Previously Known For: Boy Meets World
|Currently Known For: Cabin Fever, The Dungeon Master and Girl Meets World|
“I hate the term ‘Hollywood kid’ because, to me, it means somebody who gets his self-image, his self-worth, from others telling him how great he is.” Rider King Strong came into this world on December 11, 1979 in San Francisco, California where his parents worked as a teacher and a firefighter. “I had hippie parents—that’s the shorthand explanation,” Strong said of his childhood and his unique name. “If I was going to be a girl, they were going to name me Sierra—so I would have been Sierra Strong, but my dad said, ‘That sounds like a stripper name.’ But it never occurred to him that Rider Strong was the biggest porn name ever… it sounds like a joke. No one pointed it out to me until I was 15. My father’s name is King Arthur Strong.”
Despite the innuendo of his name, Strong showed an early interest in acting and was five years old when he made his theatrical debut in local productions around his hometown of Sebastopol, California. Four years later, he wowed audiences with his performance in a production of Les Miserables and went on to make his television debut in the 1991 film, Long Road Home. Adding in credits in Going Places, Bobby’s World, Empty Nest, Evening Shade and Home Improvement, Strong snagged his first leading role opposite Julie Andrews in the short-lived sitcom, Julie, in 1992. Although the series was canceled after six episodes, working with Andrews and director Blake Edwards left a lasting impression on the young star.
“She was so awesome. I was young; I was only 11 or 12,” he recalled. “I remember Blake Edwards—he directed every episode. And he was so not right for television. And if something funny happened, if some actor did something, he would rewrite the entire script on the spot. And he would add a whole new character and a whole week to the schedule. Shooting a sitcom, you just can’t do that. He was so old school with film and comedy; it was terrible for television, but made for good comedy. And he never took his sunglasses off.”
After Julie, Strong made his film debut in Benefit of the Doubt but didn’t find mainstream success until the following year when he was cast as Shawn Hunter opposite Ben Savage as Corey Matthews and Danielle Fishel as Topanga Lawrence in Boy Meets World. With audiences tuning in week after week to see the lives of Corey, Topanga and Shawn unfold, Strong became a household name and earned two Young Artist Award nominations for his performance. Along the way, he added to his fame with appearances in popular television series and films like Maybe This Time, Party of Five, Hercules, The Practice and Batman Beyond. Then, in 2000, Strong’s seven-season run on Boy Meets World came to an end but, thankfully, it wouldn’t be the last he’d see of his character!
Spending the next few years working on a variety of projects and later earning his bachelor’s degree from Columbia University and his master’s degree from Bennington College, Strong starred in the 2002 horror film Cabin Fever and snagged credits in Death Valley and Paradise, Texas before trying his hand at writing and directing alongside his brother, Shiloh. Together, the brothers released Irish Twins at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival where the film earned a handful of awards and further sparked Strong’s interest in filmmaking. Working together on projects like Ruff Love, Your Lucky Day, Lone and Walter Don’t Dance, their most recent project—The Dungeon Master—was released in 2011 and focuses on the popular game, Dungeons and Dragons.
“I think it’s easier to get my foot in the door, but it’s harder to be taken seriously once I’m there,” Strong said of making the transition from child actor to filmmaker. “So, I think that getting a crew, for instance—people with meet with me…. But once I meet with them and they know the show, I’m just a child actor trying to do something else. So, I have to prove myself against that. I’m not making anything to do with Boy Meets World, so it doesn’t lend credence or value to my projects. It gives more publicity to our film because I have so many Twitter followers, or whatever. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to give my film an award. We’re going to have to earn that.”
Perfectly content with earning respect as a filmmaker rather than cashing in on his childhood stardom, Strong made cameos in a handful of television series like Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Bones and Castle only to disappoint fans in 2012 when he turned down the offer to reprise his role as Shawn Hunter in the Disney Channel spinoff, Girl Meets World. Fortunately, he had a change of heart with creator Michael Jacobs sweetened the deal and offered him the chance to direct a few episodes. But, even then, Strong refused to go back and watch the entire seven seasons of Boy Meets World. “I haven’t seen the show since we ended,” he admitted. “I’ve YouTubed the final episode. I’ve seen the final scene because we only did one take and we were all crying—that was all just genuine tears. So, I watched that a couple of years ago.”
With Girl Meets World wrapping up in 2017, many wonder what’s next for the 37-year-old Strong especially now that he’s rekindled his early fame, proven his talents as a director, and even become a father after his wife, actress Alexandra Barreto, gave birth to their son, Indigo, in 2014. Currently lending his voice to Tom Lucitor in Star vs. The Forces of Evil, we can’t help but think filmmaking and directing will take a more prominent role in his future in Hollywood even if it means he has to work twice as hard to prove he’s not some former child star with nothing else to do. After all, Strong has made a promise to himself to never be a ‘Hollywood kid’ entitled to a lifetime of fortune and fame. “I think people are screwed up everywhere,” he says. “Being a child actor, unfortunately, you just hear more about it.”