Why Hallmark Star Danica McKellar Stepped Back From Acting After The Wonder Years

For several years, most of us only knew Danica McKellar as the adorable Winnie Cooper from "The Wonder Years," but since then, she's made a name for herself in other ways. Of course, she has grown to become a Hallmark star with movies like "Perfect Match," "Crown for Christmas," "Wedding Bells," and more. And while many child stars end up pursuing different interests as adults, few leave it all behind to be a mathematician like McKellar. 

Weirdly enough, she isn't the only "The Wonder Years" cast member who took an untraditional route because one of her co-stars now works as an attorney. In an Entertainment Tonight interview, McKellar explained why she quit acting after the show. She began by confirming that she took a break from work to go to college, but while McKellar was a student at UCLA, people only recognized her as the character of Winnie and not as a real person with her own merits.

She continued, "So I needed to find out how I was valuable outside of Winnie Cooper, and math was challenging and I did well at it," adding, "And I love this feeling that my value, the important stuff had nothing to do with how I looked or television." In 1988, McKellar graduated from UCLA with a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics and even earned a summa cum laude too, so it's clear that she has a deeply-rooted passion for the subject. 

Danica McKellar wants to change how teens view math

It almost seemed like Danica McKellar began to pave her way toward being a mathematician decades ago. In 2005, she earned a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Chicago. Just two years later, McKellar released her first book, entitled "Math Doesn't Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail," to help young girls see the subject as cool and fun. Since then, the "Wonder Years" alum has authored 11 books that help make math less intimidating to younger generations. 

"Goodnight, Numbers" received The Mathical Book Prize from Simons Laufer Mathematical Sciences Institute (SLMa). In 2014, McKellar earned the JPBM Communications Award from the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics for her contributions to demystifying math for young people. For those who struggled through math class, it may seem a bit strange that she loves it, but for McKellar, it's all she's ever known.

The Hallmark star told USA Today that she has adored highly-analytical subjects all her life because she loves how challenging they are. McKellar also explained how her books can help youngsters: "I use stories and relatable strategies for young people to realize math is fun and is all around us in everyday, real ways." She continued, "I also included stories of my own personal struggles with math and ordinary, everyday life, to let girls realize we're all the same. We all have the same worries, struggles, insecurities, etcetera." 

Danica McKellar's view of stardom changed as an adult

In an interview with "The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers," Danica McKellar recalled a pivotal moment from her college years. The former TV star explained that initially, she attended UCLA to study film, but everything changed when she sat in on a math class that McKellar assumed would be too hard for her, despite receiving the highest grade in AP Calculus BC. But she came out at the top of the class on her first multi-variable calculus test, and the professor encouraged her to change her major to math. 

McKellar also shared her joy when another student recognized her as the highest scorer and not as Winnie Cooper. As a young adult trying to navigate her life, McKellar didn't appreciate being solely recognized by her most famous character because it negatively affected her self-image. But as an adult, she saw things differently. The author told E! News, "Me as a person doesn't matter to that person. What's so meaningful to them is the character I played, so there's no reason to try to get them to see me instead." 

The former child star also shed some light on why she chose to do 16 Hallmark movies after her acting break: "I just wanted to put good energy into the world by doing movies like this." She noted, "It's extraordinary how much these movies mean to people. It's telling how much positivity is needed in the world and that we can provide that."