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Danielle Fishel’s world is in ‘Normally, This Would Be Cause for Concern’

Danielle Fishel
(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

Danielle Fishel drew a line in the sand when “Boy Meets World” came to a close after seven seasons. She wasn’t going to audition for soap operas or horror films.

After all, she’d starred on a successful ABC sitcom since she was 12, making her bouncy Topanga Lawrence a beloved ‘90s girl icon alongside D.J. Tanner and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Surely there were plenty of casting agents on quality projects who’d kill to book her.

Yeah, not so much.

After a few years without any major gigs, Fishel went back on her promise and begrudgingly tried out for “The Bold and the Beautiful.” At the audition, she was told to hold her arms out while rotating 360 degrees as a camera panned up and down her body.

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“Ah, the entertainment industry. Where talent and ability are less important than height and weight,” she recalls in her new book, “Normally, This Would Be Cause for Concern.” “I am pleased to say that since that day, I have never auditioned for another horror movie or soap opera. And you know why? Because I may not be perfect, but we are all too good for that crap.”

This is the cheeky, self-mocking tone Fishel invokes often in her book, which hit shelves Tuesday. At 33, she’s aiming to follow in the footsteps of Mindy Kaling, whose 2012 comedic memoir endeared her to female millennials and became a New York Times bestseller. So she’s billing herself as the relatable celebrity, writing about how she eats at Red Robin and didn’t realize her high school boyfriend — ‘N Sync’s Lance Bass — was gay. “You’re definitely going to want to be her best friend!” promises the book’s jacket.

You’d be forgiven if you think it all sounds like a calculated marketing ploy. But since her days as TGIF prime-time royalty, Fishel has kept her distance from Hollywood. When she got a call last year that the Disney Channel wanted to create a new series for “Boys Meets World” fans — “Girl Meets World,” on which Topanga and her high school boyfriend, Ben Savage’s Cory, are now parents — she had all but retired from Hollywood.

At 27, she decided to enroll at Cal State Fullerton to get a degree in psychology. Her parents had invested her “Boy Meets World” earnings well, and she lived within her means in a modest Orange County home.

“But acting was the only skill I had, because I’d never taken the time to give myself another one,” she said. “The hardest part of not working was not knowing what else I was good at — if anything. I hated that I was in a situation at someone else’s mercy. So I changed that situation.”

She was saying this at a picnic table at Irvine Regional Park, as she picked at some paint that was beginning to peel off. (“I want to make this table better. I don’t know what’s going on.”) Her hair — full and thick like the kind that women in shampoo commercials have — was just as long it was in the ‘90s. A few kids rode a train that passed by every few minutes, and some families searched for hiking trails, but it was breezy and calm.

“Orange County suits me,” she said, looking around at all of the green. “It’s quieter. There’s no paparazzi. There’s parking.”

She lives a few miles away from the 475-acre park with her husband, Tim, and her life is so peaceful that she initially had trouble imagining what she might write a memoir about. Her first book — if you can call it that — was done with a ghostwriter when she was 16: “‘A Girl’s Guide to Life.’ No ... that wasn’t it. ‘A Teenager’s Guide to Life’? It was a long time ago,” she said.

“There are a lot of books that are like, ‘How I Overcame My Addiction’ or whatever, and I don’t have any of those,” Fishel continued. “What am I gonna write? ‘Here’s the most boring book you could possibly imagine about life in Orange County’?”

But Brandi Bowles, a literary agent at Foundry Literary & Media, saw potential in the so-called mundanity of Fishel’s life.

“I followed her on Twitter, and I instantly saw in her that she could be a Mindy Kaling type of figure,” Bowles said. “She’s someone you’d want to hang out with. I always felt like there was something about Topanga that made her feel like your on-screen best friend.”

So Fishel started ruminating on her most embarrassing moments and came up with a book proposal. Soon, a deal was signed, and she decided she wanted to write the book herself, cross-legged on her couch wearing pajamas and surrounded by her dogs. Which didn’t go over well with the publisher.

“Everyone was hesitant — they just really wanted to make sure that I was positive I didn’t want help,” she said. “A lot of people asked my manager who ghostwrote my outline.”

Fishel, of course, is no stranger to naysayers. When she signed on to do “Girl Meets World” last year, there were plenty of Internet trolls ready to taunt her about her career: “They’d say, ‘It’s not like she had anything else going on.’ Which is true. But it doesn’t mean there was nothing else going on in my life.”

“Danielle has always had a head on her,” explains “Boy Meets World” creator Michael Jacobs, who lured Fishel and co-star Savage back for the new series. “No matter who you are, you can do a series for seven years, and then you’re right on the back of the line again.”

Last year, Fishel was continuing her quest to become a marriage and family therapist — she had been accepted to the master’s program at Chapman University — when “Girl Meets World” got picked up. Now she drives roughly 600 miles a week to and from Los Angeles to film the series, which was just renewed for a second season.

“We all make decisions about things we want to do when we’re kids. Some people play violin, and that doesn’t mean you go on to become a violinist,” she said. “I definitely questioned if I had fulfilled my purpose for wanting to be an actor, and I still question that sometimes. I turned down grad school for the show, which was a wonderful choice to have to make. But someday I want to get to explore.”


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