Danielle Fishel was just 12 years old when she landed the role of Topanga Lawrence in the ABC sitcom Boy Meets World, which she starred in between 1993 and 2000.
The actor went on to reprise her role in the 2014 sequel series Girl Meets World, and earlier this year, she launched a podcast about the beloved ’90s show alongside two of her former costars.
Together, Danielle, Rider Strong, and Will Friedle cohost Pod Meets World, a series where they discuss their time on Boy Meets World and their consequential experiences as child stars.
In this week’s installment, the actors took part in a fan Q&A, where they answered some frequently asked questions about their lives and the sitcom, which included a query about who used to receive the most fan mail.
The trio immediately agreed that Rider proved to be the most popular with viewers, with the actor joining the show at the age of 14 and playing main character Cory Matthews’s best friend, Shawn Hunter.
In fact, Rider revealed that by the “third or fourth” season of the show, he was receiving thousands of letters each week, which became “overwhelming” and made him feel “uncomfortable,” as he was worried about letting his fans down by not being able to reply.
Danielle then shared her own harrowing experience with fan mail, which took place shortly after she joined the show when she was still a preteen.
The star revealed that a grown man wrote to her pretending to be a young girl, and once they had established regular correspondence, he started to show up at her school and tell people that he was there to pick her up.
“When we first started getting fan mail, I also read them all and responded to them all. I got a letter in ’93 from a young girl and she included pictures of herself in it, and she was in gymnastics,” Danielle said, having previously explained that she took part in gymnastics before becoming an actor.
“She wrote me this handwritten letter that she was a fan, and I wrote her back and she sent me another letter and we started this correspondence back and forth,” she went on. “I felt very close to her, and one of the things she talked about regularly was that both of her parents died when she was young and she lived with her older brother.”
Danielle said that in the second letter she received, the girl included pictures of her brother who was “several years older” and a “good-looking guy.” She also said that the girl would repeatedly say that she didn’t know what she’d do without her brother, as she doesn’t have parents. Then, the girl included her phone number in one of the letters so that Danielle could call her.
“My mom is participating in me writing back,” Danielle clarified. “She’s reading all these letters as well and she’s aware of what I’m writing and she’s reading what this girl is writing to me, and my mom is like: ‘[It seems like] you would be friends.’”
“So I call her,” Danielle went on. “And I get her voicemail, but it’s not her. It’s her brother’s voicemail because it’s his house. They live in an apartment together, but her name isn’t anywhere on the voicemail.”
At this point in Danielle’s retelling, the penny dropped and Rider exclaimed: “She doesn’t exist! She doesn’t exist — some guy pretending to be a girl, you got catfished!”
Danielle confirmed that this is exactly what happened, and explained: “The way it all came out is because I kept calling her, and I left my phone number and she wouldn’t call me back. Then we got a letter from her brother saying that she had died, and my mum woke up in the middle of the night and was like: ‘She never existed, it’s always been him!’”
“And then he started showing up at my school and telling people he was there to pick me up,” Danielle told her shocked costars, with Rider calling the entire thing Danielle’s “first stalker experience.”
The actor did not go into detail about how the situation ended, and Rider then shared his experience of not knowing how to have “clear boundaries” between himself and his fans as a teenager.
“I had girls calling my house when I was like 11, 12, because I was listed in the phone book — or my parents were, in my hometown,” Rider shared. “Back then, I would meet up with them. This was before Boy Meets World, this is when I was on Home Improvement or I had done local plays.”
He added: “Girls would call the house and I’d meet them at an arcade, super awkward. At the time I was like, oh you like me, you saw me on TV, OK I’ll be your friend, let’s hang out, maybe I’ll have a crush on you too! In retrospect, it’s like, no, you have to create boundaries.”
In fact, Rider said that he only learned how to correctly interact with fans after he saw how his Boy Meets World costar, Ben Savage, handled being recognized when they were out together, with the star saying that Ben had been “so confident and gracious and thankful” while signing autographs.
“At that point, if I got recognized I’d be like oh my god, you know me from my TV show, that’s so cool!What’s your name, do you want to go and hang out?” Rider laughed. “It’s not a chance for you to freak out too.”
This is not the first time that the cast has opened up on the podcast about the more challenging parts of being child actors, having previously reflected on the “horribly uncomfortable” kissing scenes that they had to film, as well as Danielle being publicly humiliated by the show’s creator, Michael Jacobs, on her very first day.
Will and Rider recalled having a different background actor to kiss each week during their time on the show, with both of their characters being the sitcom’s heartthrobs.
“It was hugely uncomfortable. Everyone talks like, ‘Oh man, you get to kiss all those girls!’ But it’s not as awesome as you might think it is,” Will said. “It really is horribly uncomfortable, and to do it in front of an audience and hearing people go ‘woo’ and all this…”
“We should at least address, especially in this day and age it needs to be talked about, the kind of power disparity that’s going on,” he added. “Because we’re regulars on the show so we have a job and we know we’re going to have a job, and it puts the [guest] actor in a position of saying: ‘I’m not gonna say I don’t want you to put your tongue down my throat.’”
Rider agreed and admitted that they all would have benefitted from having an intimacy coordinator on set with them, something that simply didn’t exist in the ’90s.
“I totally think that it’s a necessary role because you can’t just trust that a director or a producer is going to have the experience or the delicate tone that is required of that situation,” he said.
The group also admitted that they felt as though they couldn’t say no to situations that they weren’t comfortable with on set, with Danielle saying: “We were actors, it didn’t matter whether or not we were uncomfortable or comfortable with it. Whatever the writer wrote is what you did, and you were made to feel that if something did make you uncomfortable, it was inappropriate for you to express that.”
And in a separate episode, Danielle said that she was “sweating” almost 30 years later as she recalled the showrunner threatening to fire her because he wasn’t happy with her performance in her first rehearsal at the age of 12.
Her recollection infuriated that week’s podcast guest, director David Trainer, who had worked on the show. He responded at the time: “There’s many wonderful things about [Michael Jacobs], but there’s hateful things. This is one. To hear this, you’re sweating? I’m really pissed. It’s enough to make me want to sign off of this podcast. I don’t want to be associated with anything that guy is associated with. This is just not how you do things. I’m glad it became a hit, but this is disgusting.”
Danielle also opened up about the huge “pay disparity” between her and her male costars, revealing that her agent and father ended up forcing her to boycott a table read in order to get paid more.
In another podcast episode, Danielle, Will, and Rider addressed their former costar Trina McGee’s experiences of racism on set and confirmed that she will be a guest on the show in the coming weeks.