Playing a character like TV’s popular Steve Urkel role didn’t necessarily make for the most positive outlook for actor Jaleel White‘s dating life. But, surprisingly to White, he could count on his suave counterpart to save the day.
On his star-turning role on TV’s “Family Matters” series, White played a more debonair double, Stefan Urquelle, in the show’s fifth season. It’s a role he told Page Six that ending up making romance a lot less difficult.
In a pair of recent interviews, White, who hosts the newly launched “Ever After” podcast, shared about that show experience and others. That includes working long hours as a child star, and being dismissed from an opportunity with a brand he learned wasn’t “doing the Black thing right now.”
“The creation of Stefan definitely helped me out with black women tremendously,” White told Page Six, laughing. “Unbeknownst to me, Stefan saved any chance I was going to have with a black woman.”
The actor, who was originally cast on the hit sitcom at the age of 11, maintains a profound sense of reverence for the show, which ended in 1998 after nine seasons. It’s a sentiment of respect that White feels “Family Matters” isn’t afforded on occasion, such as in the preservation of the show’s legacy.
“Family Matters” was shot in Los Angeles, but set in Chicago, and the original house from the credits was located at 1516 W. Wrightwood Ave. It could have been an exciting attraction for fans of the show and a monument to its creation. However, when it came to housing development, the humble abode didn’t have a chance.
“They tore our house down!” White recalled of the home that was eventually demolished and reconstructed into a multi-unit condo building. “I know that Jeff Franklin purchased the San Francisco home for ‘Full House,’ ” White said of the show’s creator, “and it’s like a landmark now and people go to visit it, but our stuff got torn down and now it looks like a small bank.”
While White holds fond memories of being on “Family Matters,” he remembers that life as a wildly popular and successful child star came with drawbacks — challenges that he would be forced to endure in order to retain his status.
White revealed to the Chicago Tribune that in one particular case, he shot an entire episode while violently sick.
“When I played Bruce Lee on ‘Family Matters,’ that is the sickest I’ve ever been while shooting an episode. I had gastritis and literally vomited before they did the take. They were going to cancel the taping at that point, we’d already gotten most of the show in the can and they were like, ‘If he’s that sick, we’ll just pick this up next week and shoot it next Thursday.’ But you know how if you throw up, you feel really good immediately after? Well I was like, no I got it — so I threw up and then I just powered through that scene. And if you go back and watch it, you would never guess. That was my Michael Jordan flu game.”
White continued, “Learning to push through like that, that’s definitely what happens when you grow up in the business. It’s a big honor to be called a trouper and you would generally start to hear that word when they had to make that long walk and go and had to ask your parents, ‘Is it OK if we go past the legal limit?’ ”
“The studio teachers have far more say about that now, but back then it was the parents’ call entirely whether or not the kid would work (overtime),” he added. “And everyone’s patting you on the head: ‘Thanks for coming through for us.’ And my mom’s looking at them like, ‘Yeah, hm-mm, this is the second time this week.’ But it becomes a badge of honor: The show must go on and you’re always capable of stepping up. So I’m proud of that.”
That story is the type of content White says people should expect to hear on his podcast “Ever After,” in which he talks to other child stars about their experiences in the acting business.
“Not just any child stars,” he told Page Six. “I’m only interviewing child stars who have successfully transitioned into adulthood and they’re still in the business. It’s not to say things about people who have run into personal troubles. I wanted to show that there are more former child actors working in the business successfully.”
White has already had a range of guests on his show, including Mayim Bialik, Keke Palmer, Seth Green, Melissa Joan Hart, Haley Joel Osment and Raven-Symoné. White and his guests discuss different aspects of their career at length, divulging stories that are being heard for the first time. That includes White’s tale about being rejected for a deal at an early age, and not quite understanding the circumstances behind the decision.
“I remember Pepsi wanted Fred Savage this one time,” White recalled to the Chicago Tribune, “and we had the same agent and Fred wasn’t available. So my agent said, ‘Hey, listen, you’re in luck — my other client is available.’ And they said, ‘Who do you represent?’ He told them and they said, ‘Oh, we’re not doing the Black thing right now,’ and that was it.”
He added, “I wasn’t even insulted hearing that, it was just like, ‘Aw, that sucks, man. I like Pepsi.’ I just took that on the chin as a kid, not understanding just how much of an opportunity that would have been,” he said.
White said he wants listeners to hear about the other sides of child acting, and realize he and many of his peers were able to bypass much of the meltdowns and misfortunes that have afflicted others.
“Ever After” aired its first installment on Oct. 13, and currently broadcasts episodes once a week.