“Someone on the set of The Wonder Years once told me, ‘Did you know you’re America’s sweetheart?’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’” Danica McKellar, 44, laughs to Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “Years later, people said ‘Winnie Cooper broke so many hearts.’” And in recent days, with her involvement in the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women Red Dress Collection charity event, “I’m here to heal people’s hearts by promoting healthy habits. So there’s a full circle for you!”
The star’s personal life has also come full circle: She’s evolved from dutiful daughter to attentive mom (to her son Draco, 8) and wife (to attorney Scott Sveslosky, 43). After taking breaks from acting to get her PhD in mathematics from the University of Chicago and write best-selling math books for kids, she returned to her first love, starring in three popular Hallmark Channel movies in 2018 with more in store.
On the heels of her appearance at the AHA’s 15th annual Red Dress Collection show, Danica talked with Closer about surviving child stardom, overcoming divorce and finding love again.
Scroll below to read our exclusive Q&A interview with Danica!
What inspired you to dress up for the American Heart Association event?
They invited me to walk the runway, and this cause is really important to me. I’m all about supporting women, and I’m a huge health nut! Because I’m very busy, there’s a term I coined — “multi-taskercizing” — which means finding little ways to exercise while doing something else, like squats while you’re brushing your teeth.
Who inspires you?
My mom — we’re very close. She’s in her 70s and looks amazing. We ate organic food from when I was a child, before it was trendy. I’m so grateful that I grew up with her in my life.
We had great moms on the [Wonder Years] set — that’s part of why we turned out all right. This army of moms — mine, Fred [Savage]’s, Josh [Saviano]’s and Jason [Hervey]’s. They made sure we had enough school time. It’s great to be able to help my mom now.
Do you and the cast still keep in touch?
We do, but we’re all so busy. Dan Lauria, who played [Fred’s] dad, played my dad in my 2018 Christmas movie for Hallmark. I keep in touch with Josh and Fred. We try!
What was that time in your life like?
It was a great experience, but I didn’t have any perspective on my character then, because I was so focused on school. My parents emphasized education, health and family above Hollywood, which is why I never went to Hollywood parties or did any crazy stuff.
Was the show life-changing for you?
Definitely, because people still remember it. It’s the 31st anniversary of The Wonder Years premiering, but the ripple effect is still here. People who watched the show when it was on are parents now. I get messages saying, “My kids use your math book.”
Is there anything you feel you missed out on?
I went back and forth between the school on set and my real school, which was Harvard Westlake, a very challenging prep school, so I was not skimping on education, that’s for sure. But we didn’t even go to the show’s first Emmy Awards because my dad, who’s still a busy developer in San Diego, planned a river-rafting trip for him, my sister and me, and there was no other time it could happen.
We watched the show win [Outstanding Comedy Series in 1988] on a tiny old TV in a motel room. I remember jumping on the bed going “Yay, I won!” then went to sleep, woke up at 5 a.m., hit the river and had the trip of our lives! That, among many examples, is how I was taught family is more important than fame. It made a big difference for me.
Anything no one’s asked you about The Wonder Years?
After 30 years, I cannot think of anything! I’m just really grateful you didn’t ask me, ‘What was it like having my first kiss on TV?’ because I cannot tell you how many times I’ve answered that question! [Laughs]
Speaking of romance, you’ve been married for four-and-a-half years. What do you love about Scott?
He’s a great partner — sweet, supportive, loving. We each brought a child into our marriage — Hunter’s 14, and my son Draco is 8. We’re raising them alongside each other. Watching their friendship develop, they just play and have so much fun. What a blessing!
How difficult was your 2013 divorce from your first husband, composer Mike Verta?
I believe that was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. And I have advice for anyone going through a divorce if there are kids involved: Just be generous, and don’t bring them into it. If you hold on tight, the other person is going to hold back, and when kids are caught in the middle … What kids want is love and for everyone to get along. Luckily his dad is a fantastic father. We get along great, much better than we did before, and we’re generous with each other.
Any advice for finding love again?
It was one-and-a-half years before I started dating , because you need to focus on yourself. I just wanted to regroup. I wrote in my journal, trying to understand what’d happened — I found that to be healing — and I moved in with my mom for two years.
Ever think about having another kid?
We actually tried, but it didn’t happen, and that’s OK. I have such a great relationship with my son. I’m 44, a little on the older side, and we’re not not trying. Who knows? I joke with Scott, if we’re not going to have a kid, maybe we should open a foster home! [Laughs]
What brings you the most joy these days?
Spending time with my family. I love inspiring people with my math books, I love providing quality entertainment with my Hallmark Channel movies — I love all that. But spending time with my little guy is just so precious. There’s no contest, and I’m really grateful.
For more on Danica McKellar, pick up the latest issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now — and be sure to sign up for our newsletter for more exclusive news!