very, very proud of. Just look at this whirlwind of electricity. What was going on politically and what was going on socially. The genesis of so many things that were born out of that time 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 Years is a history lesson for young people in television. I am very, very proud of that. As an actor, I feel just incredibly honored to have been part of that because it’s a huge contribution.
Alley Mills: I just want to add one thing, but Olivia has just mentioned StarVista. I just wanted to say one thing because I don’t know how many reporters know this but the reason that we couldn’t have DVD’s until now, the reason has been this 20-year of passage, is because the music in the show is so important and integral and phenomenal.
StarVista 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 rights to the music. (laughs) 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. The cast and everybody is just so incredibly grateful that they’re doing this. I just wanted to add that at the end.
Olivia and Alley, do you have anything else that you’d like to add before we close?
Alley Mills: Yeah. Yeah, my heart was really full right now. (chokes up) The question was: did it change our lives? Yeah. In such an incredibly profound way. I think we are 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 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 in 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 so different because it was such a deep thing. I know that when people come to ask me something, it’s because their 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. I am so excited that not only this generation of people will be able to see it, but they will be able to have it. Because my VCRs don’t work anymore! (laughs) I have masters of it all on VCR and they’re terrible. They’re all broken up by now because it’s been so long and they don’t last. But these will last. Do you want to say something, sweetheart?
Olivia d’Abo: I have a lot of gratitude. It’s just a very, very special time in my life for this to all be kind of re-immersing itself. To be reconnecting with Alley, who I love and adore and 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 Jeff Pike who runs StarVista. These are such, such hardworking exceptionally committed people who clearly are so passionate about the show. It’s evident in every single yearbook that I signed and that Alley is about to sign. The 500 beautiful maroon yearbooks in front of us as we speak.
They’ve had their work cut out for them and they’re doing incredible things. I am so grateful to them for bringing this all together. Doing this properly. Presenting this to the world in a very timely manner, I think when the world really needs it. So that we can have that sense of love in our hearts that may be 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. We need to put the pride back into this country. I think this is a really great example of how we’re doing so.
Copyright ©2014 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 18, 2014.
Photos ©2014. Courtesy of StarVista/Time-Life. All rights reserved.