Danica McKellar Spills On The Winter Palace & The Wonder Years Reboot - Exclusive Interview

Danica McKellar first became a household name in 1988 as a baby-faced 13-year-old, playing Winnie Cooper, the secret crush (and eventual on-again, off-again girlfriend) of fellow child actor Fred Savage's character, Kevin Arnold, on "The Wonder Years." Fans of the show loved watching McKellar and Savage's characters navigate their budding romance and struggle in fits and starts with their own evolving emotions as their relationship moved from friendship to puppy love to a potential long-term commitment.

It's often tough for child actors to get taken seriously once they've aged out of the roles that build their reputations — but McKellar managed to navigate the tricky transition in her own unconventional way. She took a hiatus from acting to study mathematics at UCLA, according to The New York Times, where she not only graduated summa cum laude, but co-authored a research paper featuring a theorem partially named after her, the Chayes-McKellar-Winn theorem. While she would have been a shoo-in for a graduate program in math, the call of the stage drew her back, and not too long after graduating, she landed a role on "The West Wing." 

She's since also put her experience portraying romantic relationships to use in a number of Hallmark holiday movies — but she recently surprised fans by announcing she'd signed an exclusive deal with GAC Family. In this exclusive interview, she shares the details of "The Winter Palace," her inaugural project for GAC Family, and her thoughts on the new "Wonder Years" reboot.

The Winter Palace hits all the right notes for a great romantic comedy

First of all, could you tell us about "The Winter Palace"? What can viewers expect?

"The Winter Palace" is an adorable romantic comedy set at wintertime, of course. My character is Emily Miller. I'm a writer, a novelist, and I have total writer's block. I cannot write to save my life, suddenly. My best friend is a property manager who's got this big house, this big palace, this chalet up on a mountain in Colorado. She's like, "Look, we need a house manager. We need somebody just to go up there and just care take [of] the house. Just knock the icicles off, make sure the pipes don't freeze up, and you can sit there and just write. It's beautiful. You'll love it." I'm like, "Great."

So I go up there. First morning after I wake up in the morning, someone knocks on the door. I'm like, "Who is this?" And she tells me, there's this family who owns the house. They're a European wealthy family. And they never go there. Well, sure enough, they show up. And it's not just a European family. They're a royal family, and the prince himself is there.

I find out that as a caretaker of the house, one of my roles is to complete any reasonable requests that they have. So now I'm working for this royal family while I'm trying to write. It's a great, really fun setup. And of course, it's a romantic comedy, so a lot of really funny things happen. And maybe we end up getting along at the end, but we certainly don't get along to begin with.

So what attracted you to this role and to this project?

I love a good royal story. I mean, like every little girl growing up, I loved Cinderella and just fantasies. It's adorable. But in this movie, in particular — and I've done a ton of romantic comedies, let's face it — but in this one, there's more comedy, I guess. And my costar and I, Neal Bledsoe, we had so much fun. The entire cast was amazing, everyone with their British accents, except for me, of course.

It was one of the most creatively fulfilling roles I've ever played. It was just such a great collaboration on the set. And it was such a fun premise, just being stuck there in this beautiful chateau, but being forced to work for this family while I'm trying to write my book and looking for inspiration. And the prince is in a ... he's about to become king. And so, he's dealing with his own stuff. And we end up kind of being exactly what the other one needs in the most unexpected ways.

She had a blast working with Neal Bledsoe again

You and Neal Bledsoe worked together other before on "Coming Home for Christmas." So what was it like working with him again?

Oh, it was fantastic. It's funny because you have this sort of baked-in chemistry that's already there from before, and we got to bring things, I think, to another level. And the last movie was on Hallmark Channel. This one's GAC Family. So I've got this new deal with GAC Family, and I'm executive producing and acting in these movies, and I have a little bit more creative say. And so, it was really fun to be more hands-on and helping to make more creative decisions, not just in the script, but also just random things, like the props or whatever, just being more involved. And then getting to bring in Neal to the mix. It was just really, really satisfying and fun. And I'm just thrilled. I cannot wait for people to see it.

So are there any on-set memories that stand out for you?

There are so many. I mean, Neal is hilarious. He should be in improv, like a stand-up comedian or something. There was this one time, where there was this little fluff on his scarf. And I tried to pull it off before the take, and I guess it was sort of a sweet gesture. And he's like, "But now I'm in love with you!" And he took this snowball and he got down in one knee. And it was just hilarious. There were so many moments like that, where we just laughed so hard. It was like, "Wait, we should be making a movie right now." We were just having a great time.

Holiday movies are special for Danica McKellar

Nice! You're also known for doing a lot of Christmas movies. So how did you get into that?

Oh yeah. Well, the thing is, the Christmas movies, that's a big event, right? But the romantic comedies go all year round. And I think what audiences love about Christmas is this feeling of nostalgia and family and traditions and warm fuzziness. Really, what we want is that warm fuzziness. And I think around Christmastime, we all allow ourselves to spend more time feeling warm and fuzzy. What I love about GAC Family movies is that we can bring that warm, fuzzy feeling all year round for real. And of course, "The Winter Palace" happens in the snow. And so, it has almost a kind of a Christmasy feeling. We all miss Christmas as soon as it's done. So this is a way to kind of reclaim some of that warm and fuzzy nostalgic feeling.

So what other future projects do you have planned with GAC Family?

Well, I can't give you a lot of details yet, but I'm working on one that involves some dance, which is a lot of fun. I haven't done a lot of dancing since "Dancing with the Stars" several years ago, but I love it. And it's just a fantastic fun exercise and art form all at once. So that's in the works. And, of course, a Christmas movie this year, which I also can't talk much about, but I think if I'm right, audiences are going to be very excited about it. But I can't say anything else. I'm just going to be really mysterious with you.

Well, people will be keeping their eyes open!

Here's what Danica McKellar thinks of the Wonder Years reboot

Moving on to another area, "The Wonder Years" was rebooted this year with a bunch of new characters. What are your thoughts about the new show?

I think they're doing an amazing job. It's a very different show, but it's a great show. It's that take on a 12-year-old's perspective on the world, that innocent perspective when so many big things are going on and the priorities for the 12-year-old-boy are very different. And then on our show, I remember there's tons of things going on, like with the Vietnam War and all the rest of it. But Fred Savage's character would be worried about, "Should I call that girl or not?" And that's the headline news, and it's such a fun premise for a show. And to take it into a totally different environment with different types of issues is brilliant. I think it can happen for lots of different types of 12-year-olds and lots of different types of situations, different ethnicities, you name it. I really feel like it's a great way to look at the world.

Would you consider doing a cameo in the new show?

If it's appropriate for it. I mean, I wouldn't want to be a distraction, but sure. I mean, if they wanted me to do something, I would absolutely be on board.

She cherishes the original Wonder Years

And finally, for fans of the original "Wonder Years," is there any chance of a revival that would focus on Fred and Winnie again?

I don't think that we'll ever do that type of revival. Again, I'd be open to it, but there was something so special about "The Wonder Years" as it was, and I'm not sure if we came back and all did a big reunion. Hey, "Very, Very Wonder"– remember that "Very Brady Christmas," like "Very Wonder Christmas" — I don't know.

Speaking to nostalgia again, there's something that you want to preserve sometimes about memories. And I feel like, the new "Wonder Years" is such a different show that it doesn't mess with the memories. It's such a different show. In fact, I remember when Fred told me about it a long time ago, I was like, "Oh, that's so cool. What are you going to call it?" He's like, "Well, 'The Wonder Years.'" Okay. Sure, sure. Yes.

But it is that if you want to take "The Wonder Years" and say, "Okay, well, that title, that name means seeing the world through a 12-year-old's perspective." Then yes, it's perfect. And I think that it's a wonderful way to explore so many topics and issues of the world in maybe multiple eras, where the 12-year-old's perspective is just different. And maybe we'll get a 12-year-old girl at some point. But having that, remembering for adults watching a show like that, remembering what our priorities were compared to what they are now kind of helps to ground you and also has this way of helping you to relate to kids. Because oftentimes, I feel like we dismiss our children's emotions and feelings like, "Oh, well, they're just a kid. They'll get over it." And they don't have real concerns. They don't have real-life worries.

But on "The Wonder Years," what we did for the first time, I think, is to show and to remind adults, "Wait a minute, remember your feelings were really valid. And they meant something, and they were worthwhile and worth looking at and honoring." That show honored a kid's feelings in a way that most people don't, I think. And so, that was, I think, the new ground that we broke that this new show is also exploring and others, I think, could as well.

She wants fans to join her for a Winter Palace watch party

Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time.

Yeah. Hey, I want to let you know, and for your viewers, "The Winter Palace" premieres this Saturday night at 5:00 Pacific, 8:00 Eastern, and we're doing a big watch party an hour before. So on my Instagram Live, we're doing a party. And my birthday was Monday. So we're doing a virtual birthday party-slash-watch party, and I hope people tune in. And that's 4:00 Pacific, 7:00 Eastern for the watch party on Instagram Live. And that's going to be also on the GAC community website as well, which is a great place. We'll be doing an interview with me, Neal, and Bill Abbott, the head of GAC Family. So that's something to check out as well. There's lots of really fun content. And this week, I'm doing something called "The Winter Palace, Winter Games" on my socials. So I hope people will check it out.

Awesome. Thank you. So where could people find you on Instagram? What's your handle?

I'm just @danicamckellar. And also, of course, we're live tweeting as well, I want to mention, during the movie. So we're doing the watch party on Instagram and hour beforehand, and then live tweeting during the movie. And we're doing an Instagram Live as well afterwards with me and Neal Bledsoe and GAC family, and RomaDrama Live, who is going to be hosting it.

Sounds like a great party.

It's going to be a lot of fun.

"The Winter Palace" premieres Saturday, January 8 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT only on GAC Family.