The day that Disney Channel picked up Girl Meets World, Boy Meets World fans everywhere rejoiced—especially because the original Cory (Ben Savage) and Topanga (Danielle Fishel) were both starring in the spinoff. But amidst the rejoicing, one question remained: Would Cory’s brother Eric return as well?
Initially, Will Friedle—who played Eric for seven seasons on Boy—was hesitant. He had retired from on-screen acting, moving into a successful voiceover career. At first, he was content simply being a fan of Girl. “I started watching the show at the beginning, and watched the progression of the characters and everything,” Friedle tells. “I wanted to support everybody.”
He made frequent visits to the set (much to the excitement of Girl Meets World star Rowan Blanchard, who plays Riley Matthews), but wasn’t sure how he felt about bringing Eric back—despite constant interrogation by fans and the cast. Then, in April, news broke that Eric Matthews fans would finally get what they wanted on May 15, in an episode of Girl Meets World called “Girl Meets Mr. Squirrels.”
In celebration of Eric’s much-anticipated return, Friedle called up EW to talk about why he decided to revive Eric, what the fans mean to him ,and putting on that famous Plays With Squirrels costume once more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did Eric’s return come about?
WILL FRIEDLE: I woke up one morning, and I watched the show again, and said, “You know, this is the perfect opportunity for me to come back and to work with everybody again, and I really can’t pass this up.” So I called Michael Jacobs and I said, “Can we have lunch?” And he said, “Am I going to be happy?” And I said, “You know what, let’s just go to lunch.” So we went out to lunch at a place called the Grove, and I said to him, “Yeah, I think I’m ready to come back this year.” And he said, “I’ve been waiting for this call since we announced the show!”
Is this how you imagined Eric making his return—coming on as Plays With Squirrels?
You know, no. That’s the joy of Eric—you never knew what he was gonna do, where he was gonna be. The only thing you knew is that he was going to be happy and that he was going to be nice to everyone around him. It didn’t matter if he was sleeping on a buddy’s couch for the rest of his life because he couldn’t get his act together, he’d still be the happy-go-lucky guy. Or he was President of the United States—and either one was possible for Eric. So that was the fun of playing with him. And when they said, “We want you to come back as Plays With Squirrels,” it was like, “Of course. Of course that’s what happened to Eric.”
How was becoming Plays With Squirrels again?
It was definitely interesting. I’m sitting there in the makeup room, and I see one of the Styrofoam heads with the wig and the beard. I’m wearing the clothes, I just haven’t put on the makeup yet—and I’m looking in the mirror going, “How the hell did we end up here again?” Then all of the sudden the beard goes on and the transformation started. And Rider Strong is standing next to me going, “It’s 15 years ago. How are we standing here right now? It is 15 years ago.”
What was it like being on set as Eric, and not as a visitor?
The audience was so supportive of me that night, clapping and cheering. It felt like coming home, it really did. The only thing I can liken it to is, it’s like going back to the house that you grew up in. The set seemed smaller. I was 16 when I started, so going back at 38, it was kind of like, “Wow this is weird, I’m in my childhood bedroom.” It was really fun. But as much fun as I had, I think the most joy came from watching the kids and how much fun that they had. I was sitting with Ben and Rider, and we were just standing there watching one of the scenes the kids were doing—and I forget who it was, Ben or Rider, leaned over and said, “That’s us.” I mean, we started this show… what, 22 years ago? So it was like, “Man, there we are.”
That must have sparked some nostalgia before you went onto the set.
It does, it certainly does. They say lightning never strikes twice, so to actually have this opportunity to watch again as an adult, see the new show taking place and seeing the fans’ reaction over the generations is incredible. Somebody tweeted, yesterday or the day before, a video of their 2-year-old nephew doing the Feeny call. This kid’s parents might not have even been born when we started the show. You see kids who are 14, 15 years old taking pictures with George Feeny shirts. It’s pretty amazing, the longevity of the show, and I think we’re all incredibly surprised at how it’s lasted this long and how much it meant to people. Hearing, “Hey man, you guys were my childhood” is something that’s really special.
Is that part of the reason why you decided to come back?
I think so. It also, we were one of those shows—you hear this all the time and it’s a big cliché—but we were like a family. We all grew up together… I mean, when I met Ben, he was 11. So we’ve known each other for most of our lives, we went through this extraordinary experience together. And there came a point where it almost wasn’t fair if the audience didn’t get to see what happened to Eric. ‘Cause they’ve been there forever, so it’s like, you know, at some point you’re just kind of being mean if you don’t come back. So I wanted to make sure that we got a good Eric story, and you can kind of see what he’s been up to for the audience. You’re going to be surprised at where he’s been and what he’s doing—it’s going to be a fun ride.
Do you feel like a little bit of Eric Matthews has stuck with you since Boy Meets World wrapped?
Oh yeah. There came a time where I don’t think any of us could differentiate between our characters and who we were. You were watching Rider and Ben and Danielle and myself and Matt Lawrence—we were saying other people’s words, but by that time we really had become our characters… or our characters had become us. So yeah, there’s always a part of Eric because I am Eric in a lot of ways. You can’t get rid of him, unfortunately. I’ve tried.
He’s not exactly someone you have to ditch, though.
Exactly. He has a great heart. He’s an awesome guy. He can be a little nuts and I’m not sure I would leave him with expensive things, but I certainly enjoy playing him.
“Girl Meets Mr. Squirrels” airs at 8:30 pm ET on Disney Channel. See a clip from the episode below.