Rhymes with Rich

Cosmopolitan Magazine — October 1998 / Written by: Kevin Dickson

Early morning sun floods an airy Hollywood photo studio, sending brilliant shafts of light through the smog-infused air. Through the upper window, the famous Hollywood sign is visible. Inside, the Cosmo crew rush to set up the wardrobe room for a fashion shoot with 24-year-old actor Tiffani-Amber Thiessen — Beverly hills 90210's baroness of bad — who is due in half an hour.

With the clothes ironed and hanging neatly on racks, we pull up to a table and sit back for a morning coffee. When a knock sounds at the door, nobody gets up, assuming it's the photographer and his assistant. Only when Tiffani-Amber pops her head in to make sure she's in the right place do we jump to our feet and rush to greet her. She's followed by her entourage — a publicist, make-up artist, hairstylist and two hair assistants. IT's an onslaught of glamour. The entourage disappear into the make-up room, while Tiffani-Amber plops herself down at the table with us and asks for a coffee. Even half-asleep, she's beautiful in a way that demands attention yet doesn't intimidate. Seated across from her, I notice she's not wearing any make-up and is blessed with the kind of blemish-free skin that refuses to do anything but tan evenly. It's about as natural as she's going to look for the rest of the day.

Coffee on its way, Tiffani-Amber quickly begins laughing and chatting, telling us she's dying to see the clothes. Like a teenager about to be let loose shopping, she follows Julie Russell, Cosmo's fashion director, to the wardrobe room. When Julie shows her a bag containing various bras, Tiffani-Amber pats one of her breasts and flashes her a winning smile. "It's OK, I won't be needing those," she smirks. "They stay up themselves."

Twenty minutes later, Tiffani-Amber emerges, effusive in her praise for the clothes Julie has selected. (She especially fell in love with a little black dress which, later that afternoon, she wore while taping an appearance for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.) She then disappears into the make-up room to get ready. When she finally reappears 90 minutes later, it's obvious her hairstylist is feeling adventurous — Tiffani-Amber's hair resembles a haystack in a hurricane. Julie looks horrified and instructs the stylist to tame her mane. Finally, the shoot gets underway, with Tiffani-Amber modelling a slate-grey dress against a concrete wall as the backdrop.

As the day progresses, her hairstylist continues to create increasingly high-maintenance hairdos, but they do make her look great. At several points, I wander over casually to enquire politely as to when she'll be able to conduct our interview. But suddenly, it's 3pm, our studio time is up and Tiffani-Amber has to depart for the Jay Leno taping. The interview request has become a running joke between us. She says she's sorry we haven't had time, but offers to meet me somewhere for lunch next week. Then, hugging me, she jumps into her Porsche and screeches off.

Cut to the following Tuesday at a trendy LA cafe. One minute to our appointed meeting time, Tiffani-Amber swings her Porsche into a parking space across the street. As she takes a seat, a table of four guys next to use choke on their burgers as they try to casually scope her out. She disarms them with a smile, and we begin talking.

By 16, Tiffani-Amber had already been working for almost 14 years. "I started pretty young, modelling for department store catalogues," she recalls. "Then it developed itno commercials. I filmed one in Australia when I was 13. Part of the trip was for Coke, part was for Hi-C orange juice. My tongue was so orange by the end of it!"

Then came the dim and forgettable sitcom Saved by the Bell. Tiffani-Amber's character — the pneumatic schoolgirl Kelly — made her the only star of the show to break out with any dignity (co-star Elizabeth Berkle went on to play a sex-crazed dingbad in the infamous flop Showgirls).

Despite her success on Saved by the Bell, Tiffani-Amber still had to audition for the bad-girl-babe role of Valerie Malone on 90210. "I was in Vegas doing the last episode of Saved by the Bell when I got a call from Aaron Spelling [the series producer]," she recounts. "So I met him and screen-tested with two other girls who were up for the part. After the audition, I was walking to my car and suddenly heard my name being called. I'm like thinking, 'Who the fuck is calling me?' I look up and Aaron is up on the third level yelling, 'Congratulations, welcome to the show.' That's how I found out, having him yell down to the parking lot. It was really cool. If you work with Aaron and he likes you, you'll always work for Aaron. And believe me, that's not a bad thing."

Does that mean that with TV's queen of mean about to bow out 90210, we can expect to see Tiffani-Amber on the Spelling shoot-off Melrose Place? "Very funny," she smirks. "Aaron's been very generous." Citing restless as her motivation, Tiffani-Amber will be retiring from 90210 after just a few episodes of the new season. "It doesn't mean I won't come back," she says mysteriously. Jason [Priestly] is also leaving."

So will Valerie leave 90210 in a limo, Grey-hound bus or hearse? "I think that's what everyone suspects is gonna happen, but I don't think that's what gonna happen. I could be wrong," she drawls, her pool—blue eyes widening dramatically. "The audience is gonna expect her to leave in a catty way. In the cliffhanger, there's a really serious subject for Valerie to deal with, so they may keep it like that until she leaves."

She's also had to deal with 90210's most overly sexual episode — the one the US network billed as 60 minutes of sex. Tiffani-Amber groans. Loudly. "I hated it," she hisses. "Would you like to be in garter belts and stilettos for an episode? No wonder I don't have a boyfriend..."

Speaking of boyfriends, I wonder if it's tough for her to work so closely with her ex, Brian Austin Green [90210's David]. "It has its ups and downs," she replies. "But it's been a lot better this year. That's what happens when you work with somebody you had a relationship with. It ended because we worked together. I'll never date somebody I work with ever again — it's too difficult. Egos get involves and you have to live and work together — I can't do that. But you, you know, it's cool. We get along, we're friends and we have a good business relationship."

Anyway, this is Hollywood — you're not supposed to have a boyfriend, you're supposed to have assitants and a trainer. "I have a trainer," Tiffani-Amber confesses. "If I didn't work out, it'd be a disaster. The weight issue has been a really big thing for me all my life. I come from an overweight family, and in this business, it's something you simply can't be. I love eating," she laughs, "but I work out six days a week, usually for an hour and a half. It goes from weight training to cardio to running to treadmill. And I smoke, so that makes a lot of fucking sense. It's a terrible habbit — I have to quit."

A benefit of all this working out, though, must be the chance to dress up, like she's just done for Cosmo. "Yeah, but this is how I am usually," she says, pointing to her jeans and white singlet. "Because I have to dress up everyday at work — I'm in fucking stilettos, you know — it's terrible. I have to wear tons of make-up and shit. I don't have it — it's just when you do it everyday..."

I then ask if it was her I saw in an ad for a film called Baseketball. "Nup," she barks. "That's Yasmine Bleeth [Baywatch]. I get that all the time. I don't know if Yasmine does. I've never met her. You couldn't get me in a red bathing suit if you tried.

Encouragingly, I tell her that her she's already got a great tan and her two tattoos would look gret peeking out of a red bathing suit. "I have three," she corrects me. "Back, ankle and a little green heart here," she says, placing a finger just below her navel. "That I need to change. I got it when I was going out with Brian Green. Get it? Green? Heart?"

After a summer break and a role in the independent film Love Stinks, will Tiffani-Amber be taking time out? "There's a lot of things I'd love to do, but I take it one day at a time," she says quietly. "What do I wanna do 10 years from now? I love doing TV and I hope I can do it as long as I can. Some day I want to get married and have a family. And I would love to travel. I want to go back to Australia — absolutely."

As she hops into her Porsche, I tell her you can't get Hi-C there anymore, so at least she wouldn't come with an orange tongue.