‘Wonder Years’ Star Danica McKellar Speaks Out About Stepping Away From Acting

by Taylor Cunningham

When Danica McKellar left her role as Winnie Cooper on Wonder Years, she realized that she needed to find an identity outside of acting. So she retired from her career and followed her second true passion, mathematics.

McKellar recently sat down with Entertainment Tonight for a chat with a special guest interviewer—her 11-year-old son, Draco. And he had some questions about his mom’s time as a childhood TV star. But he was most curious about what it was like to be a young celebrity and why she temporarily gave it up.

The actress admitted that working in the industry during her formidable years was “a tough life.” And balancing filming and school was a stressful endeavor. Also, living in the limelight made her lose her sense of self, which is why she made the choice to take a break in 1993.

When The Wonder Years ended, Danica McKellar was 18. While she still dabbled in acting by taking several guest starring roles in series like Babylon 5 and Walker, Texas Ranger, she refused long-term contracts and focused all of her attention on college.

“I went to UCLA,” she shared. “But when I got to school, everywhere I went, people all over campus would shout across campus, you know, ‘Hey Winnie!’ [or] ‘Hey, loved you on The Wonder Years! “I couldn’t get away from it.”

Danica McKellar Eaned a Ph.D. in Mathematics

In 1998, The 47-year-old graduated summa cum laude with a BS in mathematics. She then went on to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. With her talents, she published 11 math-themed children’s books and also worked hard to help girls and women find their bearings in the world of STEM.

“I needed to find out how I was valuable outside of Winnie Cooper, and math was challenging, and I did well at it,” McKellar continued. “And I love this feeling that my value, the important stuff had nothing to do with how I looked or television.”

While the actress once again has a full-time career on-screen, particularly with Hallmark and now GAC Family, she remains involved in her scholastic pursuits. And she strives to build a strong mathematical foundation in Draco. However, she admits that she’ll support him in whatever passions he follows in life, even acting.

“Math for me [gave me the most confidence]. After The Wonder Years ended, here I was, this ex-child actress. You have to find your identity somewhere,” she told People in 2020. “For me, I found it in feeling smart and good about myself.”