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Q&A: Fred and Ben Savage

Prime-Time Success Hasn't Spoiled the Savages

September 07, 1998|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fred and Ben Savage have grown up before viewers' eyes.

Fred came to fame playing Kevin Arnold in the classic ABC series "The Wonder Years." Now 22 and one term shy of getting a degree in English from Stanford University in Palo Alto, he is entering his second season on NBC's sitcom "Working," playing a young executive who wants to ascend the corporate ladder by virtue of his own hard work.

Ben, who'll turn 18 on Sunday, is about to start his sixth season on ABC's comedy "Boy Meets World." Though his TV character, Cory Matthews, will be attending college in the fall, Ben has deferred his entrance into Stanford for a year.

Over several iced teas at Chin-Chin in Encino, the two brothers are bright and fun. Though they are mostly unrecognized at the restaurant, one young girl shyly walks over for an autograph from them both.

"Ben always sells me out, because all kids recognize him a lot more than they recognize me," Fred says with a laugh.

This summer, the Savage siblings toiled in the theater. Ben received good reviews here for the Israel Horovitz play "Unexpected Tenderness," at the Lee Strasberg Institute, while Fred went to Cape Cod and Connecticut to star with his "Wonder Years" father, Dan Lauria, in the play "Wendell and Ben."

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Question: How did you like your life in the theater this summer?

Ben: It was such a nice change from what I'm used to on the show. It was a really nice contrast. A lot of people I work with on the show have been telling me, "You've got to open yourself up." [Fellow "Boy Meets World" actor] Bill Daniels was always one of the people who encouraged me to do theater.

Fred: Mine came about through a play reading. I read it [last year] with Dan Lauria, the guy who played my father on "The Wonder Years." The audience really responded to it. We both said we have some time this summer and let's put it together.

I love being at the theater. The moment I got to the theater, the moment I left--I loved it. I loved performing. I loved preparing.

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Q: Do you both discuss each other's performances?

Fred: We see each other's stuff.

Ben: But we really don't talk about each other's work. We do support each other.

Fred: Especially because we are on the same lot, so I always go over and see him. We look out for each other. When I first came to do "Working" on the lot last year, it was my first year doing a sitcom. Ben was, like, a five-year veteran at that point in the sitcom world. He would always come over to our stage and stick his head in and see how I was doing. That was the first time Ben was kind of the pioneer. He was kind of the guy who ventured into this first.

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Q: Has it been strange to spend your youth on television?

Ben: I think there are certain advantages and disadvantages. I could never try out for the basketball team or participate in some sports teams because I had other commitments. But at the same time, you are forced to grow up really quickly because you are working with adults. That helped me incredibly because you are sort of forced to grow up in a matter of years. Most kids slowly mature.

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Q: Is there any sibling rivalry over your career or just normal stuff between brothers?

Ben: I don't think there has been anything except what most brothers fight over--trivial things. . . .

Fred: Annoying stuff, certainly not professional stuff at all. We haven't competed with each other, but that may change when I'm 34 and Ben's 30 and we're going out for the same roles.

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Q: Fred, when Ben started "Boy Meets World," did you offer him advice on what life would be like as star of a series?

Fred: I think the times that we would talk wouldn't be as much professionally as personally--like Ben deferring his freshman year in college. We talked a lot about that because he was going to Stanford and I was at Stanford. We talked a lot about high school and what it was like to go to school on the set and how to handle school, especially during his junior and senior year, when academics became really important and college was an issue.

Ben: I went to a regular high school. I think the difference between "Boy Meets World" and "The Wonder Years" is that "The Wonder Years" would film for months at a time and he would rarely get to go back to school until March or April. With a a sitcom, you do two or three episodes and you get a week off. During that week off I'd be at school for a week. I didn't get the full high school experience, but I got enough.

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Q: It sounds like you have great parents.

Ben: Our parents never wanted us to become lost in the limelight of Hollywood. That's why I think they emphasized the importance of school for us.

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