You knew her and loved her as The Wonder Years' sweet Winnie Cooper, but it's time to face facts: Danica McKellar has grown up — and then some, looking at her June lad-mag layout — and her career ops have matured with her. Having landed memorable gigs on The West Wing, NYPD Blue and Strong Medicine, she can next be seen braving Big Oil and a bad storm in Sci Fi Channel's Path of Destruction, premiering Sept. 24 at 9 pm/ET. Just as she wrapped her first fright flick and was readying to jet off to Hawaii, TVGuide.com chatted up Winn— er, Ms. McKellar.
TVGuide.com: For starters, tell me about Path of Destruction.
Danica McKellar: I play a reporter who is spying on an oil company, because they're breaking environmental rules, et cetera, et cetera, when I learn that much worse stuff is actually going on — they're doing illegal chemical experiments. When one of the experiments goes wrong and the rig explodes, the CEO decides to blame it on me, claiming I was an environmental terrorist, and that sends me on the run. Chris Pratt, from Everwood, plays a scientist who I pick up along the way, and also serves as a love interest. In the meantime, the explosion releases into the atmosphere these nanochemicals that start wreaking havoc on the weather, creating a Day After Tomorrow-type situation. Amidst all this chaos I have to get the evidence I have to the right people in time to, indeed, "save the world."
TVGuide.com: More recently, you wrapped the indie Hack, your first horror film. Do you like scary movies, or do you hide behind your hands?
McKellar: I definitely hide behind my hands. [Laughs] I thought that the remake of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was really well done, and I liked The Ring, too, but there are parts of those movies where I just close my eyes!
TVGuide.com: Is it at all scary to act in one?
McKellar: Not in the least. Although I have to say when you're walking by the makeup trailer and there are 10 body parts strewn across the floor and counter, that's a little unnerving. What's really unnerving is how quickly you get used to seeing that.
TVGuide.com: Do you play "the innocent virgin chased by the killer throughout the movie"?
McKellar: No, I play a conservative and shy brainiac who takes a group of students on a field trip to this island that's privately owned by two aspiring filmmakers. You learn quickly that they are actually aspiring snuff filmmakers, and that's why the students start getting killed off. But my character is not what she seems, so I get to have a little fun, too.
TVGuide.com: Do you consider your West Wing gig the start of a "career resurgence"?
McKellar: That was the beginning of people going, "Huh, she's not a washed-up child star." [Laughs] This business is pretty unpredictable in that you never really know when you're going to be busy or not. This entire year was pretty darn busy for me. When it rains, it pours.
TVGuide.com: Your West Wing arc was the same one that ushered Rob Lowe off the show. Was he at all melancholy on the set?
McKellar: No, I didn't notice that. I think he was really excited about the future. The Lyon's Den didn't do very well, but.... He's in London right now doing A Few Good Men on stage. One day I would love to play the Demi Moore role.
TVGuide.com: Was it hard to escape being pigeonholed as Winnie?
McKellar: Before The West Wing? Absolutely. Now people are like, "We loved your work on The West Wing," which is so good to hear. It's nice to have people talking about things besides The Wonder Years — not that I'm ashamed of or want to forget that or anything. I am grateful to have been on such a wonderful and obviously beloved show.
TVGuide.com: But you're like, "I'm Danica, not Winnie."
McKellar: Exactly. I like working and would like to do new things. [My pictorial in] Stuff didn't hurt, either.
TVGuide.com: Did you have any hesitation about posing?
McKellar: Of course! [Laughs] They'd been asking me for a few years, but I never felt ready for it. But after NYPD Blue aired, they called again and I said, "What the heck, let's do it. I just don't want the camera to be below a certain line, or facing my body in a certain direction...." I told them, "I want these to be sexy, but not unclassy." I'm very happy with how they turned out.
TVGuide.com: I understand you also have a short film on the festival circuit right now.
McKellar: Broken is a six-minute 35mm short that I wrote and directed and produced, and in October it will be at the Westwood and Screamfest film festivals. I love how busy I am as an actress, but I'm hoping that I have time to go to some of these festivals!
TVGuide.com: First, you have to return from Hawaii, where you're doing... a yoga video?
McKellar: My mom has taught meditation for like, 10 years, and I love yoga and there is an instructor who I think is the bomb, so we're taking her over there to shoot this yoga-meditation DVD. I'll be doing the yoga and the instructor, who wrote the segments, will oversee the whole thing and narrate it. It's great; we have all this interest and distribution already — Deepak Chopra wants to put it in his catalogue and stuff. My publicist has even landed a clothing sponsor for me, so I'm still trying to figure out which outfit to wear for which segment....
TVGuide.com: Um, isn't it all, like, leotards? What's to figure out?
McKellar: Yeah, yeah — you and my boyfriend think the same way. Men!