At 14, Danielle Fishel Orchestrated A Huge Boy Meets World Moment For Topanga

The actor reflects on her freshman year and Topanga’s famous haircut.

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Boy Meets World fans may be surprised to hear Danielle Fishel say she peaked in high school. In 1995, she was a freshman in Calabasas, California, spending her proverbial glory days in stereotypical fashion: hanging out with cheerleaders, crushing on the football team, and frequenting the mall for vanilla iced blended coffees. But she wasn’t your average teenager, obviously. At 14, she was two years into playing the booksmart overachiever Topanga on Boy Meets World, one half of TV’s famous couple, Cory and Topanga. Fishel would spend three weeks working before heading back to “regular school” for week-long hiatuses between filming episodes.

“It was a lot on my plate, but I also felt like I was getting the best of both worlds. I had a job and I got to be a normal kid,” she tells Bustle. “I felt like I had a good groove.”

Fishel, 41, is settling into a new groove these days as a director. After helming episodes of the Boy Meets World spinoff, Girl Meets World, as well as Raven’s Home and other Disney Channel TV shows, she released her feature film debut on Tubi, called Classmates, in April. The coming-of-age comedy is written by her husband, Jensen Karp, and stars her Boy Meets World castmate Trina McGee.

Danielle Fishel on the set of Classmates.Tubi

Directing allows her to share her three decades of experience with a new generation, and she particularly enjoys giving her young cast space to come into their own as artists. “We worked with some amazing directors on Boy Meets World who gave us that feeling all the time, [like] Jeff McCracken and David Trainer, who always said to us, whatever you're thinking of, let's try it,” she says. “I love that environment, and I love being able to create that for young people the same way I had it.”

Below, Fishel talks about how she met her husband, Topanga's worst hairstyle, and cast carpools.

Take me back to 1995, when you were 14. Where was home for you, and how were you feeling about your life then?

I was starting high school in Calabasas. I loved my freshman year. I hadn’t loved junior high as much, so I was excited to leave it behind. And I was more established on Boy Meets World. We were going into our third season, which was when I was going to be in every episode. I was feeling really good in 1995.

It was also the year I met my now husband. We went to high school together.

Were you friends or more like acquaintances?

Just acquaintances. He was two years older than I was, so we didn't have any of the same classes, but I knew him because he did the morning announcements. We'd see each other in the halls and be like, “Hey,” and that was it. It's funny because at the time, I didn't know that was such an important year in my life, but now looking back, I'm like, Oh, I met my husband in ’95!

How were your relationships with the Boy Meets World cast at the time?

We had wonderful relationships. Rider [Strong] is two years older than me, and Ben [Savage] is not quite a year older than me. Both of them started driving before I did, and so after the first season or two, my mom started driving to where they lived in Encino. She’d drop me off, and they’d drive me into work. Those are some of my favorite memories, spending time together in the car talking about school, that week's script, or about what was going on with our lives.

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At the beginning of Season 4, there’s the famous episode where Topanga cuts her hair to prove a point to Cory. What was that like for you?

That episode was a big milestone in my life. I’d wanted to cut my hair for a really long time, and I wasn't able to. Finally I was like, “Michael [Jacobs, the show’s creator], please can I cut my hair?” And he said, “OK, if you're gonna do it, let me write an episode about it.” Once the episode came around, it was a stressful week because you only get one chance to take scissors to your hair.

What was your reaction once you cut it?

I loved it. The funny thing is we did that hair cutting scene on a Wednesday. That meant that I had to go home that night with uneven, choppy hair because the next day we were filming the actual good haircut. When I first saw it, I was like, this looks crazy! My family went out that night for dinner, and I had to hide my hair in a hoodie. But once I saw it for the first time when I got the actual multi-layered haircut, I loved it. And the hairdresser, Laurie Heaps, is still my hairdresser today.

Who was your hero at 14?

My mom, for sure. I wanted to have the life that my mom had. She met her husband, my dad, in high school. They got married at 21. They had me at 23. I thought that's what I wanted for myself. I used to say I wanted six kids. That, of course, is not how my life turned out, and I'm very grateful for it. Now that I have two children, I think, wow, how naive of you to think you wanted six.

That's almost like Topanga’s life. She met Cory young, and they got married right away.

I was seeing [that modeled] in my home and work lives. It was what was being represented to me as the ideal.

Is there any advice now that you would give your 14-year-old self?

Live in the moment. I spent a lot of time as a teenager wishing I was older. I wanted to be a grown up, I wanted to have all the responsibilities and freedoms of being a grown up. I spent so much time daydreaming and thinking about when life would really start. But that's a hard thing when you're a teenager. It's hard to live in the moment.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.