Wonder Years Actor Danica McKellar Explains Why She Stepped Away From Acting

Even though most people recognize Danica McKellar as the actor who played Winnie in "The Wonder Years," there is much more to the prolific multi-hyphenate. McKellar began acting at 7 years old, and quickly found fame in the classic sitcom as the main love interest for Fred Savage's character when she was just 13. "The Wonder Years" was one of the first teen/family sitcoms to "[push] the boundaries" by dealing with heavy, but critical topics such as grief, young love, and tragic world events like the Vietnam War.

From 1988 to 1993, audiences watched McKellar basically grow up on their TV screen. "From my perspective, this was the first show that really honored the strength and emotions that kids have, at such a young age," McKellar reminisced to Collider in 2014. "We got to be a part of something that was ground-breaking and gave a new perspective for people on their own childhood. I think that's why, for kids watching it, it mattered, and for adults watching it, it mattered."

With just a glance at her IMDb, you see that McKellar has accumulated over 100 acting credits over her decades-long career. She has appeared on shows like "The West Wing" and "How I Met Your Mother," and is also known for acting in several Hallmark movies. But did you know that McKellar actually took a break from acting right after the ending of "The Wonder Years?"

Danica McKellar couldn't escape her TV fame

After playing the same role for five years, Danica McKellar became synonymous with good-hearted Winnie from "The Wonder Years." While she had a beloved character, McKellar admitted in an interview conducted by her son with Entertainment Tonight that her TV career negatively impacted her life after the sitcom ended. "I went to UCLA, but when I got to school, everywhere I went, people all over campus would shout across campus, you know, 'Hey Winnie!' ... I couldn't get away from it," she said. 

Similar to many other child stars — like Miley Cyrus as Hannah Montana – McKellar experienced an identity crisis after playing a character for most of her teenage years. "I needed to find out how I was valuable outside of Winnie Cooper," McKellar explained. "And math was challenging and I did well at it." That's right! According to UCLA Alumni, McKellar excelled in mathematics and she was a fundamental part of "[proving] a groundbreaking physics theorem" that was then published and named after its researchers: the Chayes-McKellar-Winn Theorem. In 1998, McKellar earned her bachelor's degree in mathematics.

So instead of just being "Winnie from 'The Wonder Years,'" McKellar ventured into the world of STEM. After graduating, she began writing a series of books about math, which encouraged readers — especially women — to disregard stereotypes and join the mathematics field. As of 2022, McKellar has published 11 math books with the last being a children's book titled "Double Puppy Trouble."