It feels like we've known Danica McKellar all of her life.
From her star-making role as Winnie on Wonder Years to her education in mathematics, walking alongside Danica as she's become the woman she is today has been a joy.
In recent years, she's become one of the most celebrated actresses on Hallmark Channel movies, and beginning this Sunday, she gets her own mystery series of films on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.
We had a chance to talk with Danica about her upcoming projects and more.
You've become a staple on Hallmark Channel movies. What do you enjoy most about filming them?
Oh my gosh. First of all, let's see, this is my 11th movie for Hallmark, my first mystery for Hallmark Movies and Mysteries channel, so this has been really, really fun in a different kind of way. It's not just about my character falling in love; it's about solving a mystery.
Well, first of all, let me answer your question. Hallmark Channel makes the sweetest movies. They are so good-natured, and they make people feel good.
In a world that can be oftentimes crazy, crazier and crazier by the day, it's so satisfying and fulfilling to be a part of something that helps people feel good and helps them remember that human nature has good sides to it, and just reinforces this idea of family and things like just a certain buoyancy and optimism that is so vital if we're going to survive this crazy world.
If you notice, the main characters, the main female protagonist, she's usually going through something hard, and yet she's going to pull herself up and she's going to put on a smile and she's going to do her best regardless, and it ends up paying off. I just loved that message again and again.
I agree. What has been your personal favorite?
Oh my gosh. My personal favorite is usually the one that I'm currently working on. In terms of my Hallmark Channel movies, gosh, I love the one I just did over the summer called Love and Sunshine. It was so sweet.
But in addition to being this wonderfully life-affirming romantic comedy, it also had two other elements. One is military and honoring our servicemen and women. He's a soldier. I play a woman who is a foster parent for animals.
He had a dog that he was in service with, and I'm fostering his dog until he gets back. There's these messages of duty and service. Then, of course, the other element was this adorable dog.
We had a golden retriever, who was the star of the movie. The movie is called Love and Sunshine, and Sunshine was the name of the dog. That was one of my favorites.
I really enjoyed that too.
Oh, thank you. Really, it would be hard to pick an actual favorite.
Like I said, I enjoy working on them so much that whatever I'm working on at the moment is the one I'm the most excited about, and that right now is my mystery movies, Matchmaker Mysteries.
How did you get one? How did you finally get your own Matchmaker Mysteries, a mystery side?
I couldn't tell you. They called. Hallmark called and said, "We'd love you to consider doing a mystery wheel that's loosely based on Patti Stanger's Millionaire Matchmaker. You'd be a matchmaker solving crimes," and I was like, "Yes. That sounds awesome."
There had been some talk of me doing a different one the year before, and it ended up falling through for various reasons. That's part of why it took so long for me to get on one of those.
I was supposed to be doing one earlier than this, and it didn't happen, which is fine because that meant that this one was supposed to happen. I love the idea.
Tell me about Angie Dove.
Okay. Angie Dove is a matchmaker. She pairs people up. She's been doing it her whole life, and she is really, really great at reading people and knowing what makes them tick, knowing if they're telling the truth or not, and she understands body language.
Those skills happen to be very handy when it comes to solving mysteries. In this particular movie, she sets up this couple, and at the engagement party, the woman ends up dead, and the fiance is the prime suspect.
Not only does she know them and she's like, "I know that he wouldn't have murdered her," because she's really good at understanding people and human nature, it would also be terrible for her business if a couple that she set up, one of them murdered the other one, so she's got tons of motivation to get to the bottom of it and solve the mystery.
What are important qualities that you like to see in characters you play?
In the characters, I like to see strength. I like to see a certain kind of buoyancy. Angie Dove definitely has that determination and strength, because she's not a welcome partner in solving the crime.
The detective, played by Victor Webster, does not want Angie Dove involved, and I just see coming back and coming back and coming back. I'm determined, and I love that. I love determination. She's also really smart, which I also love.
Look, most people know how much I love math. I write math books for kids. I have a degree in math. It's solving puzzles. What I love about math is that I'm solving puzzles, and so I love that Angie Dove is so good at figuring things out and solving things.
Can you talk a little bit about Angie's connection to her dad, Nick, and how he's influenced her?
Right. Bruce Boxleitner plays my dad, and he was a cop. He's a retired cop and detective, so he gives me advice here and there, but mostly he'd rather me not be in... He doesn't want me to be in any danger.
He loves that I'm passionate about it, and he does trust my gut, and tells me to trust my instincts. He gives me some good advice, but it's hard for him because he also knows how dangerous police work can be. He goes back and forth on supporting me and then trying to hold me back.
It has to help that there's a connection, also, between Nick and Kyle. What can you tell me about that, and the potential sparks between Angie and detective Kyle Cooper, because what would Hallmark mysteries be without that spark?
Right. I can't remember the exact title, but Bruce Boxleitner, he plays Nick Colomba... Nick was Kyle's supervising detective when he first joined the force. I might be getting that title wrong. It might not be supervising detective, but it was something like that.
He basically was his mentor. Although Detective Kyle Carter does not want me involved in the case, you can see there's just a little bit of him that doesn't mind me being on the case, but just a little. Really, there isn't much romance in this first movie.
Mostly, he doesn't want me around. Mostly, I'm an annoyance to him. Although he might be slightly charmed, he really does not want me interfering. It's pretty funny.
Which leads me to, what about the plans for the future? Do you have a set number of these that you're going to do for this particular series?
I don't know if they have a set number in mind, but we're told three next year. Then I guess we'll see from there. See, that's what they usually do with these. They'll do three a year for as long as it goes.
Are you going to continue doing other Hallmark projects in between, or are you going to focus mostly on the Matchmaker Mysteries?
I'll probably still do at least a Christmas movie every year, but I'm executive producing Matchmaker Mysteries as well, so there's a lot more that goes on than just the shooting. I don't know.
Oh, good for you.
I'm still writing math books. If you go to mckellarmath.com, I've got a book that comes out in the summer of 2020 that I'm working on here. If I weren't talking to you right now in the car, I've got the manuscript with me and I'm proofreading it right now.
I've got a lot going on, but I love making Hallmark Channel movies, and I will do as many Hallmark movies as my schedule allows, which will probably be, my guess is, three Matchmakers and a Christmas movie. That's my guess.
Are you still doing voiceover work as well?
Yes, I am. Actually, Young Justice, the cartoon series that I do, just got renewed for its fourth season, so that starts up. It actually starts up while I'm in Vancouver this month shooting my Christmas at Dollywood movie, but I'll come back and I'll make up the ones that I missed.
Tell me about Christmas at Dollywood too.
Well, we haven't started shooting yet. I fly up on Thursday. That's going to be awesome. I'm sure I'll have many more stories to tell once we have shot it, but I am just so looking forward to working with Dolly Parton.
We're shooting part of the movie in Vancouver because, for whatever reason, it is much less expensive for these companies to shoot movies in Canada.
There's some big tax breaks up there. We're shooting part in Vancouver and then part, of course, at Dollywood, and that's in November, so it'll be a fast turnaround.
That'll be exciting.
Yep. Yeah. I got to meet Dolly Parton in April. She and I had met because I have a book in her charity Imagination Library. Do you know about this?
It's incredible. Dolly Parton is amazing in more ways than we realize. She has such a giving heart and so wants to help kids. Her dad never learned to read, and so her mission is to make sure that all kids have a chance to learn to read.
Her Imagination Library has donated 125 million books in the last 25 years to kids.
Yeah, to kids who normally might not be able to afford books. They get a book once a month from ages zero to five, whenever the parents sign up the kids for the program. It's not available in all areas, but it's through a lot of the country.
My book Goodnight, Numbers, which was the first book that I wrote for little kids, was invited to be part of the library two years ago, and I was so honored. I remember there was a letter that was signed by Dolly Parton, and I just thought, "My goodness, I have a letter signed by Dolly Parton."
I immediately framed it. Still framed in my office. Then it was invited to be part of the program for the second year in a row, which is so exciting.
Then I had this idea because I was meeting with Michelle Vicary, the head of programming at Hallmark Channel, this was a little more than a year ago, and she said, "Danica, we're looking for interesting places to do Christmas movies next year.
If you have any ideas for yours, let me know." I had just gotten back from reading Goodnight, Numbers at the Library of Congress at this ceremony they were holding to celebrate the Imagination Library having donated 100 million books.
There was this great celebration all year last year once they hit the 100 million book mark, and so I got to be a part of it, and I got to read my book. So Dolly Parton was on my ring, I had Dolly on the mind, and so I said, "Well, what about Christmas at Dollywood?"
She's like, "Love it." I'm like, "Should I get a writer and a producer and pitch it to you guys?" She's like, "Yes." I did, and the rest is history. We're about to start shooting.
Well, that's so exciting.
Yeah, it really is. I'm really excited to be producing both these movies, both the Matchmaker Mysteries and Christmas at Dollywood. I love being hands-on when it comes to the script, when it comes to casting and editing, you name it. I've always loved that.
You have so much experience. Now you get to use it in a different way, and that's really exciting.
I want to tell you that I think it is just so beautiful that you write math books for children. As a child who struggled with math, knowing that there are people out there who want to make sure that the next generation won't struggle as hard.
Thank you. I struggled with math, too, so I remember how terrifying it can be when you're looking at math and you don't get it. It's so intimidating, and it makes us feel bad about ourselves, and there's so many reasons.
I thought you know what, once I got a teacher who was really fun and made it fun, the same exact material that had scared me the week before when we had a new teacher come in, and I thought, "Okay, well, that's it." I started to understand that it wasn't me; it was the presentation.
That's the case for a lot of people. It doesn't have to be a bad teacher. Maybe it's just a teacher that doesn't connect with certain types of students. We all learn differently. But one thing that I know works for everyone is having fun with it, and being silly, and comedy.
Comic relief always helps, fun analogies and stories that bring math concepts to life and fun pneumonic devices that make it easy to memorize things, all that stuff. It was just worth putting the time and effort to create books.
If you go to mckellarmath.com, you'll see all my books from ages zero to 16. I've almost filled in all the gaps. In 2020, when my multiplication division book comes out, I'll have covered all the ages from zero to 16. Right now, I'm missing the multiplication division.
I wrote the middle school, high school books first, then I started back with babies after I had my baby, and then I've been working my way up to the 9, 10-year-olds so that I can close that gap. I'm going to feel really good once that's done.
I'll still do little books here and there, but that way I know I've got it covered. I've got the kids covered. If you need help, there's a book for you, ages zero to 16.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today, and I can't wait for everybody to see the movie.
Oh, my pleasure. I wanted to mention a quick social media mention. I'll be live-tweeting through the premiere on Sunday night. Also, I've started social media accounts for Matchmaker Mysteries. On Facebook and Instagram-
Yeah. Facebook and Instagram, it's MatchmakerMysteries, all one word. That's Facebook and Instagram. Then Twitter, it's just MatchMysteries because you can't have as many letters. Yeah, I've been hosting little scavenger hunts through the feed.
People can ask a question, and then they have to go down, scroll through the feed to find the answers. I'll be doing fun questions and things like that once the movie airs as well. And I've been sending people autographed pictures as Angie Dove. It's been a blast.
I love being a game master. I used to do a palindrome contest on Twitter every single week, and I just didn't have enough time in my schedule anymore to do it. But I've always loved puzzles and games, and so I thought, you know what, let me have fun with our little Matchies viewers.
It's perfect. It's the perfect tie-in, given that it's a mystery series.
And the people who are going to follow Matchmaker Mysteries probably like using clues to solve puzzles. There you go.
Matchmaker Mysteries: A Killer Engagement airs on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Sunday, October 6 at 9/8c.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.