“I recognize that most actors spend their entire careers hoping to get one job that someone will remember them for… if that’s Topanga for me, then that is way more I could have ever expected.” Faced with the option to complete her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy or reprise her role as Topanga Lawrence-Matthews on a new spinoff called Girl Meets World, Danielle Fishel didn’t have to give much thought to her decision, especially not after learning that her longtime friend and costar, Ben Savage, was on board. Rekindling their romance and navigating parenthood on the Disney spinoff from 2014 to 2017, the former Boy Meets World stars delighted fans with their reunion only to leave many to wonder what’s next for Fishel now that the series is over!
The daughter of a businessman and a personal manager from Mesa, Arizona, Danielle Christine Fishel was born on May 5, 1981. Bright-eyed and full of energy even as a child, Fishel showed an early interest in performing and often entertained her family, friends (and anyone else who would listen to her adorable antics), which encouraged her parents to enroll her at the local community theater where, before long, she was cast in productions of The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan.
Although she was only 10 years old, Fishel showed a natural knack for acting and had an undeniable stage presence that caught the attention of a theater critic who put her in contact with a talent agent. With her mother becoming her full-time manager, Fishel’s free time was quickly consumed with auditions and minor gigs as she appeared in a handful of commercials for toys like Barbie and Mattel before making her television debut in an episode of Full House and Harry and the Hendersons. After two years of bit parts, Fishel auditioned for a new series called Boy Meets World but, after speed-talking her way through the audition, she lost the part of Topanga to another actress. Fortunately, hope wasn’t entirely lost as the original Topanga didn’t work out and producers called Fishel back for a second audition where she proved she was ready for primetime television.
Making her debut as Topanga Lawrence on the fourth episode of Boy Meets World, Fishel gave such a stellar performance opposite Ben Savage that ratings soared and, what was once written as a small part, evolved into a recurring role. Fishel was soon a series regular as her on-screen love story with Cory Matthews blossomed. “For me, it was the very first episode I did, which was the fourth or fifth episode of the first season,” Fishel said of her favorite memory from Boy Meets World. “Every single thing about that week stands out to me so clearly. It was so much excitement. That was when Ben and I had our first kiss—up against the lockers, which is now an iconic image of him with his hair standing up and his frozen face. That whole week, that whole episode is my favorite.”
Sharing her first kiss with Savage was one of many firsts for Fishel over the next seven years as she became a teen icon and graced the covers of magazines like Seventeen and GQ. She was nominated for two Young Artist Awards and took home a Young Star Award for Best Performance in a Comedy Series in 1998 before being named one of the “21 Hottest Stars Under 21” by Teen People. Of course, none of it would’ve been possible without Boy Meets World, a show that has transcended time since its final episode aired in 2000.
“We certainly weren’t the only show that managed to be funny and engaging and relatable but never talk down to the audience. There have only been a handful of those that I can think of that aren’t super cheesy or sappy or way too kid-friendly,” Fishel said. “Boy Meets World was special in that way. I think that’s what people held on to. When people watched the shows years later as adults, they got new messages and new life lessons they didn’t pick up the first time around. I think people like that. There’s a nostalgia feeling, like you can revisit your childhood, and there’s a comfort and safety there without feeling like you’re watching a kids’ show, per se.”
After Boy Meets World, Fishel spent nearly a decade making appearances on The Tyra Banks Show and in episodes of series like Yes, Dear and Nikki but struggled to find her place in Hollywood. Knowing she wanted more than acting had to offer, she enrolled at California State University—Fullerton at 27 years old. Spending the next four years studying psychology, college offered Fishel more than a degree when she met and fell in love with her classmate, Tim Belusko. Engaged in 2012 and married in October 2013, Fishel earned her psychology degree and had just been accepted into the master’s program for marriage and family therapy when she received an offer she simply couldn’t refuse—a chance to reprise her role as Topanga.
“In my mind, acting and Hollywood were in the past and I was totally fine with that,” she said. “It wasn’t like I was sad or disappointed. I loved school, loved psychology. I wasn’t even thinking about it when suddenly I got the call from Michael Jacobs who said, ‘Hey, I have something to tell you…’” Agreeing to film the pilot, Fishel learned that Disney picked up the show just two weeks after she got her acceptance letter to graduate school. But, even then, the decision was easy. “The people at Disney, Michael Jacobs, Ben and I knew exactly what the message should be, and what the goal was going to be and why this was an important show to bring back,” she said. “I can’t say there were any hesitations.”
Thrilling Boy Meets World fans with her grand return on Girl Meets World in 2014, Fishel spent the next three seasons navigating parenthood with Savage before wrapping up the show in 2017. Of course, the experience of filming with a younger cast accustomed to instant gratification was an entirely new experience for Fishel. “When we did Boy Meets World in the 90s, we really felt like we were doing the show for our friends and family,” Fishel said nostalgically. “We never knew who was watching or how many people were watching because there was no immediate feedback.” Thanks to social media, that certainly wasn’t the case on Girl Meets World!
Since wrapping up the series, many assumed Fishel would return to her studies at California State but that hasn’t been the case as the 36-year-old seems to be hanging around Hollywood these days… and fans couldn’t be happier!