Best known for her sweet, endearing role as The Wonder Years' Winnie, Danica McKellar has come a long way from drive-ins and school dances. Playing a deep-digging journalist-turned-mom in Lifetime Movie Network's Inspector Mom (premiering Saturday, Nov. 18, at 8 pm/ET), McKellar got a taste of motherhood while solving crimes — and she had a great time doing it. TVGuide.com asked the actress why she chose this project — you'll never guess who convinced her to go through with it! — and how "boot camp" made her a better actor.
TVGuide.com: You're on set right now for Inspector Mom?
Danica McKellar: Yeah, we're doing two TV-movies and 10 webisodes. I've been here in Dallas for about five months, and I'll be here for another month.
TVGuide.com: I just watched the first Inspector Mom movie, and I thought it was really fun.
McKellar: Isn't it cute and just sort of charming?
TVGuide.com: It really is! What attracted you to this role?
McKellar: Oh, gosh... well, I really love characters who are smart, but this character is just so curious, she gets herself into trouble, and I kind of like it. It's also the first time I've played a mom and I'll tell you something, the kids are so cute, I think it's been affecting my own biological clock. I don't have kids in real life, but working with these guys... they're just adorable, professional little actors.
TVGuide.com: Was it fun to also narrate the story?
McKellar: Yeah, it gives good opportunity for comedy, and also just getting to hear what [Maddie Monroe is] thinking — she's a smart problem-solver — lets the audience in on the journey and feel a little bit more in the story.
TVGuide.com: It's an interesting angle on suburbia, the scandals amidst the soccer-mom world, as we also see in Desperate Housewives. Why do you think people like that sort of drama?
McKellar: Probably because it's real. The big news happens on TV, but in everyone's life there are the people that they know and think about and have interactions with, so [town] scandals are a bigger deal.
TVGuide.com: Also, Maddie had this past career of investigative reporting, and she still wants to do it, but she's torn by her family responsibilities. That will probably speak to many parents, don't you think?
McKellar: That's certainly becoming more and more of a thing for women who have full careers and then decide to be moms. Again, I'm not a mom myself, but I can't imagine having a little kid and not wanting to spend tons of time and energy [with him or her]. Some moms keep working full-time, and I feel bad for them and their kids. Maddie does both — she's got a part-time job and she's a mom, but she really has these yearnings for being that full-time, full-fledged investigative reporter, so it is a fun concept to play.
TVGuide.com: Do you have a favorite female TV sleuth?
McKellar: Well, I do think of this as a younger Murder, She Wrote — Jessica Fletcher is a bit of a kindred spirit to Maddie, sharing that burning curiosity. You could say it's the soccer-mom version of Veronica Mars, but to me, it seems like Veronica Mars gets thrown into things and is more of a reluctant hero, whereas Maddie is the "curiosity killed the cat" hero. She's just dying to figure things out.
TVGuide.com: You've been guest-starring on various TV shows, had a good run on the The West Wing, and also did some theater work. Do you prefer a certain forum for acting?
McKellar: TV is my domain, that's where I grew up, but I've always found that going back and forth between on-camera work and theater work is, for me, my favorite way to be an actress. I really believe I've done my greatest growth as an actress during theater. I did Proof in a 600-seat theater, eight shows a week, and it was so satisfying, and an emotional roller coaster. It's just like boot camp, you create those channels through your body so you know how to access things and then you have that for that next TV role where you're supposed to burst into tears and everybody's running late and you've got 10 minutes before the light goes away. I don't know how I would do it if I didn't do theater in between sometimes. I just think it's the greatest thing, and I recommend it to every actor.
TVGuide.com: You've also done some filmmaking yourself. Do you want to continue down that road?
McKellar: Well, on this project I'm a producer and one of the writers. What happened was, when they first offered me the part, I heard the pitch and I thought it sounded like so much fun, but when I got the script, it wasn't what I thought it was going to be, and I was disappointed. I had read in an article at some point that Drew Barrymore was handed the script for Charlie's Angels and she felt the same way, and she ended up becoming a producer on [the film]. I didn't want to do [Inspector Mom] with the script as it was, so I talked to producer/director Brad Keller and he loved the ideas that I had. You're right, I love filmmaking — there's something about being part of the creative process beyond just acting, so this is a really great combo.
TVGuide.com: Is it a little weird writing and producing while starring in it yourself?
McKellar: It's my entire world. And it's probably good that I'm not in Los Angeles, because then my own life — whatever that means — would be shouting for attention, whereas here I'm in Dallas, and Dallas to me is Inspector Mom. This is what I live and breathe and eat and think about and dream about.
TVGuide.com: So no time for anything else?
McKellar: Yeah, except for the minor detail that I'm also writing a math book! [McKellar is a published mathematician, including a coauthor of the Chayes-McKellar-Winn theorem.] Oh, and I also have a yoga DVD (Daily Dose of Dharma). It's been a really, really fun adventure. The interesting part about being a writer is that you get to put stuff in that you like, and I love to dance, so in the second TV-movie, I put in this whole tango dance lesson.
TVGuide.com: That's so fun!
McKellar: Yeah, the upside of being a writer, producer and actress on a movie and having no other life? You can create the life that you want to have by writing it into the script [Laughs]! I even wrote a scene where I help my daughter with her math homework, because I'm writing a math book for middle-school girls. That makes the experience like a big playground.
TVGuide.com: As a big Wonder Years fan, I've got to ask: Do you keep in touch with any of your costars?
McKellar: You know, the person I keep in touch with the most would be Dan Lauria (Jack Arnold). He's like a second dad to me. The others I talk to every now and then, but not as much as I should. Everybody gets so busy and this industry breaks people apart from each other, but I have much affection for all of them.
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