Can Love Survive on the Set of '90210'?

TV Guide - August 26 1995

So, you think it's easy starring with you sweetheart on a hit TV show? Well, think again.

Just ask Brian Austin Green— or "young Bri," as his colleagues on Beverly Hills, 90210 call him. Ever since his live-in love Tiffani-Amber Thiessen replaced nasty girl Shannen Doherty at the start of last season, he's had to sit on the sidelines while his beloved smooched with some of the hottest hunks in Hollywood — Luke Perry, Jason Priestly, Jamie Walters, Ian Ziering. You name 'em, she's kissed 'em.

For Green, it's been pure torture.

"I can't lie and say I just blow it off," says the 22-year-old actor, who's been in love with Thiessen for two and a half years. "I don't know anybody who could sit there and watch their girlfriend kiss another man. I'm sure Bruce Willis and Demi Moore still go crazy watching each other with someone else."

In fact, Thiessen's swinging first season so disturbed Green that he sought out his favorite TV dad—prolific producer and young-love guru Aaron Spelling—for comfort and advice.

As Spelling sees it, "You're on the set, you go over to watch your girlfriend shoot a scene, and she's in bed with someone else. That's go to shake you up. Even more so because Tiffani and Brian are so young. I don't think Nicole Kidman worries when Tom Cruise is kissing someone else."

How has Spelling consoled Green? "I love Brian. I've said to him a million times, 'You've got to know that you're an actor.' I don't think Tiffani gets that upset when he's in a love scene. It's tougher for guys. They get more jealous."

It doesn't help that the writers have fashioned Thiessen into a hussy. From the day she set foot on the set, her character—pot smoking— pscyho-babe Valerie Malone—-has cut a sexy swath through the men of 90210, infuriating to an all-time high. Fan mail poured in, prompting producers to ask, "Shannen who?"

The aging 90210 was revitalized. Thiessen, who formerly played the chaste Kelly on Saved by the Bell, had no problem making the transition from cornflake-clean Kelly to vampy Valerie. The love scenes were a slam dunk. "Hey," she says, "I know how to kiss, and usually the other person does too. You just do it." Sounds painless—for everybody but Green. "He was the one who was feeling this, because I was the one doing it," she says. "I give him a lot of credit. I really do. I don't know how many guys would be able to handle that."

Also hard to handle is the fact that Thiessen, 21, generates more buzz than most of the other cast members, including her beau. At first, he was the star—the adolescent geek who grew overnight into a goateed stud. But over the last year, the attention has shifted to Thiessen.

In a situation where opportunities for jealousy are rife, it probably helps that both actors were seasoned pros before they hit puberty (both did commercials, and Thiessen won beauty pageants). They spent their teen years on series, she on Saved by the Bell and he on Knots Landing. And when the two got together, it was only natural that the setting would be a TV soundstage.

Over breakfast at the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills, with his arm around Thiessen's shoulder, cuddling in a cozy booth, Green describes their first meeting.

"She was doing an episode of Married...with Children, and I was visiting my friend David Faustino—Dave and 50 of his closest friends hanging on the set. We were all swarming her. I went up to her and she blew me off."

"I didn't blow you off," she says. "That's so not true. You're so full of it. You're such a liar. Her was with a gangload of guys and I was with my boyfriend. So it was like a weird thing."

A lovers' tiff is brewing. Thiessen stabs her fork into Green's potatoes.

"I love these potatoes," she says.

"Well, would you stop eating mine and order your own?" he snaps.

"I'm not eating yours."

"I'm gonna put salt on them," he says.

"Oh, don't put salt on them. Yuck!"

"Order your own," he says.

The two simmer down and continue the sago of their long courtship. For four years they were just friends. Then came the first kiss, at a nightclub. Soon after, they moved in together and set up house—the first serious relationship for either. "I hadn't dated that much," she says, "because of work, and because I'm not that old."

Once they started working together, rumors of a "Tiff and Bri" breakup began rippling through town, fueled by Thiessen's love scenes and the fact that Green—a night-crawling, rap-singing club hopper— was frequently in the company of other women while Thiessen—a self-described "homebody" — was curled up with a book at home.

Forget that the rumors were untrue. If the gossip mill was focused on them, it was meant that Tiff and Bri were hot. And once again, 90210 was hot. They were quickly renegotiated in the ____ of the season to lock in the cast for another two years. Priestly will direct and produce. Perry, wanting out, will appear in the first 10 episodes, then call it quits. Everybody gets a raise. Spelling, a master of the ensemble-show format (he created Charlie's Angels and Dynasty, among others), had kept his cast intact. Now he's praying that Tiff and Bri don't blow it by breaking up. "Repeat after me," he says. "Our Father, who art in heaven..."

It wasn't supposed to happen this way. Doherty, the first femme fatal of 90210, was thought to be irreplaceable — even though her bad attitude had turned the set into a war zone. Her off-the-set adventures generated headline but worried producers. It wasn't until fans starting booing her in public that Spelling acted. Doherty had to go. He needed a replacement.

Fox wanted to hire another actress to play Doherty's Brenda, plus a few more women to round out the cast, but Spelling had a better idea: Send Brenda to London and bring in Valerie, a troubled girl who thought boys were toys. Here's where Thiessen got lucky. Turned down for a role on Spelling's short-lived Models Inc., she was called back to Spelling's office for what she thought would be a friendly chat. It turned out to be an audition for the part of Valerie. After reading lines with Priestly, she left, but before she had reached her car in the parking lot, Spelling leaned out from his office patio, yelled congratulations, and gave her the thumbs-up sign. She had nailed the job. The cast approved, having met Thiessen during her many trips to the set to visit Green. Ian Ziering, who once called Doherty a "lunatic," was especially pleased. "I don't think Ian will be suffering ulcers this year," says Green.

Ironically, it is Green who misses Doherty the most. He may be the only one who still talks to her. "She's doing great; she's real happy," he says. "I mean, it's hard for me because I was really close to Shannen. I missing having her here. But work is definitely easier."

And occasionally more rewarding: This fall, Green and Thiessen will have their first love scene together, in the NBC TV-movie "She Fought Alone" (airing October 2). It meant going back to high school and giving up Gucci for Kmart in a quiet Illinois town where football rules. Thiessen's the new girl in the 'hood who falls for football hero Green and then gets assaulted by his best friend.

Its rocking soundtrack, reminiscent of that of "Pulp Fiction," and its twisted storyline have NBC executives hungry for more. Already, they've offered the pair more movies. He has signed. She hasn't. "I want to keep my options open," Thiessen says. (This summer, she also made a movie for ABC, "The Stranger Beside Me," in which she plays a single mother who marries a seriel rapist).

Back on the set of 90210, change is in the air. Three new guest stars are joining the cast in recurring roles, and the parental presence will be rendered practically nonexistent, Mr. and Mrs. Walsh are selling their home and moving to Hong Kong, leaving roommates Brandon and Valerie (last seen locking lips in the season finale) on their own. "Everybody said the college years would ruin us," says Spelling. "But it didn't happen. Now there will be a big difference this year. These kids have to grow up."

And there's good news for Green. Next season's scripts are in, and it looks like Tiffani and Brian are finally going to steam up the screen — with each other, for a change. Together at home. Together at work.

"Do we ever get sick of each other?" says Tiffani. "No. It's not like we're together 24 hours a day."

"Yeah. Just 19," says Green.

Still, something has changed about their white-hot romance. Six months ago, Tiffani told a reporter she'd "marry Brian anytime he asks me. Every day I love him a little more." Are those still her sentiments today? "No. Not right now," she says firmly, looking directly into Brian's eyes. "We're way too young. We're still in the beginning stages of our relationship. We're working a lot together and we don't have time."

Cold feet, waning love, or maturity? Who knows. One thing's for sure. THe kids of 90210 aren't kids anymore.