Maitland Ward first burst onto the pop culture landscape back in the 90s, cutting her teeth as an actress with a starring role on the daytime drama, “The Bold and The Beautiful.” However, it was her role on the hit series (which would become a cult phenomenon) “Boy Meets World” as the lovable, quick-witted and quirky Rachel McGuire that forever engrained her in our hearts and minds! The years that followed would bring the young actress even more success before she made the choose to step away from the spotlight and follow another of her dreams. Her passion for writing would lead her to New York City where she pursued a degree at New York University, also spending time in the theater honing her craft. In 2013, Maitland is making her return to the Hollywood with her sights set on bringing two original screenplays to the big screen! The timing couldn’t be better for this rising star, as Disney recently greenlit a highly anticipated “Boy Meets World” spin-off series, “Girl Meets World.” The new series is rumored to integrate the original cast, along with the new crop of talent! One thing is certain, Maitland Ward and this new series will surely capture the imaginations of fans old and new in the coming year. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Maitland Ward to discuss her creative inspirations, life in and out of the spotlight, reuniting with the cast of “Boy Meets World,” her potential role in it’s spinoff and much more!
What was it about acting that intrigued you early on and made you pursue it as a career?
Ever since I was three or four years old I wanted act out plays and make little movies with my friends. I was always completely interesting in acting and creating projects and plays. I wanted to do it when I was younger, so I took acting classes and did community theater and stuff like that but my parents wouldn’t let me do it professionally until I was old enough to work. When I was about fifteen, my braces came off and they said “Ok, you can try it.” I took some acting workshops up in LA. In one of those workshops, I met Christy Dooley who is a casting director at “The Bold and The Beautiful.” She asked me to audition for a new part that was coming up on the show. She was impressed I had signed up for a class like that one. I auditioned for the role. It was my second audition and I ended up getting the role, so I kinda got swept up into it. It has been a great experience!
Who would you cite as some of your biggest influences as an actor?
I can say, very early on, since I was four or five, I have loved “Three’s Company.” John Ritter was my ideal. He is the reason I love physical comedy. I grew up with him on that show and I just love it. He was the first person I remember making me say “Oh yeah, I can do something like that! That would be so cool!” Obviously, starting out on a soap opera was totally different but I guess it was over the top comedy in another way! [laughs] I loved sitcoms; watching and experiencing those. I think growing up with that and loving physical comedy had a huge impact on me. I also grew up watching “I Love Lucy,” so I guess I grew up with a funny redhead! It just became a part of me. I think once you have the bug, you can’t necessarily escape it; you just have to go for it.
You mentioned going from high school to the set of “The Bold and The Beautiful.” Was that transition a difficult one for you to make?
Actually, it wasn’t at all because I didn’t get pulled out of school all the way. I went to high school several days a week and I was tutored the rest of the time. I had the best of both worlds! For my senior prom, I got to get made up on the set because I had to be at work and then I got to go to prom! I had a ton of friends at school and never missed out on anything. I was definitely there for all the big things and never missed out on anything. They were really good about that. My tutor was really great about that, making sure I didn’t miss out on any of the big experiences. I got to go to all the dances, football games and things like that, so I never felt like I missed out. I did a school play on time and they were really helpful about that as well. They scheduled around me so I could get to rehearsals. When it came time to put on the play, my two hunky co-stars came to see me, so I was the most popular girl around! [laughs]
A lot of us recognize you from your role as Rachel McGuire on “Boy Meets World.” How did you get involved with the project originally and did you have any idea it would impact people the way it has through the years?
Originally, I didn’t try out for “Boy Meets World.” I tried out for a project another project called “Zoe, Duncan, Jack and Jane” that was on the air for a very short while. I tested on it and producer Michael Jacobs was really pulling for me and loved me but the network thought they should go a different way. Michael said added me to “Boy Meets World” by adding the part of Rachel. They had been thinking about adding a roommate for Jeff and Eric and after Mark saw me he said “ok, she is the one. Let’s do it!” It was one of the most exciting experiences of my life! I thought I didn’t get the part for the other show and was upset but then got the call to say “You are going to be on Boy Meets World.” It was very exciting! All these years later, I had no idea it would be as iconic as it is. Sure, it was always a great show that was really fun family show with great relationships and had a great message but I never ever dreamed that all these years later it would mean so much to so many people! None of us did! We never realized people would still be watching it every day and it would still be airing. Some people come up to me, especially younger kids, and think it is still taping right now! Little kids will ask that a lot! [laughs] It is kinda like the “Happy Days” or “The Brady Bunch” of that generation. It has been an amazing thing to be a part of!
What elements did you bring to the character that might not have been in the script? Do we see a lot of your personality shining through?
Definitely! They really got to know me ahead of time and wrote the character accordingly. I think they did that with a lot of the people on the show and their personalities come through as well. When they decided to add the character, I don’t think they ever thought she would be a tall girl. I know Michael always thought it was funny that the guys were shorter than me. He thought it was a really good comedic point and would say “Don’t slouch! It’s not funny if you slouch!” [laughs] I think what really made these characters was that the writers got to know your personality and wrote in the things you would do.
They are putting out a very cool “Boy Meets World” box set on November 5th. You got the opportunity to do some commentary for the set. What was it like going back to revisit the series?
It’s funny, when we did the ATX Film Festival where we did the big “Boy Meets World” reunion, we got to see old clips of the show and it really brought back so many memories. It felt like it had been decades since we had seen each other but it flew by and also seemed like it had been ten minutes. Just seeing them again was very emotional and heartfelt. Everybody involved was really affected by it. Then to do the commentary for the box set, there were things I hadn’t thought about in a very long time and it really meant a lot to me. It is funny how, after all these years, you can still remember certain lines and what was happening at the time you did those. It really takes you back! It is really fun to reminisce about everything with everybody, especially when we were in Austin. We talked about all the god times we had and everyone was pretty much the same! It was such a nice cast and didn’t have any crazy stories come out of it like “Diff’rent Strokes,” where the kids were going crazy or on drugs. We had a really great cast and on-set family. Our executive producer was really good about making sure everyone stayed in line, pretty much. He was like the father figure to everybody. He really cared about us as people outside of the show. If you were part of the show, you became a part of the family forever. That is a really rare thing to have happen in Hollywood!
Looking back on your time on the show, what did you take away from the experience?
I think being a part of a cast that was so solid and writing that was so solid, quality, funny and had a good message was a great experience. You just don’t get that a lot of times. Hardly ever! Nine times out of ten, you will not get a situation as comfortable and family-like. I have been on sets where there are crazy people and lots of drama but “Boy Meets World” was never like that. It was a very safe and comfortable environment where you could plan and have fun with what you were doing because the situation wasn’t pressure filled. We were a show there the network wasn’t all over us, all of the time. We were having fun and getting good ratings. I can’t even imagine being on a show now with Twitter, Facebook and all the social media stuff. There is so much scrutiny these days! We were just kids having fun and I think that is what the audience saw and took away from it. That is what I took away from it too. It was a very good, wholesome and fun set to work on, alongside a lot of lifelong friends that I made along the way, both cast and crew.
After the show ended, you continued on with several other projects but eventually left the spotlight to pursue another chapter in your career? What can you tell us about that part of your life?
Yeah! Afterwards, I did pilots and a lot of other stuff. I also did “White Chicks,” which was so different from “Boy Meets World.” It has its own crazy cult following too! I got married and I moved to New York City, where I went back to school. I did theater and I decided I really wanted to pursue screenwriting. Screenwriting has always been a passion of mine. Writing runs in my family. My father, for example, has been a journalist and writer for over 35 years. It is something that is in my blood. I really wanted to explore that, so I have been working on it for the past several years. I just recently got back into the acting and entertainment pool, so to speak. I have two finished scripts which I am looking forward to attaching myself to and pitching. I am in the infancy of that right now.
It sounds as if you have been quite a busy girl! What can you tell us about those scripts?
Both of the scripts are full features and are along the lines of the stuff I love, really physical, broad comedies, similar to what you see in “Bridesmaids” and that type of stuff. One is relates to my past in the soap opera world. It is about a washed-up soap opera actress who finds out her fan club president, who used to be a really creepy, nerdy guy, is now a big Hollywood producer. She decides to hunt him do to try and get a part on a show, which results in a lot of dramatic, funny twists about how she ends up with a part on the show. It uses all that “Soap Dish-ey” kind of comedy because I know it so well from my time in that world. There is a lot of rich material there!
I can only imagine!
[laughs] Yeah, so that is one of the projects. They are both very physical, crew-ball comedies.
How do you feel you have evolved in your craft through the years, be it as an actor or a screenwriter?
I think my evolution comes from, over time, trying to always change and grow. I think it is always important to be interested in new things. Once you start being status quo, it gets boring and you don’t evolve as a person or an artist. I always am interested in learning and trying new things. For example, I went out and became a certified yoga instructor at one point. I never taught a class but I just wanted to do that for myself because I was interested in it. It is just one more thing I have under my belt. Going back to school, studying and doing theater is another example. Always working on your craft is very important. Don’t be scared. I think that is the most important. Don’t be too fearful and take risks, calculated risks but take risks.
Is there a particular process you go through when taking on a new role but it in theater, television or film?
A show like “Boy Meets World” and theater are very similar because you do both in front of a live audience, which I love! There is not a ton of that anymore when it comes to sitcoms. I really miss that! I think it depends on what project you are working on at the time. On a soap opera, you have no time for preparation! [laughs] There is hardly any time and you just go for it with your take. That experience really taught me how to get into the moment very quickly. You had to be on your toes at all times. On “Boy Meets World,” you had a week to go over the script and you had a little more preparation time but it was still fairly fast but you got to do it in front of an audience which I think made the performances a lot better. I think it made it so much funnier because we had the live interaction with the audience and the live reaction. When I was doing “White Chicks,” we shot in Vancouver, away from everything and it was much slower but you just have to stay in the moment and try to cling too much. When you start thinking too much, you have to get out of your head or you won’t be organic in the moment. I think it is really important to breathe, be centered and be there in your character. Once you are centered you have the opportunity to really dive in.
The timing is terrific for your return to the spotlight. There has been plenty of buzz about “Girl Meets World.” From what I read, you were there when they started shooting the pilot. How did that come about?
I have always been in contact with a lot of people from the show, especially Michael Jacobs. I have also been friends with the Savage family for years. The executive producer called and said “Hey, we are taping! Come down!” It was like a family! We are always invited like a family to be there. Will [Friedle] and Rider [Strong] where there, as well. It was surreal! Walking onto the set felt the same as it did years ago. A lot of the crew members are the same, along with producers and writers. It was like walking back in time. Everything had changed but everything had stayed the same! It was great! Seeing Bill Daniels again was so amazing! He is such an icon to so many people and an all-around great guy. We all looked up to him in real-life, as well as on the show. He really is someone who has had an amazing career and is an amazing actor. We all really respected and admired him. He was like [Mr.] Feeney to us! [laughs] Seeing the little girls on the new show, who are so adorable, I know they are going to do great! It is a really funny show and I think it is going to be good for the past fans, which will be able to reminisce as the characters they recognize come in and out and a whole new generation can love these characters along with the new characters! It truly is the best of both worlds!
Any word on when we might see the return of Rachel McGuire on this new series?
I don’t have any word on that yet and I don’t think I could tell if I did! [laughs] I know the executive producer has said he wants the old cast to be integrated as much as possible. There is no word yet but I would like to see what happens to Rachel. I miss her and I think we will!
The question is what do you think happened to Rachel?
Matt [Lawrence] and I were talking about it. If you remember, they left for the Peace Corp together. Did we end up together? Did they get married? Did we have kids? We don’t know! We did agree on one thing, which was that Eric couldn’t have left us alone for all those years! [laughs] We were saying he probably showed up in the jungle and hunted us down because he was obsessed with Jack and Rachel. There is no way that threesome could have been parted for all those years! I can’t wait to see what happened with that too! [laughs] A lot of people come up to me and ask “Why didn’t you give Eric more of a chance? I think you guys should have ended up together!” All I can say is “We will have to see!” [laughs]
Is there still an aspect of your career you are eager to tackle in the short term — be it acting or writing?
The thing I love about writing is that I am creating my own project and characters, so I have a lot of control and a lot of the scripts I get, I don’t have control over. I just love creating strong female characters and I don’t think there is a lot of that out there. That has been really important to me. It is funny; I started out on a soap that was so dramatic — melodramatic! Everything happened to my character! She was raped, set on fire, my mother was having an affair with my boyfriend while I was in a diabetic coma, so it was high drama! Aside from that, I have done comedy, except for a few smaller roles on shows like “Boston Public” and a couple of films which were more dramatic. My focus has primarily been comedy, which I love! However, I do think it would be interesting to try my hand at a more dramatic role again. I am definitely open to that but I don’t think I will be writing it. I just get more entertainment out of writing comedy but I am definitely open to taking on another dramatic role.
What is the best lesson that can be taken from your journey?
I think you have to be willing to step outside the box a little bit. Do what you love even though it might not be the popular choice. For me, stepping away from the business and going to New York, taking that experience and growing from it as a person, was a tough choice. It was something I wanted to do for myself. You need to grow and experience things as a person, whether it is traveling, studying or doing theater. Everything you do will become more interesting if you broaden your horizons as a person. That is my advice — go out and experience the world!
I know you are able to do a bit of charity work. What programs are you involved with currently?
I am a big animal person, so I work with quite a few animal charities. Sometimes I work with the Amanda Foundation and I recently did this Kitty Bungalow benefit recently that was a lot of fun. I also do a few things for The Actors Fund, which is a great organization. I used to be quite involved with The Juvenile Diabetes Foundation because on the soap opera I was on, my character had diabetes. I worked a little bit with God’s Love We Deliver, in New York, as well. I worked with them quite a bit. I am always looking to give back and those are some great charities for people to look into!
Before I let you go, where are the best places for your fans to catch up with you online?
Definitely! We are glad we had the chance to talk with you today, Maitland! We look forward to spreading the word on all of your awesome projects!
Thank you so much! Take care!
Boy Meets World: The Complete Collection hits stores on November 5th. Be sure to check it out!