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The Wonder Years: Alley Mills & Olivia d’Abo On The Show’s Impact On Their Craft


Before there was ‘Modern Family,’ ‘That ‘70s Show’ or ‘Freaks and Geeks,’ there was ‘The Wonder Years’ — a nostalgia-inducing take on the traditional family sitcom. Debuting in 1988 following ABC’s broadcast of Super Bowl XXII, the affectionate look at growing up in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s in suburban America was unlike anything else on television. And, for the next six seasons, America tuned in to follow the exploits of Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage), as he navigated adolescence in the most memorable of ways. There is no denying the impact the show had on it’s audience and the pop culture landscape.

Never before released on DVD in its entirety, ‘The Wonder Years: The Complete Series’ will be presented as a 26-disc collector’s set featuring all 115 episodes housed in a replica metal locker, along with a host of extras including 23 hours of specially-produced bonus programming —featurettes, an incredible cast reunion 16 years in the making and never-before-seen outtakes! This critically acclaimed series became one of the most beloved sitcoms of the past thirty years and had a huge impact on fans and the actors who brought the amazing material to life. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Alley Mills and Olivia D’abo to discuss the impact the show had on them as actors and how it helped to shape their future. 

It was really great to see so many different generations represented from the show. Obviously, Danica being the youngest at the time on up to Alley. My question is what are the biggest lessons you might have learned as actors working on that series of the time and looking back on it now, how do you feel that you’ve evolved since that show in your craft?

Alley Mills
Alley Mills

Alley Mills: In terms of my craft, I think that when you do a show for seven years which I hadn’t up until that point. I have done ten different series but nothing that lasted for this period of time. It’s like doing a play for a couple of years every night. As we did one show, we started being fully immersed in another character. I think that as a woman, it made me relax.

It changed my state because they’d already done ‘The Wonder Years.’ I felt like now, I can just do what I want to do. I put all that money in the bank. That changed my need to be doing other lesser things as an actor that was an amazing blessing that came out of it for me. I got to play weirder roles. I did a lot of independent movies and I played stranger roles.

I found myself oddly enough back in a full-time job for the past 8 years on a soap opera because I played a bipolar weirdo on TV. Again, I like living inside one person a lot. I find it really interesting. I find it interesting to be able to show different stories from that one point of view instead of always playing other people which is what I’ve always loved to do as a theater actor.

I guess what I learned the most craft-wise was doing something every day, finding the same person everyday brought a relaxation to my work as an actor if that makes sense to you.

Olivia d’Abo: I completely agree with what Alley just said. I think the relaxation part is huge because there was a very high barometer that all the actors that we set on this show with all of the actors. We needed to know our lines. It was just so much fun by the end of the first season once all of our characters will really establish and developed that there was just fluid freedom that came with being able to really play with the material and just make it our own and just trust that we were cast because we were right for these roles. Sometimes it’s a question mark when you first take the job on a TV show; seeing how you’re going to embody this character and what you’re going to be able to bring to it seven years down the line but because the material was so amazing, we knew that it had a potential to have a lot of longevity. Dan Lauria said to me the first day. “Kid, this show is going to go, it’s going to for many years. We’re going to get very rich, you better get ready.”

Olivia D'abo
Olivia D’abo

For me really, it was very, very liberating. I am still looking back. I can’t think of any other role that I’ve played with the exception of what Alley mentioned.

I played Nicole Wallace on ‘Law and Order.’ I’ve been Vincent D’Onofrio nemesis for six seasons recurring and so she was much [inaudible] and fiercely intelligent because she was a sociopath and she’s always steps ahead, a very smart woman but a much darker role.

I think with Karen, what’s getting that role got me excited about as an actor because I was so young when I did it, with how to explore researching a role and diving off the cliff and jumping off the cliff and getting in the life of the character.

I’d had a lot of Stanislavsky training by that stage. It was the perfect prototype of a role for me to really go and just let it rip. I think it carved out a procedure for me that I now go about with every role that I have taken on really since then, as i take it very seriously and like Alley, I also really like to just play one role if I can and if it’s really interesting, you can just explore everything that another person will do from brushing her teeth to dressing to the thoughts that would go on in their mind.

I had seven years of being able to play a really amazing character. I feel very blessed. In the many ways, very spoiled but very blessed nonetheless.

Alley Mills: The other thing that we’re very lucky about is for the first 17 episodes, we had one director.He was fantastic. He was there when Olivia came in without a bra for the audition and he started laughing so hard and I thought, “Okay. I know this is chemistry.” He really walked us through from wardrobe. They took such care of taking every single thing that we wore on those first episodes. The color of my hair, my hair was dyed three times because they wanted it a certain way. At first, they made it yellow.

Olivia d’Abo: They tried blonde. Then, they tried another in the pilot. You can tell it’s been a brown and then, they made it really bronzy. They dyed it with serum. They tried out and took it every night, the DP,  the film to test it and dye it, so it had this old fashion sepia look to it.

I mean, they were so meticulous. These producers, Carol and Neil in those first season about every single little detail of how we acted and reacted to things because it was a comedy but not a comedy. That was another ground breaking thing about the Wonder of Years with a comedy without a laugh track and they were only doing that very little before our show, one camera. I’ve done one other one camera comedy.

They were trying it out as a new comedy form. Then, a lot of people said, “It will never work without it. You have to have a laugh track. Got to have an audience. You got to be the sitcom.” All that stuff was taking like the line ratings of comedy like, “Don’t go for the comedy.” Just say something and it’s just so corny that it’s going to make people laugh.

I remember I knocked on the door to the bathroom, “Are you all right in there, Kevin?” I said, “I can’t do this, can I?” All the crew went, “Yeah. Everybody’s mother did that!” . We just took so much time on the show and that was again really, really spoiled.

Alley Mills: That’s why we were spoiled. That’s exactly it.

Olivia d’Abo: With that being said, if we’ve had the opportunity to work on ‘The Wonder Years’ and it gives us a little bit of gravitas; if I’m maybe so bold to say. I think that we’re very lucky from the standpoint that because we bring that experience with us in our repertoire of work, if we want to ask for a little bit more time to find things, I think were probably, there’s nothing wrong with asking. If you don’t ask, you don’t get! You just say, “Hey, this is what we did on the Wonder Years and that is pretty well, right?” [laughs]

‘The Wonder Years: THe Complete Series’ is a must-have for any fan of the show!

Never before released on DVD in its entirety, THE WONDER YEARS COMPLETE SERIES will be presented as a 26-disc collector’s set featuring all 115 episodes housed in a replica metal locker, along with a host of extras including 23 hours of specially-produced bonus programming —featurettes, an incredible cast reunion 16 years in the making and never-before-seen outtakes, including all takes of Kevin and Winnie’s first kiss from the pilot episode. THE WONDER YEARS COMPLETE SERIES will be available exclusively online, available now for order at TimeLife.com/WonderYears for $249.95.

It was 1968 — the year of Nixon and space walks and Mod Squad and Vietnam.  Enter Kevin Arnold (Savage), a sixth grader at Kennedy Junior High School.  Set against the suburban backdrop of Anytown, USA, Kevin sought to minimize his teenage angst while dealing with an older, noogie-happy brother Wayne (Jason Hervey), a rebellious sister, Karen (Olivia d’Abo), distant, workaholic father, Jack (Dan Lauria) and doting housewife mother, Norma (Alley Mills).  Add to the mix Paul Pfeiffer (Josh Saviano), his nerdy, allergy-riddled best friend, a potential love interest in winsome girl-next-door Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar) and narration by an older, wiser, wittier Kevin (voiced by Daniel Stern) to add perspective to the nostalgia, and you have the perfect recipe for TV greatness.

'The Wonder Years'
‘The Wonder Years’

With 28 million viewers tuning in to ABC for the first episode, all it took was one kiss between Kevin and Winnie to get audiences hooked on this series created by the husband-and-wife duo Neal Marlens and Carol Black.  From 1988 to 1993, The Wonder Years was one of the most popular shows on TV, achieving a spot in the Nielsen Top 30 for four of its six seasons.  And the critical accolades and awards would follow: after only a scant six episodes, the show captured an Emmy® for “Best Comedy Series;” and, at the age of 13, Fred Savage, would become the youngest actor ever nominated as “Outstanding Lead Actor for a Comedy Series.”  The series would also go on to win 24 awards (and be nominated for 70 more), including multiple Emmy® Awards, a Golden Globe® and, in 1989, a Peabody® Award for pushing the boundaries of the sitcom format and using new modes of storytelling.  Additionally, in 1997, “My Father’s Office” was ranked #29 on TV Guide’s “100 Greatest Episodes of All Time” and in the 2009 list, the pilot episode was ranked #43.  Suffice it to say, The Wonder Years was one of the most critically lauded sitcoms of the late 80s and early 90s.

An integral part of The Wonder Years was its use of classic period music, so to release the series to the consumer marketplace, StarVista Entertainment/Time painstakingly cleared over 300 songs as they were featured in the original broadcast.  Included among the hundreds of memorable, era-defining recordings are Joe Cocker’s iconic title song, “With A Little Help From My Friends,” plus songs by Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Simon & Garfunkel, Smokey Robinson, The Who, Aretha Franklin, Carole King and many others.

THE WONDER YEARS COMPLETE SERIES is nostalgically packaged in a collectible metal locker, a replica of those used by Kevin and Winnie in Kennedy Junior High School — complete with colorful Wonder Years magnets to custom-design each locker.  Within the locker are housed 26 DVDs, featuring every complete episode* of the beloved series. Also included are two notebooks, each featuring detailed episode information and production photos, as well as a replica yearbook embellished with signatures from cast members, behind-the-scenes photos and classic show memorabilia, and liner notes penned by Fred Savage, series creators Neal Marlens and Carol Black, and executive producer Bob Brush.

Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper
Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper

The TV archivists at StarVista Entertainment/Time Life have also put together 23 hours of specially-produced bonuses including the 2014 Los Angeles cast reunion, featuring all key cast together for the first time in 16 years; extensive individual interviews with all seven key cast members (Fred Savage, Danica McKellar, Josh Saviano, Dan Lauria, Alley Mills, Olivia d’Abo and Jason Hervey), as well as with notable actors featured as guest stars or in recurring roles, such as David Schwimmer, Ben Stein, Bob Picardo and Seth Green; plus, in-depth interviews with narrator Daniel Stern, Neal Marlens, Carol Black, Bob Brush and other production personnel; and, ten brand-new featurettes:  “With A Little Help From My Friends”: The Early Days of The Wonder Years, “The Times They Are A-Changin’”: The Era, “My Generation”: The Kids Grow Up, “When A Man Loves A Woman”: Kevin & Winnie Forever, “Bookends”: Kevin & Paul, “A Family Affair”: At Home With The Arnolds, ““I Love You For Sentimental Reasons”: Fan-Favorite Episodes, “Will You  Love Me Tomorrow”: The Wonder Years’ Love Stories, “ABC”: Teachers That Made A Difference and “Both Sides Now”: The Music That Made The Moments.  Finally, never-before-seen outtakes, including alternate versions of Kevin and Winnie’s first kiss from the pilot episode completes this impressive collector’s set, certain to be a fixture in the homes of many a Wonder Years fan and TV DVD aficionado.

Additionally, being released day-and-date will be two additional configurations sure to excite die-hard fans who’ve been eagerly awaiting the series’ home entertainment release since it left the airwaves in 1993.  THE WONDER YEARS EXPERIENCE, priced at $299.95, includes all the elements from the COMPLETE SERIES, along with a selection of limited-edition memorabilia created exclusively for this set: a Kennedy Junior High School tee shirt, tube socks, and a vintage gym bag; a Kennedy Junior High School pennant and commemorative patch, The Wonder Years collectible pins, and a newly-produced Wonder Years CD, featuring the theme song plus classics by Bob Dylan, Diana Ross, The Beach Boys, The Temptations and many others.

THE WONDER YEARS SIGNATURE EDITION, limited to 500 sets, includes everything from the COMPLETE SERIES and EXPERIENCE editions; each set will also be hand-signed by Fred Savage, Danica McKellar and other cast members, housed in a numbered locker and  accompanied by a numbered Certificate of Authenticity.

The most requested unreleased TV DVD in the marketplace, THE WONDER YEARS is the newest DVD release from StarVista Entertainment/Time Life, following in the critically acclaimed footsteps of for top-selling, award-winning boxed sets of CHINA BEACH, THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW and THE DEAN MARTIN CELEBRITY ROASTS, among many others.  And much like Kevin Arnold says in the final episode, perhaps, after all these years, you’ll “still look back with wonder” at one of the landmark television programs of our time.

Fans interested in receiving Wonder Years updates and exclusive content can visit WonderYearsDVDs.com.