Rider Strong Says He and His Boy Meets World Castmates Are 'Closer Than Ever' and 'Like Family'
The star, who recently made his music video directorial debut, opens up about his time playing Shawn Hunter on Boy Meets World and Girl Meets World
Speaking to PEOPLE ahead of his music video directorial debut for Typhoon's "We're in It," out now, the 41-year-old writer, filmmaker and actor said he was able to to see costars Danielle Fishel, Will Friedle and Trina McGee last month, after they'd all "finally" gotten vaccinated against COVID-19.
Addressing McGee's tweets last year about having a negative experience as the only Black actress on the original series alongside an all-white cast, Strong said the controversy "brought us closer together." (Fishel, 40, and Friedle, 44, have since apologized, according to McGee, 51. Reps for both stars did not respond to PEOPLE's requests for comment at the time.)
Strong said he's "really proud" of his relationship with McGee today, as well as the chemistry they conveyed as Shawn Hunter and Angela Moore on both Boy Meets World, which ran from 1993 to 2000, and Girl Meets World, which aired from 2014 to 2017 and on which McGee guest starred.
"I think that storyline really resonated with a lot of people — having an interracial relationship at a time when that just wasn't on television, I believe. I'm glad we did that," he said. "Now that I'm doing these conventions and meeting the fans, it just seems like that really meant a lot to people. And we knew it at the time, but now, as we're older, we appreciate it. And also just the fact that it brought Trina into my life. It changed me."
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Of the rest of the cast, Strong said he's "so excited to see them" again at an upcoming convention soon.
"It's so cheesy, but it really does feel like family. We're all connected in this way no one else in our life understands," he said. "We only have each other to rely on about certain things and memories. So I just love them. I'm so happy that everybody is happy in their lives, for the most part, and we're all supporting one another."
Asked about some of his favorite Shawn moments from the original series, Strong recalled the "powerful" season 4 episode "Chick Like Me."
In the episode — which Strong said "really holds up" — both his character (under the alter ego "Veronica") and Ben Savage's dress in drag to try and live a day in the life of a girl, in an effort to explore sexism and gender disparity.
"I think it was one of our best as far as being entertaining, but still having a very clear message," Strong said. "Boy Meets World would swing wildly from very dramatic, heavy episodes about abuse and joining a cult and alcoholism to very frivolous [ones]. And I think that episode is a nice compromise [that] really married those two things together."
He also loved "that the writers were willing to go places" with the rebellious Shawn, whose storylines included a special bond with his teacher, Jonathan Turner (Anthony Tyler Quinn), learning he had a long-lost brother named Jack (Matthew Lawrence) and the death of his father, Chet (Blake Clark).
"In the first season, Shawn's poverty was kind of a joke — the fact that he didn't come from a stable, perfect family life [like] Cory," Strong said. "And then, as the show developed, they really leaned into that and made it more a central part of the show that Shawn is a troubled kid and he needs help — he needs support, and friends to kind of parent him."
Since wrapping up his reprisal of Shawn in Girl Meets World — several episodes of which he also directed, most alongside his brother and frequent filmmaking partner Shiloh Strong — the star is "pretty much done with acting," and said playing Shawn one more time served as "a period at the end of a long sentence that had started when I was a teenager."
But the "overwhelming message" of Boy Meets World that still resonates most today with Strong, who is dad to 6-year-old son Indy, is "that your childhood matters," he said.
"Who your friends are when you're a kid, and how your parents are, and who your teachers are, they actually matter," he said. "That's an important message that kids need to hear. Because in a lot of ways, the adult world doesn't take kids seriously and doesn't take their experiences seriously."
"Boy Meets World is one of those shows that said, 'No, no, no, this is an important time of your life,'" he continued. "That boyfriend or girlfriend, or the friendships or the teacher you have could change you forever and help define who you are. I think that's a really beautiful message."
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