My TV

30 January 2011

Exclusive Interview: Danielle Fishel

By // TV

The My TV Nominee interview series continues with our second entry of the year. A nominee in both the “Best Variety/Talk Show Host” and “Be-My-Best-Friend” categories, Danielle Fishel is the host of the Style network’s pop-culture roaster The Dish (nominated for “Best Variety/Talk Show”).

The charming host also happens to be a TV icon, a famous face since the age of 12 when she joined the cast of a little show called Boy Meets World. Famous as Topanga, the candid and self-possessed Danielle talks about leaving her beloved character behind, her transition into hosting and how much she loves The Dish.

You grew up on Boy Meets World. Do you feel that really shaped who you are as a person and as an actress?
I definitely do. Anything that you do for that long during those influential years of your life I think sticks with you forever. I was on that show from 12 to 19. The people I worked with were like a second family to me. That show was such a good experience and really shaped my idea of what working as an actor is supposed to be like. I’m really glad it did, because I take that with me on every job I go into.

Do you have a favourite episode?
It’s hard to pick just one episode. There are a couple episode arcs that I really remember that I like. Of course the first year I was on the show, season one, we did the first kiss. That was my first episode so it really sticks out as a favourite. The there were a couple more that first year that were really special, back when Topanga was more of a flower child. I really liked playing that character, she was so different. And season 4 when I cut my hair, that was a really fun thing for me. It’s hard to pick one but I have groups of memories that are my favourite. 

Were you surprised or disappointed when they dramatically changed the character away from that flower child she was introduced as?
I wasn’t really disappointed because I understood that they wanted Topanga to have a long-lasting presence in the show and being someone so different from everybody else could only take the character so far, especially if they wanted to have a love story between Cory and Topanga. So, I was kind of happy to see her become more mainstream so she worked into more storylines. 

Was it difficult to leave that show and Topanga behind?
It was and it wasn’t. At the time that we finished, after 7 years, we were all ready to move on to do other things and be 18, 19, 20 years old. So although I was sad to leave it and that last week we were working together there were tears every single day and that last day was very difficult for me, I was always aware that it couldn’t last forever and we all needed to move on and do other things. So even though I was sad about it, at the time I was ready to move on. 

Do you keep in touch with anybody from the show?
Yeah, I keep in touch with almost everybody. I definitely keep in touch with Ben and Rider and Will. We keep in touch via Facebook, call and leave each other messages on our birthdays, and we get together as often as we can, which only ends up being about a couple times a year with all of our schedules and living far apart. 

What did you do in the years following your time on the show?
I took a lot of time off, figuring out what it was I really wanted to do. I was getting a lot of offers to do things that were not in my plans. If you’re a girl just off of a young kid show and now you’re 18, everyone wants you to be in their movie and take your top off. And that’s just not what I wanted to do. All the roles I was being offered was stuff like that. So I took a lot of time off, traveled a lot and really figured out if this was really something I wanted to do. And eventually I ended up getting into hosting. 

How did you end up on The Dish?
I had been doing some hosting stuff for The Tyra Banks Show and the Style Network saw me on that. They called me in to ask if this was something I was really interested in doing, hosting, and I said it was. I thought this was a great thing for me to do where I still got to be a little bit of an actor but also got to be a lot more of myself. I had always been a huge fan of The Soup, since way back when it was Talk Soup. So when they called and told me they were doing a female version of The Soup and asked me to come in and audition for it, I absolutely jumped at the chance. I went in and auditioned for them and eventually they picked me for the show, which I was so excited about. 

So the type of humour on The Dish, that’s very much who you are?
Yeah, that’s very much me. I think my mom would tell you, if she were here, that she’s been seeing me do that since I was a toddler. Playing characters and imitating people and being fun and goofy and using my hands and being dramatic is always how I’ve communicated and it’s definitely my sense of humour. So I would say that’s very much me.

What’s the schedule like?
My schedule’s pretty amazing, I can’t complain about the schedule. I work 2 days a week- Thursday and Friday. I go in on Thursday late morning and do all my voiceovers for the show. Then I sit in with my writers and we watch all the clips together, kind of pitch jokes to each other and rewrite the jokes that are already there, see if we can come up with what we think the funniest show is. About 3 o’clock on Thursday I’m done. I come back on Friday around 7am and go into hair and makeup and then rehearsal. We start taping the show around 10:30 and I’m done by 1pm. So pretty nice schedule for work. I’m also a full-time student. 

You’re getting your psychology degree, is that right?
That’s correct. I have about 2 and a half more years to finish up my Bachelors degree then my intention is to go forward and get my Masters degree as well. So I have a long time in school ahead of me. I may even get my doctorate, depending on how things go. So school basically is in my future for as long as I can see right now. But I try to just take it one semester at a time. 

Do you see yourself becoming a therapist someday or is it more of an academic pursuit?
I’d like to have a second career at some point in my life. Maybe in my much much later years be able to open my own practice and be a marriage and family therapist. Ideally I’d like to be able to work with children of divorce and families. I’d also like to do couples counseling. But I’m really interested in working with kids, I love kids and I love families, I’d like to get into that kind of therapy. But obviously I have a pretty incredible job right now that I love. I want to be in a position where when I’m 50 or 60 years old and I’m not really working anymore (because, as we all know, women have much shorter careers in the entertainment industry than I wish was true), I’d like to have a second career later in life. 

You’ve made out with a cardboard cutout of Robert Pattinson, impersonated Kate Goselin and threatened Rick Fox. What’s the craziest thing they’ve ever had you do on The Dish?
I don’t know, I think making out with the Taylor Lautner and Robert Pattinson cutouts, that was pretty crazy. Besides making out with them, I was talking to Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, pretending I was Rob’s girlfriend- that was pretty crazy. I also wore an adult diaper on the show, that was crazy. And I think one of my favourite things we ever did was when we imitated the Old Spice commercials and I climbed up on a zebra. We had the Old Spice guy there in the studio with us, and he recreated it in a very Dish way. It was extremely funny and fun to make and I think it’s the clip of ours on YouTube that has the highest number of hits. 

You were saying you sit in with the writers on Thursdays. Do you have a lot of control over the show, what’s vetoed or put in?
I do, they give me as much control as I want. One of the things we worked really hard on when we first started doing The Dish was getting to know each other really well so by the time I came in on Thursday the show was already in a place where I would want it to be, that if I had written it myself, if I had the talent to write the entire show myself, that that’s what I would have written. They really write for me and in my voice, which is not easy to do but because we’ve been able to spend so much time together and get to know each other really well they know my sense of humour really well, they know what I find funny and I know what they all think is funny. So by the time I get in on Thursday there’s not a lot of things that make me go “what is this about? I don’t want to say this! This isn’t funny”. Usually by Thursday the script is already in a really great place and I just get to throw in my two cents here and there and tweak things a bit. We have a great time when we’re all in the room together. The writers, Monday through Wednesday, write on their own. They each have their own shows they have to write, then we all come in on Thursday and it’s the first time we’re sitting in a big room together brainstorming together. And I think that’s when it works best, when we’re all contributing together. It’s how we ensure we get the best jokes possible. 

You’ve said The Dish was created as a more feminine version of The Soup. Any chance of a cross-over episode with you Joel McHale?
Maybe someday we can do that. I’ve been lucky enough to be on The Soup a couple of times, go in there, visit Joel and promote The Dish. I love him, I think he’s very funny and he’s always been very supportive of me and The Dish. He’s given me advice many times throughout the years of The Dish and I greatly appreciate him for that. So I would never rule it out. 

You seem to really love making the show. You can tell when the creators of a show really love what they’re doing, it’s always palpable.
I’m glad it shows. That’s always the best compliment, whenever someone says “do you love what you do” and I say “oh my gosh, I have the best time” and they say “you can tell”. That’s always a great compliment because I want it to look as fun and as effortless as it feels to me. So when it does, that’s when I know I’ve had a successful show. 

Do you have any plans to get back into acting or is hosting more up your alley?
I would love to be able to act again. I’m very particular about the kinds of things I do, especially now that I am doing The Dish. The Dish is so funny and it’s so smart, and it’s so me, I love it so much and if I were to start doing another show, if I were to do a sitcom or a drama, I would want it to be equally as good. There are a couple of things I’m interested in doing; there are a couple of sitcoms I’m interested in right now and I hope to one day maybe play a mom on something or be able to play a very strong female lead and get away from playing a child. 

What’s your dream project you’d love to work on?
I would really love to do a show where I was playing a very strong, very successful business woman who had, obviously, a vulnerable side, who’s personal life would maybe be a bit in shambles. That would be really nice for me; I’ve never really played an adult on any of the projects I’ve been on. So I’d love to play a woman who’s already got a career going. I think my other dream would eventually be to play a mom on a show. To have a kid in a show, that would feel like coming full circle for me. 

Do you prefer TV over film?
I do prefer television. I like the schedule of television. I like that with any success at all, hopefully, you get to work together for a long time. I get really close with the people I work with and it’s really hard working on a movie, you get so close, working together for 2 months then you just never see each other again. So I do prefer TV, though I would never rule out doing a really great independent movie too. 

Is there an actor or director you’d love to work with someday?
There are a lot of actors and directors I’d love to work with someday. There’s a great director named Andy Fickman, who I think is absolutely amazing, I’d love to work with him. As far as actors go, I’m a big John Malkovich fan so I’d love to do something with him. 

If you could pick one definitive moment in your career up to this point, what would it be?
I guess Boy Meets World would have to be it. I don’t know if I could take a 7 year show and pick just one moment but definitely Boy Meets World. Without it I definitely would not be doing this. I started acting I think one year before I got Boy Meets World. That was mostly just doing commercials here and there, and that was fun, but I probably wouldn’t have stuck with it for almost 20 years. I think this May is going to be my 20th anniversary of getting into acting. So I certainly wouldn’t have had a 20 year career just doing commercials, so had it not been for Boy Meets World I wouldn’t have had this career at all. 

Is there anything you’d like to add?
I’d like to just add that The Dish is moving to Sunday nights, which is a really big move for us, it’s sort of Style’s primetime night so we’re really excited about The Dish moving to Sunday nights and I hope people are watching.

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