Everything about the Lifetime movie "The Wrong Woman" added up perfectly for Danica McKellar. As a single mom, the actress and math whiz wanted a project that would give her a chance to play a wide range of emotions but not take her away from home for too long.
"As soon as I read in the script, 'Ellen breaks down in tears,' I knew this was going to be a real workout for me," McKellar says. "I am very proud of the work I did in this movie going from a scared housewife to a kickass attorney."
McKellar is a huge fan of crime dramas and this movie brings together some of the juiciest elements of the genre. McKellar plays Ellen Plainview, a happily married wife and mother whose life is torn apart when she is accused of attempted murder. The combination of a police investigation pushing for a quick resolution and an incompetent legal representation has her facing life in prison for an act she didn't commit. Her only hope is to face the jury herself.
The stars of the film are a TV who's who, starting with McKellar, who played Winnie Cooper on "The Wonder Years." Also starring are Robert David Hall ("CSI"), Jennifer Aspen ("GCB"), Jim O'Heir ("Parks and Recreation"), Claudia Christian ("Babylon 5"), Dina Myer ("Birds of Prey"), Fred Dryer ("Hunter") and Jaleel White ("Family Matters").
The film was a first for McKellar — she has never been behind bars. Filming scenes in a real jail cell didn't bother McKellar because she knew it helped create the drama. There was something a little psychological about hearing the bars slam shut, which helped McKellar with the emotions she needed to play the role.
It was a demanding role, with scenes ranging from emotional breakdowns to determined court battles. McKellar enjoyed the working relationship she had with director Richard Gabai, including collaborating to tweak scenes such as the movie's pivotal courtroom finale.
"The closing argument is one of my favorite scenes," McKellar says. "I kept asking the director for one more take. After I felt like I had it, the director did one more and the last one is what they used."
The result felt so good, McKellar was happy she took the job. She's been particular about work because she knows being "mom is my No. 1 job."
McKellar, who studied mathematics at the University of California at Los Angeles and graduated summa cum laude in 1998, has written four nonfiction books — "Math Doesn't Suck," "Kiss My Math," "Hot X: Algebra Exposed" and "Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape" — designed to encourage middle school and high school girls to succeed in math. She would like to write another book when she can find the time.
McKellar says she's always known that education would be a big part of her life. She's very committed to making education — especially in the area of math — a big part of other people's lives.
"I don't believe people are born with math abilities or not. Learning math is like going to the gym; you have to work on those muscles to get better. I love how the success that comes with math can do so much for you in your entire life. It makes you a better problem solver. It helps you face and overcome all challenges in life," she says.
One of the biggest challenges McKellar, now 38, has faced for the past 20 years is her continued close association to "The Wonder Years."
"Everyone always talks about how Winnie Cooper is all grown up — again and again as if it is new news. It doesn't matter what I do, and I'm OK with it. I will always be Winnie Cooper," McKellar says.
If you want more background on the movie and McKellar, she will be live tweeting at @danicamckellar during both the East and West Coast broadcasts of the cable movie.
"The Wrong Woman": 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 28, on Lifetime
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.