'Boy Meets World' stars Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel on reuniting for 'Girl Meets World'
After playing on-air sweethearts Cory and Topanga for seven seasons, Boy Meets World’s Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel, are reigniting their TV relationship for the highly anticipated Disney reboot, Girl Meets World. In the new issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands Friday, we speak to Savage, Fishel, Girl Meets World exec producer Michael Jacobs and Rowan Blanchard—who was just cast to play Cory and Topanga’s daughter, Riley—for scoop on the pilot.
Savage and Fishel talked to EW about why they signed on to Girl Meets World, how they feel about working together again, and why they really do feel like a married couple. They also share the story of the text that restarted their (TV) marriage.
EW: The online reaction to a Boy Meets World reboot has been massive.
FISHEL: The reaction online has been just incredible and makes us all feel really good. I don’t think any of us had any idea how much people have loved Boy Meets World and how excited they would be for this kind of a show. I think it says a lot about where we are in society and the kind of shows people are anxious to see back. I know I personally miss some of the more wholesome family shows that you can watch together and I’m excited to be a part of another one.
SAVAGE: We always knew that there was a lot of goodwill for the show, and we always knew that we had some pretty loyal fans. But the reaction to the show coming back and the sequel has been very exciting and pretty flattering and a little overwhelming.
EW: What is it about Boy Meets World that inspires such fan fervor?
FISHEL: I think a large part of that is the writing—the fact that Boy Meets World never talked down to its audience. It always assumed that the audience was very smart and was going to get the message and one of the things we hear on Twitter all the time that I so appreciate is when people say, “I watched the show in the ’90s and I loved it then and I learned a lot then and I watch it now every morning and I learn even more from it now.” I think that’s only possible when you have writing that stands the test of time and that is deep on multiple layers. That’s not to say every episode of Boy Meets World is deep, we certainly had our goofy and fun episodes, they were all fun. To a certain extent, the show gave lasting ideas and memories about things that people still relate to and maybe even relate to more now than they ever did.
SAVAGE: A lot of shows on TV, and I’m not bashing current television because I think that’s cliché, I think some of the shows on TV, the characters are all these models and it’s like, “Oh yeah that’s pretty to look at, but what does that have to do with me?” I think with our show, we really endeavored to make it a show that people can relate to every day. I’m not saying that we’re a cut above the rest, but I think we’re just unique.
EW: Did you ever think Boy Meets World would be revisited, or had you closed the door on that possibility?
FISHEL: I didn’t think we’d ever do it again. I knew that people were fans of the show and what we had done, but I didn’t know that there would be so much of an excitement to see it come back. It’s been really wonderful and even if the show doesn’t get greenlit into a series, it’s at least nice to know how appreciated all of the work that we’ve done in the past has been.
SAVAGE: I guess there had been chats and talk over the years about possibly bringing the show back, but nothing had ever been official and nothing had ever really launched. So I guess at a certain point I said, “OK, it was a great chapter in our lives, and we’re all moving on.” I had spoken with [Boy Meets World creator] Michael Jacobs throughout the years, but nothing was concrete, and then I got a call sometime late last year and all of a sudden it took off.
EW: What was it about this project that appealed to you?
SAVAGE: I was just really excited with the new take on the show. There was a lot of debate, and there still is with our fans…. but I think for us it was more of a matter of trying to do something new and exciting. I think Boy Meets World was a wonderful vehicle and a wonderful show for a generation in the ’90s, but to go back and just revisit that, it seemed a little stifled. So we were trying to think how we could do something new and exciting and we thought, “Let’s do it with a daughter and start the whole thing over with a new generation.”
EW: Were you immediately on board? Or did you have some hesitations about revisiting something that is considered such a classic show?
FISHEL: I know that for me Boy Meets World has such a special place and so does the role of Topanga and I certainly didn’t want to do something that was going to jeopardize the memory we’ve created for people with the show. After talking to Michael and Ben and other members of the cast from Boy Meets World about what everyone’s thoughts were on it, I felt much better that we were all on the same page.
EW: What was your first conversation about Girl Meets World like with each other?
FISHEL: It started actually in a text. It was really cute because I had already talked to Michael and I didn’t know if Ben had already talked to Michael. Then one night I got a text from Ben that just said, “Hey what do you think about being my wife again?” And I wrote him back and I said, “Nothing would make me happier than to call you my husband five days a week.”
SAVAGE: I think Danielle and I were pretty much on the same page from the beginning. I think for us, we just wanted to make sure that it was something special and something that honored the past show.
EW: When we last checked in on Cory and Topanga, they were getting ready to move to New York. Where are they now?
FISHEL: I believe they’re living in New York. They have new careers. Topanga has made her way through law school and you know, Cory, is a seventh grade teacher following in the footsteps of Mr. Feeny, which I think some people will be surprised by because as much as Mr. Feeny and Cory cared about each other and loved each other, Mr. Feeny was sometimes Cory’s nemesis.
SAVAGE: I think it’s very poetic that [Cory] would end up as a teacher. It fits in nicely with how we ended the last show and how Mr. Feeny was his role model and his mentor throughout his life. It’s a nice transition.
EW: During his interview with EW, Michael Jacobs said there were two Topangas on Boy Meets World. The Topanga who started out the series and the Topanga who cut her hair later on and evolved into someone different. Which Topanga can we expect on Girl Meets World?
FISHEL: Topanga now is definitely still in line with where she was when Boy Meets World last ended. I think now she just has more on her plate. She’s achieved a lot of the things she wanted education wise, career wise, and she also now has this family that she’s taking care of and raising. I think we’re going to hopefully get to see Topanga kind of missing her earlier roots and maybe in certain episodes struggling to get back those pieces that she had at the beginning that made her who she was.
EW: What will Cory and Topanga’s relationship be like now?
FISHEL: You’re going to see a lot of the love that you felt and that you saw between Cory and Topanga in the original show. I think you’re also going to see a little bit more maturity out of both of them in certain aspects and I think you’re going to see them as they always did, helping each other find their way back to themselves and to who they are as a couple. By now, Cory and Topanga have been together for a very long time. They’re a team. They know each other very well. They know each other’s flaws. I think it’s going to be fun to watch them help each other along the way and be stronger than ever as a team.
EW: What will they be like as parents?
FISHEL: I’m actually very interested to see that myself. I think Cory is going to be protective and I think he’s going to want [Riley] to experience life, but he’s going to probably be a stereotypical father in the fact that he’s going to want to protect her. I think Topanga is going to come into finding her way a little bit and maybe being a little bit more like the way she was in the beginning—for lack of a word—hippyish, in the way she thinks the kids should be raised. I think it’s going to be a balancing act between the two of them. The other great thing is that Cory and Topanga are young parents and so we’re going to get to see them struggling with figuring it all out. We don’t have all of the answers either and I think that’s going to be something that’s really interesting to watch play out is us trying to figure out what is the right thing.
SAVAGE: I think it’s the same old neurotic, quirky, funny Cory, but he’s much softer. I know that because Michael, in a lot of our readings has already said, “You’re so much softer now.” And I said, “Well, I’m a dad.” He’s a softer guy, but he’s still pretty happy and content and neurotic and funny. It’s being formed as we speak.
EW: I know that you saw a lot of girls for the role of Riley. Michael said that initially you felt like something was off and then Rowan came along and things fell into place. What was it about Rowan that worked for you?
FISHEL: We really wanted this girl to have the same lovable characteristics that Cory Matthews had, but we didn’t really know how to put that down on paper. When we saw the first group of girls they were all 13, some of them 14, some of them 12, they just had a maturity about them that I think is a byproduct of all of the things that teenagers and tweens are growing up with now like cell phones and internet access and iPads. They’re older faster. When we were reading with the girls they were all very talented. There were several that did a great job, but there was something a little bit off about it so we sat down with Disney and we were talking about what it was and it hit Michael suddenly, he said, “I think the characters are too old. We need to bring the character down a little bit in age.” So we did the second casting session and the minute Rowan walked in the room she had everything we were looking for. There was a spirit in her eyes, there was energy, there was youth. You know she doesn’t know everything yet and she knows that she doesn’t know everything yet. That was something we absolutely loved about her.
EW: What was it like stepping back into your characters again? Was it pretty seamless or did you feel like you had to prepare?
FISHEL: I was a little worried before we went into the casting room and we were doing one of the first test sessions and we were looking for Riley and Maya, I thought, “Is it just going to come right back to me?” It’s a character that’s so close to my heart and that I played for so long but I didn’t know if it would just instantly come out. But the minute Ben started speaking and he was Cory, I was instantly Topanga and we were right there together as a team as husband and wife and it was like visiting an old friend that you haven’t seen in a long time. It may have been awhile since you’ve spoken, but when you get back to them, it’s like no time has passed at all.
SAVAGE: I still don’t know if I’m quite there yet. It’s been a while. A lot of the basic stuff comes right back to you, especially because I have so many similarities with the character. A lot of it was just based on just who I was as a person, basically. All of my weird little unique qualities were definitely incorporated into the character, but I’m still getting there, and I think the more time that I spend back with Cory who I knew so well growing up, I think I’ll get there.
EW: Cory and Topanga seem to have this staying power as a TV couple. What is it about them that people have latched on to?
FISHEL: I think it was the fact that you know we did break up a couple of times on the show, but we always found our way back to each other. I think it was also that ABC, our show, and Michael Jacobs, we took kind of a big risk with having Cory and Topanga get married at 18 or 19 years old. We that took that risk because it was what the audience deserved and what they wanted. They wanted to see us end up together and Cory and Topanga always were supposed to end up together. I think Cory and Topanga are just a nice reminder that that kind of love is out there and you just have to be steadfast in finding it and when you have it you can never let it go.
SAVAGE: I think people see that couple and they see a fun, happy, sweet couple that they can relate to. I think it just holds a special place in people’s hearts and we definitely want to honor that. I don’t think it’s anything that we would ever take advantage of and I think people can appreciate that.
Ben recently tweeted a photo of you, Danielle, with the caption “dinner with the wife,” which was retweeted more than 4,000 times.
FISHEL: Ben and I call each other hubby and wife. I’ve known Ben since I was 12-years-old. Eighteen years of my life I’ve known Ben, and for all of those years he’s been lumped together with me as being my partner in crime, my husband. The same for Ben, he doesn’t go anywhere without people asking about Topanga and I don’t go anywhere without people asking about Cory. There is definitely a part of me that feels like Ben will always be my first husband. That’s just the relationship we have. You know we’re very close. We talk very openly. I think we share a lot of similar characteristics to a couple that’s been together for a long time. We know each other so incredibly well and we love each other and it’s just the best.
SAVAGE: When Danielle and I go out to dinner—we went out to dinner last week—I feel sort of this caretaker aspect as well as like, I do feel like a husband. I spent so much time with her growing up, and she probably knows way too much about me.
What was it like reuniting with each other for Girl Meets World?
SAVAGE: Danielle’s the best. She’s the best co-pilot you could ask for. She’s a sweetheart. She’s a professional. She’s tough as nails, and she’s smart. It’s very easy working with Danielle, and she’s always been a sweetheart.
EW: Have you been in touch with the rest of the cast?
SAVAGE: We’ve had dinner together, and I think the other characters, if they want to be part of the show, they’ll be part of the show. I think at least initially we’re going to concentrate on developing Rowan’s character and our family, and of course, everyone would love to see Uncle Shawn or Uncle Eric or some of the other characters. Nothing would make me happier than to see them as part of the show.
EW: Do you feel like you all still have the same chemistry?
SAVAGE: You grow up with these people and I think there is a certain bond that never goes away. Again, it’s like an old childhood friend. I’m sure in your own life, if you run into someone you haven’t seen in 10 years but you grew up with them, there’s a certain kinship. And there’s just a certain mutual feeling that you get. It’s a great feeling.
EW: Any nerves about going back?
FISHEL: I wouldn’t say any nerves and I wouldn’t say any stress. I’m really, really, really looking forward to it. I can’t wait to be on the set again with Ben and with Michael and with the crew at Disney who has just turned out to be so wonderful to be with and to spend time with.
SAVAGE: This isn’t complaining, but there’s a lot of anticipation—people have high expectations, and we want to do everything we can to deliver them.
For more on Girl Meets World, pick up the new issue of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY on stands Feb. 8.
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