Tiffani Thiessen - Actor/Director/Activist
By Sara N. Kent of The Celebrity Cafe / July 18, 2007 / Source
Tiffani Thiessen, who starred as the sweet "Kelly Kapowski," on the wildly successful teen sitcom "Saved by the Bell," and then went on to raise hell as "Valerie Malone" on the steamy Aaron Spelling primetime serial "Beverly Hills 90210," just completed her directorial debut, which has garnered numerous accolades. She is also heavily involved in charitable causes, such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
SK) Congratulations on making your directorial debut with "Just Pray," and its qualifying for Oscar nomination consideration in the Best Live Action Short category.
TT) Thanks so much, the short form did really really well. We were actually pretty pleased with it. We are so proud of our little project that we put our hearts into.
SK) How was it being behind the camera instead of in front of it?
TT) It was amazing! I never expected it to be as rewarding as it ended up being. I loved the producing aspect of it. I loved the directing aspect of it. It all started to be created a few years ago when we opened our production company — me and my producing partner [Dean Johnson,] and now we have a slew of productions and things on our plate. So, it's exciting.
SK) How was it directing your husband, Brady Smith?
TT) It was great! He was wonderful. He was extremely supportive through the whole process too. It was also really nice to have him on set every day.
SK) Being your directorial debut that must have been comforting.
TT) It was extremely comforting. Besides my husband, it was really nice to have a lot of my friends that I've worked with for many many years, on a lot of other projects, come out and really support me. It was nice to put myself in the middle of a bunch of people that believe in me and I worked really hard to make a really great project.
SK) What got you interested in the project?
TT) My best friend, he's my producing partner. He wrote it. We looked at developing it into full-length, and then we kinda sat there one day and said let's just make it a short film for now. And now that we did make it into a short-film and it did really well people are actually looking into developing it into a full-length feature.
SK) That's fabulous news.
SK) I also read, on your official web site, of you starring in the Hallmark Channel original movie "Pandemic." How was it working with Faye Dunaway on the project?
TT) It was definitely an experience. It was really neat to actually say I got to work with her. She's definitely one of those legends. So it was kinda cool between saying I worked with her and when I worked with Woody Allen it was pretty amazing too, in two totally different capacities. I mean they couldn't have been more different.
SK) Outside of Hollywood, you are involved with a number or organizations and charities, like Camp Rainbow Gold and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
TT) Those are the two that are closest to my heart.
SK) What made you choose those particular organizations?
TT) With Make-A-Wish, actually, my very very very first involvement was when I was actually 17, almost 18 years old, and I was part of a wish. I met a little girl who was a really big fan of "Saved by the Bell," so I got to be a part of her wish. We threw her this amazing birthday party with her and her family and a lot of her close friends. It was really the first time I got to see this amazing charity, this amazing organization, what they do and how they put memories and smiles on the faces of these kids that are really going through rough times. And I've been through a lot of wishes on the different shows I've been on and meeting a lot of Make-A-Wish kids. In fact, a couple of years ago I developed a reality show that didn't end getting picked up. But we wanted to make a show about Make-A-Wish. About six months to a year later, they called and asked if I'd be interested in becoming a member of the National Advisory Council and I said, "Absolutely!" So that's been a little over two years now and it's one of the closest things to my heart. I really love seeing the other side of wish granting now, where I'm actually the one granting wishes for these kids. It's extremely rewarding. I tell people all the time that I get so much out of it by meeting these families and meeting these kids. Sometimes I feel like I'm not up to par with giving them what I truly feel I am getting out of it, you know?
SK) You mentioned being a member of the Advisory Council, what are your duties?
TT) We're basically a step down from the actual board members. We're able to have just as much knowledge as the normal board members. We tend to be the ones a little more in the limelight. We're actors, producers, directors, sports entertainers — things like that. The Advisory Council is really about going out there and making people more aware of what Make-A-Wish does. I give them any reason I can to show my voice and support through what I do for Make-A-Wish. I would anything for them. I spent at least, if not every day, then every other day trying — a lot of times more than anything — to use my connections to really make a lot of these wishes happen, whether it be a kid who wants to be in a movie or wanting to meet a certain celebrity, and it really brings a smile to my face that I can actually do that.
SK) I can hear in your voice the utter joy it brings you.
TT) It does. At my camp [Camp Rainbow Gold] where we actually go back to Idaho for our annual camp for kids, which a lot of it has ties to Make-A-Wish Idaho chapter. Which they do a lot of actual volunteering for them, and I've gotten to know so many kids from camp who were and are in line for wishes through Make-A-Wish. It's really like two big families that have come together for me that I enjoy so much. Camp begins the first week of August, so I'm getting ready for that. I look forward to it all year long. It's one of those vacations that I will never ever change no matter what. I don't care what comes about; I would never, not be there for camp.
SK) How long will the Make-A-Wish Destination Joy campaign run for?
TT) I don't think there's an actual end to it. I know they launched it around June 5, and basically what it's about is really trying to get people aware of what Make-A-Wish is, what we do and that we're trying to inspire people to either share their time or resources or money to these kids to make these wishes happen. So far, Make-A-Wish has granted over almost 150,000 wishes. When you think about it, that's over 150,000 families that are affected by what Make-A-Wish does. It goes from anywhere from $5000 to $10,000 to make a wish come true for a lot of these kids. It takes a lot of money and it takes a lot of time. But to see a smile on these kids faces, to see them excited, to see them not have to think about what they've probably thinking about for the last year or two, or five years. Whether they're really fighting a battle or been in the hospital for a long time. It's also about giving memories to a family that they'll cherish for a lifetime. I remember one father told me the Make-A-Wish family trip their family took; the wish was to go to Hawaii, and it actually saved their marriage he said. They had been through so much stress, with their other kids and their one child who was fighting Cancer. And it actually saved their marriage they said. It's amazing to me to hear these stories of people who really get affected.
SK) What do you think is the most rewarding aspect of being a Destination Joy ambassador?
TT) Oh, my. My most favorite thing is meeting these kids and hearing those stories like I just told you. The thing I take most pride in is trying to make these wishes come true, whether it's using my connections as a celebrity. I have a wish right now that I have a special connection to this little girl's wish is to be in a movie. So, I am trying my best, I told her, I joke with her all the time. If I could get myself a movie, you know, which is a really hard thing sometimes. It's such a joy to be able to make these wishes come to life.
SK) Your official web site also mentioned that you authored a series of children's books entitled, Fins and Tales, what made you decide to make the transition from actor to writer?
TT) It's funny. Between me, and my producing partner we literally sit around and bounce off ideas to each other all the time, almost every day. It was something I always kind of wanted to do, where I get to write about my animals. My dogs and my cats are my kids. I spent a lot of my time making sure my dogs are happy because they give so much to me. It was an idea that me and best friend Dean, my producing partner, had come up with about making a series of children's books about my dogs. It's basically life as told through the eyes of animals. So many kids relate to their house pets. Kids are usually the ones taking care of their animals. They really are a part of your family so I really wanted to show the life lessons that I remember growing up with, and I know they are still ones that kids are going through today, whether it's feeling like you're an outcast or feeling like you look different. We have a series of nine right now and people are wanting to make it into an animated series. We're very excited about it.
SK) Speaking of transitions, I know you've probably been asked this a million times, but I have to ask, as a huge fan of both shows, did you find it difficult acting wise to go from good girl "Kelly on "SBTB" to bad girl "Valerie" on "90210?"
TT) It wasn't so much difficult as it was entertaining for myself. To go from one character that everybody kind of knew so well and a show that was so wildly popular to another wildly popular show and play a whole different type of character, it was really more fun than anything. I really enjoyed it. I've stayed friends with certain people from both shows for many many years. They were memory-building times in my life that I remember so vividly that I will never forget. I really feel extremely blessed to have had both opportunities.
SK) Which ex co-stars in particular have you stayed close with?
TT) Jason Priestly [ex-Brandon Walsh, "Beverly Hills, 90210"] is probably one of my closest friends. He and his wife and me and my husband, we're definitely a fun foursome. He's actually expecting his first child any minute. I just got off the phone with him, checking in and making sure everything is good. I catch up every now and then with some of the other people on the show. Mark-Paul [Gosselaar ex-Zack Morris from "Saved by the Bell."] I actually got to see him briefly when we did a photo shoot last year for Details magazine. It was the first time I'd see him in years; it was really nice to get back in touch with him. For so long he was my closest friend, traveling all over. We became like brother and sister.
SK) Given that two of your other ex co-stars Mario Lopez [ex-A.C Slater, "Saved by the Bell"] and Ian Ziering [ex-Steve Sanders, "Beverly Hills, 90210"] recently strapped on their dancing shoes for ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" might your fans see you doing the same in the near future?
TT) I give them both a lot of credit for doing it, but it's not a thing I see for myself.
SK) Are there any upcoming projects that your production company, Tit 4 Tat Productions, has lined up that you would like to mention?
TT) We have such a slew of so many things. We have three feature films, five TV shows, two of them animated. Our plate is completely full. I just finished directing a play, called Brothers Don't Say It, which was really fun. Also at the same time — back to back — was acting in one called The Mole with a really great organization called the Young Playwrights Festival. What they do, I'll tell you a little bit about it. They actually put on an annual contest where any kids from 18 or younger can submit plays and 12 are picked out of thousands and thousands of plays. They get put out by having real actors and celebrities and a real director and a writer/mentor come in help them shoot the script and their plays and then they can put on live theatre and they get to experience putting a whole play on. It's really neat. It's a really cool program and, actually, this year was its 15th year. Noah Wyle is a big part of it; it's a really neat organization.
SK) Are there any upcoming movie roles or television guest appearances that you would like to give your fans a heads up about?
TT) No, I just finished doing "What About Brian," this last year. I finished in April and then I went right into this producing stuff, going on vacation, and I literally just got back from producing that play — so nothing at the moment.
SK) Well, I think that's it. Thanks so much for speaking with me; it's been a pleasure.
TT) No problem, sweetheart. Have a great day.
SK) You too.