Danica McKellar on New Year’s With “Mommy,” Her New Book and That Hilarious “Impractical Jokers” Episode

She’s a New York Times best-selling author, Dancing With the Stars favorite, math genius, education advocate, actress and, of course, The Wonder Years’ beloved Winnie Cooper. Danica McKellar is lovingly warm, crazy smart and continues to surprise us. McKellar is kicking off the new year starring in the Lifetime original Mommy, I Didn’t Do It (Sunday, Jan. 1 at 8pmET).

“This is a sequel to a movie called The Wrong Woman that we did three years ago, in which my character is wrongfully accused of attempted murder and I end up defending myself in court,” McKellar informs us. “For the sequel, we’re playing it as if it’s four years later, so to see your daughter, who you love more than anyone or anything in the entire planet, going through the same thing — it’s even a worse nightmare.”

The film reunites her with Jonathan Bennett and Jaleel White, and also stars Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Paige Searcy and George Wendt. McKellar was thrilled to step back into the courtroom, and says the film is “an entertaining movie to watch when you just want to lay around and have that in-between time, between New Year’s Eve and getting back into your life again.”

Below McKellar shares her insights on her newest book and some laughs on meeting Linda Gray!

In March 2017 your first children’s picture book is going to be released, Goodnight, Numbers. Can you tell us a little bit about the idea?
Goodnightnumbers.com is the website. It’s a counting book from one to 10, but what makes this book different from other counting books is that we’re not counting three ladybugs, four flowers. It’s three wheels on a tricycle, four legs on a cat, five points on a star, six sides to a block. It’s the numbers as they organically and inherently exist in the world around us, not as separate entities. The message that math is an inherent part of the world around us is such a vitally important one.

That’s a refreshing way to look at math —as so many people, children in particular, dread the mathematics courses and the challenges that the subject brings.
Absolutely. That’s my mission is to dispel those myths and to help kids see it in a really positive way that will carry them through the rest of their lives. I’m in the middle of an 8 book deal, so this is the first of eight. I’m writing as fast as I can.

Obviously with The Wonder Years, you’ve probably had some very memorable fan encounters. What’s one of your most memorable fan encounters?
Does it have to be from The Wonder Years? My most memorable encounter was at the USA Science and Engineering Festival two years ago. … This young woman came up to me and said, “My dream is to work for NASA, and I’m well on my way. I just graduated from college.” Then she said, “Your books inspired me. Math Doesn’t Suck, Kiss My Math, I used them all. … You have no idea and you’ll never know, but you have had a huge influence in my life.” My jaw just dropped open. I was just so grateful to have heard that kind of story. … I still haven’t quite recovered from it.

Let’s talk about that Impractical Jokers episode, where you pulled off one of the best punishments on Murr (James Murray).
Oh my gosh, I love it. It was so random. I was a fan of the show, and I reached out to one of the producers on Twitter just to say, “Hey, just so you know my family and I love your guys’ show. It’s fantastic.” He’s like, “Oh my gosh, wait a minute.  … Would you be on the show?” I’m like, “Sure, but what do you have in mind?” Then he explained how Murray has this crush on me and they were like, “We’re going to formulate a cool idea. We’re going to call you in a week or two.” They flew me out there and they had me up in a hotel room and said, “Your only job is to not smile. Do not make him comfortable. Do not let on that you had any idea this was going to be happening, and you must just keep a straight face and watch him squirm.” I’m like, “Okay, seems simple enough.” Well it was the hardest acting job I’ve ever had to do. I was dying. He walked in in a Speedo and he closed the door. He just put his head on the door. He’s dripping in oil. I was dying. He walked in, sits down, but he’s sliding around on his little stool because he’s seriously oiled up. …. He and I had lunch about June of this year. I was out in New York doing press for one of my Hallmark movies. We went to Central Park. … I periscoped it. People loved it. It’s one of my highest watched periscopes ever. I think we had 22,000 people. People were so happy to see us hanging out, getting along.

Tell us about a time when you were starstruck.
I met Billy Joel once. I was starstruck for sure. I’ve loved Billy Joel since I was like 14. I’ve listened to everything he’s ever done, many times. I had a cassette tape that I played so many times it actually broke, and I had to make another one. I wore it out. … Oh, I know who else I got starstruck with — Linda Gray. She was on Dallas. I was a teenager at the time, and I won the Fresh Face Award. It was during the early days of The Wonder Years.
She’s the one who gave me the award. I wear contacts, but at the time I didn’t have contacts yet, so I would wear glasses. I would take my glasses off for certain things. I took them off for this awards ceremony and I didn’t realize it was her until I got up to the stage and she was like 6 inches from my face. I was like, “Oh, my gosh, it’s you!” I was so starstruck. It was the funniest moment because you think that I would have known that it was her. I listened to her do this introduction. I had no idea. I walked up to her to get the award, and I was like, “Oh, my gosh! Hi!” I was completely starstruck and didn’t know what to say.
Then fast-forward 20 years, I got to work with her on my first Hallmark movie a year and a half ago called Perfect Match. She was delightful and we’re friends now, which is such a nice end to the story.

Watch Danica McKellar in the Lifetime original movie Mommy, I Didn’t Do It Sunday, Jan. 1 at 8pmET