Looking back at Vader's time on ‘Boy Meets World’ with the show's creator
Simply put, the ’90s were all that and a bag of chips. And in a decade that gave us such riches as Power Rangers, Beanie Babies and Gameboy Color, few things were flyer than WWE and ABC’s TGIF. It’s no surprise then that kids’ heads exploded out of euphoria when WWE’s Vader began mixing it up with Cory, Shawn, Topanga and Mr. Feeny on “Boy Meets World” as the father of school bully, Frankie Stechino.
Now, in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Vader’s most memorable appearance on the show — season four’s “Sixteen Candles and Four-Hundred-Pound Men” — WWE.com spoke with “Boy Meets World” creator Michael Jacobs to get the 411 on why Vader initially caught the show’s eye, what it was like having a WWE Superstar on set and what went down when they shot an episode at an actual WWE Live Event!
WWE.COM: What first prompted the interest in bringing a Superstar onto “Boy Meets World”?
MICHAEL JACOBS: We [had] this character of Frankie Stechino. We all sat around the table going, “This guy looks like a wrestler … this guy’s father was a wrestler!” And it sparked all of our imaginations. So we were talking about, “Who does he look like?” and, “Who does he resemble?” And we all said, “Hero or villain?” Everybody around the table said, “Villain!” So we hit on Vader.
WWE.COM: Why was Vader a natural fit to play Frankie Stechino’s father?
JACOBS: We wanted [a character] who is just this loving father who moonlighted as a villainous wrestler. It was this oddball, very funny, very loving blue collar relationship. It was funny because there was absolutely no continuity whatsoever on “Boy Meets World.” None. So what we came up with was, “OK, they have absolutely no money. Frankie lives on the wrong side of the tracks, utterly and completely, but his father is the world champion.” So somehow, nobody caught us on this. The whole crowd looked at these actors and all started chanting “Cory sucks!” and "Shawn sucks!"
WWE.COM: How would you say Vader adapted to the role of actor?
JACOBS: He meshed right away. There was memorizing lines and they were different kinds of lines than just grabbing a mic and vamping on, “Here’s what I’m gonna do to this guy.” It was really this father who had to learn how to be a real parent to this very troubled kid and the audience bought it immediately and that added to Vader’s confidence. Once he got over the initial, “What is this and what is it going to be?” he took to it very easily. He was absolutely a natural entertainment presence.
WWE.COM: Vader is an intimidating dude — were any of the cast members afraid of him?
JACOBS: His persona on television struck a little fear into the hearts of the kids on the show for about six seconds. But kids are the first to see right through you and they realized that this was a very good guy and there was a lot of clowning around. All the kids on the set just tagged up and went after him, so they probably made his life a little bit of hell.
WWE.COM: What are your memories of Vader’s first appearance on the show in the season two episode, “The Thrilla’ in Phila’ ”?
JACOBS: I remember at one point he threw around Will Friedle, who played Eric Matthews, pretty good and that it was the oddest triplet [of guest-stars] ever — Vader, Robert Goulet and Yasmine Bleeth. If you think about it, it was just all insane.
WWE.COM: The popular episode, season four’s “Sixteen Candles and Four-Hundred-Pound Men” will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year. Vader was signed to WWE by that time and you centered the episode around that. What do you remember about shooting at a WWE Live Event?
JACOBS: It was at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, California, and the whole crowd looked at these actors from Hollywood and all in unison started chanting, “You suck!” “Cory sucks!” and “Shawn sucks!” It was a big challenge in our post-production to get out [the chants], so Hollywood became the villain of that evening.
WWE.COM: That must have been a different kind of shooting day.
JACOBS: It absolutely was. We were stopping the show. [The crowd] had paid to come in and watch wrestling. All of a sudden, they see a girl and a boy dancing and the boos rain down upon us! The funny thing is, I don’t think it was hostile, I think everybody was having a lot of fun.
WWE.COM: Was it nerve-wracking to try and work under those circumstances?
JACOBS: I wish I could say it was intimidating, but I will actually tell you that it was unintimidating because of how nice everybody was and how they really got behind what the story was we were trying to tell. Eventually, besides the fun the crowd had with us, there were cheers and applause. It was a wonderful episode and worked out well for us.
WWE.COM: Did you have any favorite running gags that you did with Vader on the show?
JACOBS: I remember one joke, which I loved, was, “Well, what about the mother?” So we cast this little tiny, petite woman and she would always stand behind Vader — you just never saw her! And once, we had him step out of the way and there she was.
WWE.COM: You now steer the ship on the “Boy Meets World” spinoff show, “Girl Meets World” that airs on Disney Channel. Do you think we could maybe one day see a current WWE Superstar on “Girl” similar to Vader’s appearances on “Boy”?
JACOBS: If we did it [on “Girl Meets World”] it would be with the female Superstars [and] we would tell it from that point of view. The idea of female wrestlers, again as metaphor, [for] how we wrestle with life’s problems and what goes on would absolutely be of benefit to our show.
WWE.COM: Why do you think Vader’s time on “Boy Meets World” resonated so strongly?
JACOBS: The thing was, the character worked. There was a moment between Vader and William Daniels, who played Mr. Feeny, and the reason that it worked was because the audience recognized that there was such a sweet soul in this father who wanted this relationship with his child to be right. And I think that the teacher in Feeny understanding that helped push that along. Cory Matthews, who was the lead in the show, saw through Frankie the same way Frankie saw through his father. So all of those metaphors were in story and they all worked for us — it was always a goodhearted show. The aspiration was to show that in any relationship at all, that love under the same roof is something that is devoutly to be wished.