These days, our knowledge of celebrities too often originates with paparazzi images and snarky quotes by anonymous "insiders." After a while, it's easy to forget that stars are real people. That's why HuffPost Celebrity decided to launch its all-new #nofilter quick-fire question-and-answer series. Because how well do you know someone until they've shared their guiltiest pleasures?
Danica McKellar is officially an icon. From 1988 through 1993 the La Jolla, California native was the fantasy girlfriend to millions of middle-school pubescent boys who watched her play Kevin Arnold's main squeeze, Winnie Cooper, on "The Wonder Years" -- and we could place bets that there are grown men all over North America who can still feel there hearts palpitating at the mere mention of her name. After that acting gig ended in '93, McKellar graduated in 1998 from UCLA (summa cum laude). Along the way, McKellar, appeared in two NBC TV movies ("Moment of Truth," 1994 and "Justice for Annie," 1996); had a recurring role in the 2002-03 season of "The West Wing," (playing Elsie Snuffin) and guest-starred in "How I Met Your Mother" and "The Big Bang Theory." On December 28, McKellar, 38, takes a dramatic turn playing a working wife and mother who stands trial for attempted murder in Lifetime's "The Wrong Woman." I caught up with McKellar to talk about her movie, a possible "Wonder Years" reunion and to see how quickly she can think on her feet.
Your movie "The Wrong Woman" makes one realize that anyone can be accused of a crime. Did playing this role make you question the justice system?
One thing about the movie is you don't know whether she is guilty or not until the end. The justice system isn't perfect, but it's the best system out there I think, but it's run by human beings and people make mistakes.
What motivated you to take this role?
I thought it was a great opportunity for an actress to play all of those different emotions and to get to go so many places dramatically. To get to play a role where this character goes from this scared housewife to empowered woman who defends herself in court was really fun. I loved playing that whole transition. It's an inspiring story for anyone who might think that they would be too scared to deal with a situation like that.
How difficult was it for you to transition from a child actor to a young ingenue and then to play more adult roles in your 30s?
Definitely the most challenging transition is going from child actor to adult roles. Because what happens when you're on a TV series when you're young is you become identified with that in a very strong way... so you wonder who you are outside of that character -- outside of that role. For me, I think, what helped that transition the most was just having great parents who always emphasized education and health and family -- that came first before business. But beyond that, it was finding math. Math gave me a great opportunity to feel strong and important and capable and valuable for something that had nothing to do with all the glamor of Hollywood. It had nothing to do with "The Wonder Years." It was something that I was building for myself and it gave me a really strong sense of self. I realized you don't have to have been a child on television to be struggling with your identity as a teenager and you need help with your self-esteem and confidence so that's part of the reason I write my books. I want to show them that's actually something that they can use as an adult that nobody else can take away. (Danica wrote four best-selling math books for girls.)
Did you audition for roles along the way that you didn't get?
Oh, that always happens, absolutely. The audition process is one where there's a lot of people reading for one role and there are going to be a lot of people in the room who are doing a great job and then it's just really a matter of: they want a brunette, they want someone who is a little bit taller, you remind them of their ex-wife (laughs). You never know. The trick is, you just don't take any of it personally at all, and you're fine.
Ron Howard once told me in an interview that he literally cried when "The Andy Griffith Show" was over. How hard was it for you when "The Wonder Years" wrapped?
Gosh, that was 20 years ago when it ended. For me it was a soft landing because when we were shooting the final episode, we didn't know if we were coming back or not so that was a good thing because it prevented me from getting very emotional. And then when we found out, I was graduating from high school and it all seemed to make sense because that was a break for me between my high school life and college life so I was certainly sentimental about it and I missed everybody but I was going to college... and it was time.
Do you think there ever be a "Wonder Years" reunion show?
It's been 20 years since it went off the air so if they haven't done one yet, I'm guessing it won't happen.
I read that you had your first kiss on "The Wonder Years." How awkward was that for you at the time?
That was over 25 years ago. It was fine, it was good. It was exciting as I recall.
What's your guiltiest pleasure?
Dark chocolate with almonds.
What are you most afraid of?
Fear... "There's nothing to fear but fear itself."
What do you never leave home without?
My cell phone.
What TV show that is no longer on the air, do you miss the most besides "The Wonder Years?"
The original "Dallas."
If you only one choice, would you rather be the sexiest person in the world or the smartest?
Smartest. I think you're always [going to be] good that way.
What would you consider the biggest waste of time?
Watching most reality TV programming... not all, but most. (Laughs.)
What would you not do for a million dollars?
A lot of things I wouldn't do for a million dollars. I wouldn't take my clothes off. I wouldn't betray friends and family. I wouldn't do something that betrays my readers either. For example, when I was 14, I was offered an endorsement deal with a very large granola bar company. I was offered a lot of money, and I didn't do it because I thought there were all these little girls looking up to me and I didn't want to encourage them to eat something that had sugar in it. I didn't eat sugar and I didn't want to be a liar basically. I won't lie for a million dollars. I will never be a politician. Today somebody asked me, 'Would you consider being a politician? You've got so many great messages.' I'm like, 'You know what? I don't think you survive in that business without playing all these money games. I'm not going to play along, so I don't think I'd survive.'
What's the ugliest piece of clothing you own?
I just went through my closet and got rid of a lot of stuff. I have this shiny pink top with black swirls on it. I don't know what I was thinking. I don't know why I got it, how I got it, but I've probably had it for 20 years and I just got rid of it. I thought: What is this doing here? (Laughs) I've never worn it.
What's your biggest pet peeve when you're driving?
People texting and driving.
If you're talking with someone who is boring you, how do you gracefully get out of the conversation?
I find something truly and genuinely nice to say about them because that will make them feel good and probably get them to stop talking about whatever they were talking about all at the same time so it's a win/win. You have to find something real. It has to be genuine.
When was the last time you told a little white lie?
I used to have a habit of telling people -- if I was driving and I'd pretend I was a little bit late, like five minutes, and I'd tell them I was driving by the next exit beyond the one I was actually driving through. Like that one exit was going to make a difference. I don't know why I do that. (Laughs) It doesn't make any sense at all. For some reason, it makes me feel better.
Describe one time you thought "This is harder than it looks."
Is it OK to recline your seat on an airplane?
Oh, gosh, that's a really good question. I think that you need to take a look at how close the person is behind you because it really does mess with their space. Maybe you can recline a little bit but not all the way because the person behind you can't have their laptop open on their tray.
Danica will be live tweeting during "The Wrong Woman." Follow Danica on Twitter: @danicamckellar
Follow Pat Gallagher on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@pat_gallagher