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Rider Strong and Will Friedle Detail Alleged Manipulation and Grooming by ‘Boy Meets World’ Guest Star Brian Peck

‘Boy Meets World’ stars Rider Strong and Will Friedle opened up about their personal trauma surrounding Brian Peck’s alleged grooming and manipulation that they claim they experienced during and after his time on the show.

via: Variety

Pod Meets World” took a break from recapping “Boy Meets World” with their latest episode.

During the Feb. 19 podcast, Danielle Fishel, Rider Strong and Will Friedle were joined by family therapist Kati Morton for an important discussion around Brian Peck, a Season 5 guest star on “Boy Meets World.” Per the episode’s official description, the group talks about “the difficult subjects of grooming, childhood sexual abuse and their effects on victims.”

The episode began with Fishel explaining that since they all agreed to be open and honest, even when uncomfortable, about their experiences, the story of Peck was one they felt necessary to share. Additionally, she noted that Friedle and Strong were recently contacted for a statement about Peck. While she didn’t explain why, that is likely because Peck is part of the upcoming “Quiet on Set” docuseries that looks at past alleged abuse that occurred on multiple Nickelodeon sets.

Instead of releasing one statement, the podcast co-hosts decided to tell their stories in a full episode, since Peck would come up soon. Each episode of “Boy Meets World” they recap, the co-hosts list the guest stars — and in Season 5, Peck appeared on two episodes.

In 2004, four years after “Boy Meets World” ended, Peck was convicted of sexually abusing an unknown Nickelodeon child actor. He spent 16 months in prison after being charged with eight counts of sexual abuse.

Friedle says that he became close with Peck right when he joined the show.

“I didn’t really go to parties. I didn’t really do that stuff. But I was working a lot after ‘Boy Meets World,’ and this guy had so ingratiated himself into my life, I took him to three shows after ‘Boy Meets World,'” he explained. “This was the type of thing where the person he presented was this great, funny guy who was really good at his job, and you wanted to hang out with … I saw him every day, hung out with him every day, talked to him every day.”

For Strong, they often hung out “all the time” outside of work as well, despite the fact that Peck was nearly 20 years older.

According to the hosts, while they sometimes wouldn’t remember the name of a stand-in, that would be because there were boundaries separating them from the main cast. Peck did not have those boundaries though.

“All the years of having stand-ins, no one ever, do I remember, regularly went to lunch with the cast members. But this person did and part of that’s because, when they arrived on set, they were extremely charming. They were very personable. They had a lot of jokes,” Fishel said. “They also, because of their many years of experience working in the entertainment industry, knew other, very successful, famous kids and young men and regularly talked about them.”

Additionally, he was gay and the young cast members didn’t care. “The other adults on set, who maybe could have or should have said, ‘Why are you guys going to lunch with this guy?’ ‘Why is this guy going to Rider’s house for a party?’ There was probably a part of them that didn’t say it because they were afraid it was going to be taken as homophobia, instead of, ‘This is a boundary, gay or not. This is a boundary about adults and kids,'” said Fishel. “And so I also think that’s important in the story of Rider and Will, about why he befriended the two of you so closely. And I did have lunch with him a couple of times, but only because someone else would invite me … He didn’t really make an effort to get to know me. He didn’t ingratiate himself as much into my life. I never heard from him again after the show ended.”

When Peck was accused in 2003, he called Friedle and was crying while “instantly spinning it to where it wasn’t his fault, it was clearly the fault of his victim.” At first, Friedle believed him. “My instinct initially was, ‘My friend, this can’t be. It’s gotta be the other person’s fault.’ The story makes complete sense the way that he’s saying it.”

Friedle had just finished filming a movie, playing a role that Peck had gotten him when he wasn’t auditioning due to his anxiety. In a way, he felt indebted to him. Freidle recounts Peck’s version of the story, claiming that he had been manipulated and taken advantage of, giving into a younger person who had been trying with him multiple times. “In the end, he was the saint,” Friedle recalled.

Neither Friedle nor Strong knew how serious the case actually was — he was convicted of a lewd act against a child and oral copulation of a person under 16.

“He didn’t say that nothing had happened. So by the time we heard about this case and knew anything about it, it was always in the context of, ‘I did this thing, I am guilty. I am going to take whatever punishment the government determines, but I’m a victim of jailbait. There was this hot guy! I just did this thing and he’s underage.’ And we bought that storyline.” Rider recalled. “I never heard about the other things because, back then, you couldn’t Google to find out what people were being charged with. So in retrospect, he was making a plea deal and admitting one thing — which is all he admitted to us — but it looks like he was being charged with a series of crimes, which we did not know.”

Peck then asked Strong and Friedle to support him in court, which they did.

“We’re sitting in that courtroom on the wrong side of everything … The victim’s mother turned and said, ‘Look at all the famous people you brought with you. And it doesn’t change what you did to my kid,'” Friedle explained. “I just sat there wanting to die. It was like, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ It was horrifying all the way around.”

Strong and Friedle wrote letters to the judge in support of Peck. “We weren’t told the whole story, but it doesn’t change the fact that we did it,” said Friedle. “I still can’t get the words out to describe all of the things that I’m feeling inside of myself.”

Strong said that Peck used to be called “the Forrest Gump of Hollywood,” because he knew everybody and would name drop constantly, to show just how connected he was. When he ran into him about seven years ago, he noticed it for the first time.

“I went to a party and he was there. It was one of the most intense experiences in my life because I saw him, I hadn’t seen him in years, and he immediately started talking to me as old friends or whatever. It felt like an out-of-body experience where I’m having a conversation with him and I was finally able to hear the name dropping,” Strong recounted. “All these names, and suddenly I could see this constellation, this web that this person was laying. The story that he was telling me was nonsense but what he was letting me know was that he was with famous people who validate him and put him in a category of Hollywood royalty. He did that constantly when we were on the set of ‘Boy Meets World’ and I never saw it because it was so effortless. Here I was like at this party and I had to leave, I was so freaked the fuck out.”

Friedle, for his part, hasn’t seen Peck in nearly 20 years. But he’s still affected by what he and Strong went through.

“There’s an actual victim here. And he turned us against the victim to where now we’re on his team. That’s the thing where, to me, I look back at that as my ever-loving shame for this entire [thing],” he said. “Getting taken in by somebody who’s a good actor and a manipulator, I could chalk that up to being young and that’s the way it is. It’s awful. I’m going to use that for my growth as a human being, but when there’s an actual victim involved and now I’m on the abuser’s side, that’s the thing I can’t get over and haven’t been able to get over.”

Toward the end of the episode, Strong admits that he’s “so uncomfortable” doing the episode for multiple reasons.

“I still feel like we should not be ruining this man’s life more. I still feel that. I think there’s a lot of layers to that. It just makes me so uncomfortable,” he said. “The fact that this person, this convicted child sex offender, worked on ‘Boy Meets World,’ is not even one of the top 100 facts about ‘Boy Meets World’ in the universe. After this, it’s going to be the thing. It’s going to rise to the top of one of the most talked about facts about us and our show … I don’t like the idea that we are affecting the cultural memory of ‘Boy Meets World’ with this. That’s a bummer because I feel like, in my experience of ‘Boy Meets World,’ it’s not that big of a part of it.”

While Friedle admitted that he didn’t want to have the conversation at first either, to him, it has close to nothing to do with the show. “This has to do with me now, as a 47-year-old man, and the person I’ve become, and this affected me as a person. It didn’t affect the show in any way, shape or form,” he said. “It doesn’t affect my memory of the show in any way, shape or form. As a matter of fact, most of my memories of this person and this manipulation happened after ‘Boy’ for me. So I think people will disconnect the two.”

Overall, the group hopes that by listening to the episode, at least one person who is being manipulated or groomed can feel supported.

Variety has reached out to Peck for comment.

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