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Interview: Rider Strong gets an intense flashback with 'Girl Meets World'

Luis Gomez

About Last Night

6:51 AM CDT, April 23, 2014

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Rider Strong was at a crossroads with “Boy Meets World” not that long ago.

The 34-year-old actor and director best known for playing Shawn Hunter, the floppy-haired best friend of “Boy Meets World” protagonist Cory Matthews, could keep the ABC sitcom in his past, as he had been doing, and continue to try to prove himself behind the camera. Another option was to embrace the sudden nostalgia that had developed for a show that ended in 2000 and is being brought back this year on Disney Channel as “Girl Meets World.”

Strong chose a third option: Find a balance.

On Saturday, Strong will take part in “The Thrilling Adventure Hour” at the Merle Reskin Theatre, which he describes as “an old time radio show” with “actors on stage in suits reading a script and sound effects and live music.” He will appear Saturday and Sunday at the C2E2 convention at McCormick Place, on behalf of “The Thrilling Adventure Hour.” Here Strong talks about how he found peace with the “Boy Meets World” revival and his experience directing an episode of “Girl Meets World.”

(The following is an edited version of a longer conversation.)

Luis: Have you ever taken part in an autograph signing at a comic book convention?

Rider: No, this will be my first time showing up at a signing. My brother and I made a film, “The Dungeon Master,” and took that to Comic-Con’s film festival and Dragon Con, but I’ve only done panels. I’m very curious what that will be like.

Luis: Knowing the comic book convention demographic, do you think the attendees will be more interested in your horror films or “Boy Meets World”?

Rider: Probably “Boy Meets World,” just because it’s back in the news with “Girl Meets World” and Samuel L. Jackson performing a “Boy Meets World” poem on “Jimmy Fallon” (earlier this month). I have a feeling there will be more of those fans, but who knows?

Luis: How many horror films have you done?

Rider: Good question. Probably six or seven. It’s all because I did “Cabin Fever.” Filmmakers watch horror films like “Cabin Fever” and then want to emulate them: “Rider Strong — get him.” I kept getting offers to be in horror films. I love horror, but I definitely had to stop. I kind of stopped acting in general. There’s a period in your early 20s as an actor where there aren’t a whole lot of roles there for you — especially when you look like a teenager. For women, it’s different. I looked like a teenager until five years ago. I didn’t want to be in teenage, high school stuff. There weren’t a whole lot of options. You need to either be a teenager or a 30-something playing 20-something. That’s part of why I got out of acting — the (lack) of good roles.

Luis: Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel will reprise their “Boy Meets World” roles on “Girl Meets World” — were you invited to join the cast as well?

Rider: They asked me to be a guest star on the show, which I did do. I think they know I wouldn’t be a regular. Everyone knows I’m moving away from acting. They know I’m more interested in coming back to direct an episode than play Shawn Hunter. At this point I only want to act in stuff that’s very different. I’ve already played Shawn on “Boys Meet World.” I want to do something I haven’t done before, as fun as it is to be on set.

Luis: What has Shawn been up to since we last saw him?

Rider: I’m not giving that away. That’s a major spoiler. People have to tune in. It’s a holiday episode that will air around Thanksgiving.

Luis: When do you think this “Boy Meets World” nostalgia started?

Rider: We went under the radar for so long. Even when we were on the air, we were under the radar. I think the process occurs when a new generation wrestles control of pop culture. I think kids who grew up in the late ’90s and early 2000s are old enough now to be the ones writing articles, talking about what is good on TV. Now those people are in charge of pop culture. Jimmy Fallon is always making references. At one time (his staff was) talking about doing a reunion. I don’t think they could get everybody. To be honest, that was at a point where I wasn’t that excited about it.

Luis: Did it take you a while to embrace the nostalgia?

Rider: It took me about three years. When I first heard about (“Girl Meets World”) I wrote a blog post about how I didn’t plan to be involved. Part of that came from insecurity: “He was in ‘Boy Meets World’ and hasn’t done anything since.” No, I’ve actually done a lot. I went to college, got my MSA, have written over a dozen screenplays and a bunch of short films. My brother and I have a script we sold to Lionsgate and a pilot we’re shopping around that’s being produced by Sean Hayes’ production company (Hazy Mills Productions) called “Micah the (expletive) Ghost.” He’s a foul-mouthed ghost — the anti-Casper.

But I’ve come to terms with (the nostalgia). I don’t want to reject the past, but I had to find a balance. How do I satisfy the fans and let it be known this isn’t my life? I'm still not sure how it all falls in place. I've got to be true to myself. Being true to myself right now is directing. To be able to direct ("Girl Meets World") brought me peace with the entire project.

Luis: How did it feel directing an episode of “Girl Meets World”?

Rider: It was a very surreal experience. Obviously (“Boy Meets World”) was a huge part of my childhood. Having grown up in that environment and coming back, it was creepily identical. Same writing staff. Michael Jacobs created the show and is still in charge. The kids still have the same studio teacher we did. It’s a bizarre time travel experience.

I remember when I was on the show some directors were really good at talking to us like adults and some weren’t. It’s satisfying to go back and be the director I would have liked and wanted. It’s really fun to be able to join these separate parts of my life together. If they bring (the show) back for a second season, I’ll probably direct some more.

Luis: What is it about directing that appeals to you?

Rider: I really just find it more creatively satisfying. It's more your story to tell. As an actor you're ultimately at the mercy of the story you're in. Often times I would end up in something bad. You have to give it your all no matter what, but that's not satisfying. I reached a point where I thought "I think I can write and direct" and decided to give it a shot. It's so fulfiling. Acting isn't. It comes down to personal artistic taste. I really wanted to be in more control, maybe.

lgomez@tribune.com| Twitter @TribLuis

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Rider Strong

When: C2E2 Saturday at 12 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.; “The Thrilling Adventure Hour” Saturday at 8 p.m.
Where: C2E2 at McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lakeshore Drive; “The Thrilling Adventure Hour” at Merle Reskin Theatre, 60 E. Balbo Drive
Tickets: $45 for Saturday and $40 for Sunday at C2E2; $32-$65 for The Thrilling Adventure Hour; c2e2.com