Danielle Fishel is best known as Topanga from the sitcom "Boy Meets World," a program that aired for seven seasons on ABC as part of the family-friendly T.G.I.F. lineup that was popular in the mid to late nineties. The show's success put Danielle's image on posters, magazine covers, and high school lockers, and eventually led to her being named one of "The 21 Hottest Stars Under 21" in the June 1999 issue of Teen People. After playing off her recognizable looks with several guest appearances on multiple sitcoms, she went on to appear in the first two "Dorm Daze" films helmed by the directing team of David and Scott Hillenbrand. Danielle's other film with the Hillenbrands is "Gamebox 1.0" where she plays the love interest of Charlie, a video game tester trapped inside a virtual world created by an evil video game console. Filmed using a similar technique later popularized by the films "Sin City," and "300," "Gamebox" was made using a green-screen technique and arrives on DVD for the first time this week from LionsGate films.
In "Gamebox 1.0" you play the girlfriend of a video game tester. Any experience behind the controller yourself?
I am a video game freak. I love video games. My boyfriend and I have an Xbox 360 that I am obsessed with. My biggest game obsession is with "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2006," and while we haven't gotten the 2007 edition yet, I have completely mastered 2006 and 2005.
"Tiger Woods" has an amazingly accurate "Create a Golfer" mode, did you attempt to recreate yourself in the game?
Absolutely, the first one I made was on the 2005 edition for the regular Xbox. That character looked so much like me, but then they kind of changed some of the things you could do in the 2006 version. They no longer have some of the same hairstyles that they had before, so now my character doesn't really look like me all that much. But I tried my damndest. My boyfriend's looks so much like him that it's not even funny. When we have people come over and we're talking about the game, I say he has to show them, because you would never believe that you would be able to do that with a video game character. It's crazy.
Since you have the Xbox 360, have you tried using the Xbox Live service to go online and play against other people?
I haven't played Xbox Live since I got the 360, but I used to play Live all the time on the first Xbox. We were also completely obsessed with the World Poker Tour game. Playing that on Xbox Live is amazing. Really, that's the only way to play it. You can't even play it with two people in the same room, because then you can see each other's cards. Playing it live with the headset on and talking to people--oh my god, I love it!
I haven't spent much time playing on Xbox Live with the headset. How is it?
It's pretty awesome, especially when you first get into it. My boyfriend's been playing it so long that he's over the headset. He likes to play Live but he doesn't even plug his headset in; when you first get into playing online with the headset, it's crazy, because you're fascinated by the fact that you're actually hearing people all over the world and they're having a conversation and the technology is amazing. Of course. to get into it you've got to be able to talk some trash. It's fun.
The game worlds in "Gamebox 1.0" seem to be based on three of video games biggest franchises, "Grand Theft Auto," "Resident Evil," and "Halo." Have you ever tried any of the games from those series?
I played "Halo." I'm not very good at it, and I really wanted to be, because I know it's such a great game and I'm amazed by all the different levels. I wanted to be so good, but I'm just not. I had people try and teach me, but I just end up going in a circle shouting "Aaahh wait." I get confused by the controls, but I know that "Halo" is one of those games that you need to play--you just need to go in there and get killed eight million times, and that's how you learn it. But I get frustrated when I'm not good at something.
The video game worlds of "Gamebox 1.0" were created by filming in front of a green screen. What was that like?
It was crazy and brand new for me. I'm not used to having to interact with just the actors, no props or anything. Realistically, it makes the acting job harder because actors have props and things we can use as a distraction from what we're doing, it makes it feel more natural, like real life. When you don't have that and you have to convey everything and imagine everything that is going on around you, there is absolutely no room for you to be anything but 110 percent focused on what you're doing at that moment
In the "Making of Gamebox 1.0" featurette included on the DVD release, there's some behind-the-scenes footage showing you going up a flight of stairs to nowhere. How odd was that?
It was crazy, all the little stunt things we had to do. The scene where I'm climbing out a window, it's just a square cut out window in the middle of the stage, yet I'm supposed to be running away from monsters. It takes a lot of imagination.
Speaking of running, the behind-the-scenes footage made the room you worked in seem rather small, how much time did you spend running in place?
Quite a bit actually, Nate and I had to literally run around in circles on that stage to make it look like we had been running, that went on for a long time. Having to run and imagine monsters and remember a line was hard. The stage wasn't very long and I would have lines that would take a long time to get out. I had three or four sentences I needed to say and yet I had to do it while running, and I would have to get the line out before I reached the end of the stage. Trying to say your line quickly and say it well, all while running away from imaginary monsters, that took some practice.
How many days was the shoot on "Gamebox"?
About three weeks of very long 14- to 18-hour days.
When the characters are in the video game world there was some interesting makeup applied to give everyone a more angular "video game" look, how was working with the make-up department?
It was awesome. I'm a girl, so I love make-up, and our make-up girl Katie was amazing. Once we got the feel for what the make-up needed to look like, it became really easy for her to get it done perfectly in just a few minutes. But the first couple of times we did it, we were in that make-up chair for over an hour.
With the exception of the small handful of cast members that exist outside the video game world, most of the actors wore creepy masks or head to toe green suits. How was the interaction with those castmates?
Those guys were really great to work with. They had some of the hardest jobs. They had to move their bodies in ways that were so unnatural in person, but came across so well in the movie. Talk about not having something to interact with. There were only four of those guys who played all of the zombies, so they had to walk around the entire stage doing crazy body movements in every corner so it could look like we had a ton of monsters and zombies everywhere. It's hard to stand up there in the middle of a stage doing something completely dorky and totally unnatural and have faith that it's going to turn out well, but I think it really did.
You played two characters in "Gamebox," Charlie's girlfriend Kate and the video game character known as "Princess." Without giving away too much for people who haven't seen the movie, have you had any previous experience playing dead?
No, I had never played a character that died, so that was interesting. I had a really fun day where we filmed the scene when I got shot, because I had never done anything like that before either. I was rigged up with "squibs" that were put right on my chest so when the police officer shoots the gun, my little explosion goes off under my shirt and pops a bloody hole open in it. That was awesome. I had never done anything like that, so that was a really exciting day for me.
This is the third film you've done with the directing team of David and Scott Hillenbrand. How is it working with them and did the experience on "Gamebox" differ from their prior films?
They're obviously great directors to work for, otherwise I wouldn't have done three movies with them. When you're doing the "Dorm Daze" movies, the set's really light, very fun to be around and everybody's laughing and joking and having a great time. Not that we didn't have a great time doing "Gamebox," because we did, but it was a lot more serious. We had to keep ourselves focused, because we didn't have things to distract ourselves with. And the minute we would get distracted, we had to tell ourselves "No you aren't doing the scene right," "You're not imagining the monster coming up behind you," or "You're not imaging this object you're supposed to be holding properly." It took a lot more focus. It was a serious, controlled environment that was different from the light-hearted fun of "Dorm Daze."
Will you be returning to work with the Hillenbrand's on "Dorm Daze 3?"
No I wont' be returning. I had enough fun making the first two.
How did you come to be a regular fixture on "The Tyra Banks Show?"
Back in August of last year she asked me to be a guest on the show. They were doing an episode about favorite TV characters of the 90s, and she asked me to come on and talk about "Boy Meets World." I said sure, and Tyra and I hit it off. We had good energy together, the producers liked me, and in October they asked me to do some field stuff for them. After the first one went really, really well, they kept asking me to do more and more stuff for them. I've actually been very busy this week filming stuff for the show. I look forward to doing more for them in the future. They're a great group of people, and Tyra is an amazing woman.
As a teenager you dated Lance Bass, of the boy group Nsync, who recently announced he was gay. Were there ever any signs of him one day coming out of the closet?
Not when we were dating--at least not that I picked up on. Maybe there were clues and hints in hindsight that I should have picked up on, but I was a 16-, 17-year-old girl when we started dating and I wasn't really looking for that. I was not assuming that my boyfriend may be gay. I wasn't even thinking along those lines. Shortly after we broke up, I did end up finding out that he was gay, so when he made the announcement last year it certainly wasn't a surprise for me. He had come out to friends and some family a little bit earlier than he made the public announcement. I was very happy when he made the decision to come out publicly.
You spent almost your entire teenage years playing Topanga on the sitcom "Boy Meets World." How were you able to avoid the pitfalls that befall so many child actors?
I have to give all that credit to my family. I was and still am very close to my parents. I don't think there are any character flaws in the people who have these drug or alcohol problems, and I certainly don't think that they don't have great families. That sort of behavior just wasn't important to me. That's not to say that I never went out. When I moved out of my parent's house when I was 18 years old, I spent a solid year going to clubs and hanging out, and it was so much fun. The first time you get to do something like that is when you don't live at home, but I got over that pretty quickly. I've just always known what' really important in life, and I've been able to stay true to that. I've got my family around and a small group of very close friends, and I've been able to recognize who has my best interests in life and who doesn't.
Are you still in touch with the cast and crew from "Boy Meet World?"
Oh yeah I'm still in touch with all of them. I still talk to the executive producers, the writers, the cast, everybody. It's amazing how much of a family we still are.
Spending seven years playing the same character must have gained you a lot of recognition from the public, how often to you get recognized as Topanga?
All . . . the . . . time (laughs). It's really amazing. I'm very fortunate to have such wonderful fans from "Boy Meets World." Everybody I meet is so excited and so nice. I get recognized every day and everywhere I go as Topanga.
Are people able to keep their cool when they approach you out in the real world, or do some people just flip out?
Most of the time people are really nice. Every now and then you get younger kids who are too nervous to come up to you and have a normal conversation with you, so they start screaming "Topanga" across the room. That's not necessarily cool, but most of the time people come up to me and tell me that they liked "Boy Meets World" and want to meet me, and I am so fine with that. I love meeting people who enjoyed watching the show, because we had such a great time making it.