More than two decades after she said goodbye to the San Francisco Painted Lady that housed the Tanner family on Full House, Andrea Barber, wearing a bacon and egg scarf, is walking up to the front door again.
It’s been just as long since Barber, known for playing the unapologetically offbeat BFF Kimmy Gibbler on the series, last acted. She left show business the day she said “Adios, Tannerinos!” and finished her eight years filming the T.G.I.F. family classic, which will launch its revival, Fuller House, on Netflix this Friday.
“I was really nervous,” Barber says. “I thought, ‘I haven’t done this in a long time. Can I still do this?’”
For her first shot in 21 years the actress, now with kids of her own, turned to her on-screen daughter, flashing that same bacon and egg scarf—the kind of quirky garment that Gibbler, a ’90s fashion grenade bomb, would wear all these years later as an adult. Before Barber could even get her first line out, the audience exploded with laughter at the ridiculous—and oh-so-Kimmy—scarf.
Barber was caught so off guard that she forgot her first line. “I was excited, like, oh my gosh, they still love Kimmy Gibbler!” Barber laughs. “But I was also like, crap! I forgot my first line.”
Jitters quickly subsided and it was smooth sailing from there for Barber, who reunites with Full House co-stars Candace Cameron Bure (D.J. Tanner) and Jodie Sweetin (Stephanie Tanner) to lead the revival series that also sees fan favorites like Bob Saget, Dave Coulier, John Stamos, and Lori Loughlin occasionally stop by.
(As has been made exhaustively clear by this point, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen do not reprise their roles as Michelle in the series.)
“It’s just like muscle memory,” Barber says of returning to the show. “It’s bringing this character back to life who’s been dormant inside of me for 20 years.”
When Full House ended in 1995, Barber, who was 17 at the time, was ready to return to normalcy—as much normalcy as could be afforded a child star on a nationally syndicated sitcom that would end up airing on various cable channels in perpetuity almost immediately.
She studied English literature at Whittier College. A semester studying abroad in Copenhagen led to an internship with the United Nations in Switzerland, where she would develop a passion for international education. She would end up getting a master’s degree in women’s studies from the University of York in England, and returned to Whittier to be the assistant director of international programs.
Guys, Kimmy Gibbler got smart.
“My life over the past 20 years has been pretty normal except for the occasional fan who’s like, ‘Why do you look familiar to me?’” she says. “Of course, that’s getting bigger and bigger now with the hype for Fuller House. People now remember my name. It used to be, ‘Did we go to church together?’ Or, ‘You look like that girl from that show, what’s it called?’ Now it’s like, ‘Oh my god you’re Andrea Barber from Fuller House, which comes out February 26th.’ They know the details by heart.”
For the past 10 years, Barber has been a stay-at-home mom for her two children.
As her children grew during that time, so did our culture’s obsession with nostalgia, to the point that fan campaigns for old favorite TV shows saw casts reuniting for a slew of revivals: Arrested Development, Girl Meets World, 24, and, most recently, The X-Files. Fuller House will kick off a year that will also see reboots of Gilmore Girls, Twin Peaks, and Prison Break.
Uncle Jesse himself, John Stamos, observed this trend and, keen to “milk the nostalgia factor,” as he joked, tried to get a Full House revival off the ground for roughly six years before the Netflix opportunity presented itself. He noticed that actors embracing old franchises was no longer deemed—at least not in every case—sad or desperate. It was something that fans were clamoring for.
“I think the rise of social media helped tear that down,” Stamos told The Daily Beast last fall. “I think these shows like Kimmel and Fallon and Funny or Die where everybody’s taking the piss out of themselves helped, too. It’s great.”
Stamos serves as an executive producer on Fuller House, along with Jeff Franklin, who created the original series—wait for it—29 years ago. It was Franklin who helped woo the original cast back for the Netflix series, though for Barber, it didn’t take much convincing. “I didn’t even hesitate a beat to say yes,” she says.
Her kids were at an age when she could take on something like this. She was still friends with the cast; her enduring friendship with Candace Cameron Bure is what the hashtag #friendshipgoals was made for. More, it just sounded fun.
The premise of the series is that, after D.J.’s husband dies, leaving her to raise her three boys on her own, Kimmy and Stephanie move into the old Tanner house with her to raise their families together, much like their uncles did back in the ’90s. The one hiccup: neither Barber nor Sweetin acted regularly over the last 20 years.
“Honestly, I wasn’t sure how it was going to play out,” Stamos admitted to us last fall, when Fuller House was still in production. “I don’t know why or how but not a beat was skipped.”
Barber says Franklin even got her and Sweetin an acting coach, which they declined.
“We played these characters for eight years as kids,” Barber says. “Like I said, it’s like muscle memory. It’s like learning a language as a child. You become fluent so easily and that lasts a lifetime. I feel like we were pretty fluent in these characters.”
As with all these recent revivals, the return of Fuller House was met with groans from a contingent weary of these reboots. Among Full House’s fans however, the squeals of glee are loud enough to drown out the Scrooges.
Even the set, which was unveiled to the pilot’s live audience with a curtain drop, got its own deafening entrance applause during filming.
“Every time a new cast member made an appearance, we had to hold for so many minutes while the audience screamed,” Barber says. “I felt bad for the poor babies who played little Tommy, the youngest on the show. They were just freaked out. They had no idea what was going on. Like, ‘Why is this room full of people screaming right now?’”
Actors who become so closely identified with shows like Full House historically have a complicated relationship with that legacy and their career-long ties with those characters. Cast members of Boy Meets World, Saved By the Bell, and more have talked about their frustrations trying to break away from the characters that defined their early careers, only to learn to embrace the nostalgia later down the road.
Even Stamos said, “I fought it for a long time after Full House.” Years later, “I can now embrace all of it and feel very good about it,” he said.
Barber says she never had any desire to escape the legacy of Full House or Kimmy Gibbler, chiefly because of how positive the experience of shooting the show was for her. She attended public high school throughout production, and, in hindsight, marvels at how the show went above and beyond to make sure that could happen.
When a taping fell on the night of her senior prom, the producers reworked the schedule so she could pretape her scenes and make it to the tail end of the dance. “My date came to set and we took pictures in front of the fireplace in the living room,” she says. “You don’t see that in Hollywood, producers worrying so much about kids having normal experiences like going to the senior prom.”
“I think it’s hard for child actors when you leave a show that’s been such a major part of your formative years. There’s a hole when the show wraps,” she continues. “So it becomes what do you fill that hole with? For me, it was education and my family. Having kids and stuff outside of Hollywood to fill my life. That’s when I think child actors struggle the most, when they have emptiness and don’t know what to fill it with.”
Looking back on the character she played and ultimately fell in love with, she can’t help but navel-gaze about what made her resonate with fans so much.
She was, in a way, the female answer to Steve Urkel, the unwanted oddball who inserts herself into the life of the family she wishes she was a part of, basking in the feeling of being at home even if the family doesn’t always want her there. From a critic’s eye, you could even say there was something a bit profound about Kimmy and the confidence she had where so many other quirky outsiders would be insecure.
“She’s just so uniquely Gibbler and she makes no apologies for it,” Barber says. “As much as people make fun of her, there’s a lot to learn from her about confidence and being who you are and making no apologies. I think a lot of teens grow up with insecurities in trying to figure out who they are. Kimmy knew from a very early age who she was and she embraced that.”
It’s rewarding and, in the grand tradition of Full House’s teaching moments—cue the twinkly music, folks—to see someone painted the misfit and strange to grow up to be, on Fuller House, a successful businesswoman, a good mother, and, ultimately, happy.
And to have gotten a grip on that whole wardrobe, too.
Barber remembers during the original Full House days that the cast was allowed to take home some of their characters’ wardrobes. Cameron would leave with armfuls of dresses that were, at the time, stylish, but Barber would be stuck picking through Kimmy’s ludicrous ensembles and going home with just a pair of pants.
Now, Kimmy’s wardrobe is a hipster-meets-Etsy Pinterest dream. Bacon and egg scarves, donut purses, kitty kimonos: Fans are already reaching out wondering where they can buy pieces they’ve just seen in the trailer for Fuller House.
“I’m loving modern-day Kimmy Gibbler’s wardrobe,” Barber says. “Man, if they would ever let me keep that stuff I’d take them up on it this time around because it’s a lot cooler than it was in the ’90s.”
In some regards—and certainly Netflix hopes—Full House might be, too.