In ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author,’ Luigi Pirandello wrote, “When the characters are really alive before their author, the latter does nothing but follow them in their action, in their words, in the situations which they suggest to him.” But what happens when he stops following them? As part of a six-installment series, actors Rose McGowan, Melissa Joan Hart, Rider Strong, Heather Matarazzo, James Van Der Beek, and Thora Birch pick up the stories of their most iconic characters where the initial writers left off.
Never mind his porn-star name. Before working on more adult projects (Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever; the soon-to-be-released graphic novel, Blood Merchant, co-created by his brother, Shiloh, with whom he’s also written and directed a number of award-winning short films), Rider Strong rose to teen-idol status as the harmlessly rebellious Shawn Hunter on ABC’s Boy Meets World. Since the show ended in 2000, we asked the 32-year-old actor where Shawn has been hiding—turns out, he’s been locked in the basement this whole time.
After seven years on your television screen, Shawn Hunter moved to New York City, where he became an alcoholic. No, I’m kidding. He married the love of his life, Angela Moore. That’s not true, either, but he did become a world-famous poet. Actually, last I heard he was the East Coast representative of The Center, a fundamentalist cult.
You may have picked up on the fact that I’m making all of this up. The dark truth is… Shawn has been locked in my basement for 12 years. It’s really best for both of us. I’m able to move on (well, except when people confuse me for him), and, as a fictional character, he’s much safer down there.
Let’s be honest, more Boy Meets World would only further ruin his life. Being The Dramatic Storyline in a 22-minute comedy series takes its toll. It was never easy for him to live a sitcom existence, where poverty can be a punch line, where alcoholic parents can be funny, where no matter how much you learn—no matter how much Mr. Feeny sets you straight— you come back the next week, making the same old mistakes. And the laugh track roars.
Shawn was never meant for that world. He was too dark, too self-indulgent, too whiny. He was a downer! How many times can one character experience loss? Give a heart-wrenching monologue? Go on a soul-searching road trip? Conversely, he’d never survive another genre. Despite his bad-boy posturing, perhaps summed up best by his faux-retro, pseudo-biker look, Shawn wouldn’t have lasted minutes in a drama. He may have acted out with some hijinks, but deep down, Shawn’s pretty vanilla. He never swears. He’s never done drugs. The furthest he’s been from home is Disney World. I think he’s still a virgin. None of this would fly on Breaking Bad, Six Feet Under, or House. For all of his flaws, Shawn’s, well, safe.
He could potentially leave my basement for a cop show. I could see him heading back to Philadelphia to join the cold case squad. Or to become a hard-bitten-but-ultimately-good detective, solving grisly crimes armed with only his street sense and a leather jacket. Or maybe he could find a hot female with whom to partner—just like on Castle or Bones—and their witty banter could lighten the dark underbelly of the city they protect. The problem there? Shawn ain’t that smart. Or perceptive. He’s a C-minus student at best, which seems prohibitive to good detective work. So I think I’ll keep him downstairs for now.
I treat him well. He gets plenty of food and water. He even has a window, a small square that lets him see passing feet—and dogs, if they’re short enough. He tells me he loves that window. For him, it’s like a television, looking out at real people, with real-people problems.
He’s fascinated by how unstructured our lives are, how we drift from one moment to the next, free from the constraints of narrative, the pain of lurching endlessly from crisis to resolution. He covets your formless mood. Your un-episodic joys. The way you catch yourself off-guard. The way you wander, slowly, in and out of love. How you can go back, and revise the story of who you are, because there’s no DVD box set. The way no one wants to know your ending.
Sometimes, I stay down there with him, and we share memories of the good old days. The time he blew up the mailbox with a cherry bomb. The time he peed on the cop car.
But even our best times together are bittersweet: We both know it can’t last. Only one of us can return to the surface and live a semblance of a normal life. I make sure it’s me.