Ology.com Interviews Tiffani (July 7, 2011)
Most of us grew up with Tiffani Thiessen on our TV screens (and yes, she dropped the Amber a while ago, people). Both Kelly Kapowski (Saved by the Bell) and Valerie Malone (Beverly Hills 90210) were hugely popular characters in the early 90s. And with good reason. She was pretty much every guy's dream girl. And every girl wanted to be her. I know I did. She got to make out with Zach Morris for crying out loud. Anyway, now the actress and new mother is busy starring on USA's White Collar as Elizabeth Burke, wife of FBI agent Peter Burke (played by Tim DeKay), a role she says is most like the real Tiffani.
We recently caught up with Tiffani and she gave us some great deets on the rest of the season. We also talked bad 80s fashion trends, crushing on costars and that whole Justin Bieber thing. Read on!
Check out White Collar Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. on USA. And, follow Tiffani on Twitter!
Hi Tiffani. How are you?
Great. How are you?
Good. I know you've been acting for a long time. What drew you to White Collar specifically?
You know, it's funny. I first read the pilot when it was given to me. I responded very quickly. It's very character-driven and it has a lot of fun to it It doesn't take itself too seriously, but at the same time you definitely feel like the characters are relatable. The characters are very grounded, but at the same time it's quite fun to watch. So those are the qualities that I'm drawn to, as well as the actual character of Elizabeth, the role that I would, of course, be going in for. It was one of the first times I got to see a woman and a married couple on TV in a relationship that actually works. A lot of times you see these marriages on TV that don't work and it's always about the drama of the relationship. But this is actually the opposite and it shows a relationship that has actually been working for a long time and that they really do adore each other and really respect each other. It's nice to see on a show.
Definitely. What was your audition process like?
From the very beginning, I really wanted the show. I told the guys that the show was going to get picked up and be a success and they all thought I was funny and crazy. And I was like “No, trust me! I've been doing this for a long time. This show is going to get picked up for a really long time and your lives will change," and all that kind of stuff. Now, of course, they say, “You're psychic or something.” I just knew that it was going to be a show that was really good and really successful. I just had this gut feeling. So, I wanted to be a part of it and I auditioned for it at the very beginning. I was put on hold, on what they call a shortlist, until they found the role of Peter, which is the husband. And so they finally found him [Tim DeKay], and cast him. When they came around to bring girls back, they actually came to me and said that I was too young and that they were going to be looking for a different type of woman. Then I found out that they were actually looking at girls that were even younger than I was.
People forgot how old I was. I think people still see me as really, really young because of the long career I have had and I've been pretty young on the shows. So I think that they forget that I actually age (laughs). It's funny, they never found the girl on that first turnaround and they actually came back to me and said, “We really want you to come back. We don't know what we were thinking. We want you to have a chemistry read with Tim.” The moment Tim and I met and had a chemistry read, it was perfect. We just knew. From what I heard, it was the quickest turnaround on a TV screen test on someone getting a show on USA. Because most of the time, with a lot of the executives, it takes them a couple of weeks, but it took them three hours to prove to that team that I was right for it.
Wow. Now you've played tons of characters. You've played the nice girl, you've played the b*tch, and now the wife. Which do you find the most challenging as an actress?
You know, it's hard. I don't think one is harder than the next. I don't think one is easier than the next. I always say that I try to put a little bit of myself into every character that I play to make it as believable as possible. Whether I play the b-i-t-c-h or I play the really nice girl, I always try to put a little bit of myself to really ground the character. And to definitely make sure that it is still relatable and still true, even though there are a lot of things that are not even close to what I would do. But this time, this role, is probably the closest role I have ever played to my true self, in that she is a very career driven woman, she's passionate, and her marriage is very important to her. These are all things that I aspire to do myself. It's really the closest character to my true self in my whole career.
Great. Now who would you say is the goofiest person on set?
Oh gosh, that's hard! Because there are so many goofballs on our show. Matt [Bomer] is a total goofball, in himself. He's always joking and always singing something wacky everyday. Tim is a typical goofball himself as well. Wow, that's really hard. And Willie [Garson] is like WILLIE! Willie is like this sarcastic, funny, totally smart, what I call, smart-ass half of the time. It's hard to say if one is a bigger goofball than the next. I think they're three stooges, if you ask me.
Can you give us any teasers about what's coming up -- for your character or the whole show?
Yeah, there is a lot of craziness coming along. There is a lot of great stuff. At the very beginning of season three, you guys have been seeing — we've showed like three episodes so far — the ongoing battle that the Neal character has with all this stolen art and what he's going to do with it, with Mozzie, and that continues for a while. We actually play that storyline out for a while, where you really don't know if he's going to go back to his roots and become a thief again and not stick around and do what he's been doing with the FBI. But then, what's been really great about this season is that each character has a highlighted episode, where we go back and explore more of each of the other characters as well, which has been nice. Mine actually starts [last week] and I get really involved into a case that I actually break open. It's going to be fun and we have some really fun stuff and really exciting guest stars. My husband actually guest-starred on the show a couple of weeks ago and that was really fun to have him on the show. It's been exciting.
Awesome. Now you were a child actor. Do you consider yourself lucky for growing up before the paparazzi and all of that?
Yeah. When I first started... I look at these kids, what they consider "the Disney kids," and they have it much, much different than I had it. The magazines that were attacking us were Teen Beat and Bop and they were much less aggressive than the magazines that are after these kids now. It is much different and their paychecks are much different too (laughs)! There is a positive and a negative to everything right?
Definitely! Now tell me about this Justin Bieber thing. He recently rocked a Kelly Kapowski shirt on the red carpet and a few nights later, you returned the favor and wore his shirt. Who first told you about it?
You know, it's funny. I got calls from so many people; from friends, from the show, my makeup artist. I mean, everywhere. It was between Justin Bieber wearing it and people were sending me pictures of people in the airport wearing it. It's been all over and it's hilarious. But when I saw the picture of Justine Bieber wearing it to the MuchMusic awards, I thought, “How cute is that? How adorable is he, first of all, and second of all, he doesn't even know who I am or know the show.” But then he was wearing it, so I thought it would be funny to show the love in return.
Awesome (laughs). Do you ever get annoyed with people referencing Kelly Kapowski, Valerie or any of your old characters?
You know, I don't. It was a part of my life and a very big part of my career. So I don't. I have really fond memories of both of those shows. Certain actors have problems with people kind of pigeonholing them to certain characters that were the most popular in their career. And that's normal. But as long as I'm still working and doing other work and I have other things to show for myself... I think if I wasn't working, it would be a different story, but I am. I was able to continue with my career, which is nice. I don't have any bad memories of it at all.
Do you keep in touch with anyone from Saved by the Bell or 90210?
I do actually. I talk to Mario [Lopez] every now and then, Elizabeth [Berkeley} every now and then Mark-Paul [Gosselaar] every now and then. And the same with 90210. I'm still very, very close to Jason Priestley. He [and his wife] are very close friends of ours and our kids are all very close.
What would you say is the worst outfit you ever had to wear in the 90s?
Probably that t-shirt! But that was probably the 80s right?
Oh, yeah. It probably was the 80s.
Oh my gosh, I mean there are countless times that I would say I wore terrible, terrible stuff. Yeah the 80s were a big, big decade of just really bad stuff. And I find it hilarious that the 80s are back in style and everyone is wearing that again now... with the neon, the off-the-shoulder and the cabaret shoes that everyone used to wear, berets and all that kind of stuff. The 90s is like... what do I remember about the 90s? When I think about the 90s it's all about my work on 90210. I don't feel as uncomfortable with the 90s as I did with the 80s because it was a little more mellow for me. My hair kind of calmed down (laughs). I didn't have the sprayed-out, crazy perm hair. I finally got to tone it down a little bit. I did have this one staple in the 90s, which was really funny. I used to wear these combat boots. I went from wearing green Doc Martens to wearing these cool, big, chunky black, metal-toed boots. I wore those everywhere. And I'm not kidding you. I wore them with jeans. I mean, they were my staple shoes.
I don't understand, but I wore them everyday. I'm serious. I look back on that and I could've been more, I don't know, I could have had a little bit more of a variety in the shoe department in the 90s. But I was stuck with these boots.
Well that's not too bad (laughs). There have been way worse trends than that.
Yeah I guess there are worse things.
Definitely. So who was your celebrity crush growing up?
I feel like a lot of them... with people I was either working with or… because I started out so young. Ricky Schroder was one that I had a total crush on. I used to love Silver Spoons. I probably have to say him, between him and Michael Jackson. I loved Michael Jackson. Those are the posters I had in my bedroom.
Haha. Great. And what about your costars...
Oh gosh, you know, it's funny. When you're that young, it seems like you have a new crush every week. One week, you're crushing on a cute little guest star that walked in and next you have a crush on your castmate. I think when you're a preteen, your mind and your hormones are all over the map. So there was definitely no one in particular, that's for sure.
And how is motherhood? I just saw on your Twitter that your daughter, Harper, turned 1-year-old recently?
She did. She turned 1 last week. I can't believe she's 1 already. She turned 1 and she's a blast right now. She's super, super fun and she's getting extremely independent. She's great. It was nice that we had a hiatus week on the show the week of her birthday so we actually got to go home for about nine days. It was really nice to go home for a visit and we actually had her birthday party there. It was really nice.
You seem super busy, but what do like to do for fun?
Right now, the fun that we have is taking [Harper] out and going to the park and doing things like that and hanging out with friends — we have friends that have kids as well — and trying out new restaurants. We've been thinking about trying to get out of the city on weekends, so we've been thinking about doing day trips now that it's getting hot. We don't want to be stuck in the city anymore. So we're looking forward to doing some out-of-town trips on the weekends coming up here, which will be nice. My wedding anniversary is not this weekend but next weekend, and we're going to go away, which will be fun.
Yeah, absolutely. The city in the summer is not fun (laughs). Anyway, so what are your favorite TV shows?
My husband and I were both avid movie and TV watchers. We watched a lot of stuff. But since having a kid, I haven't even picked up a book. I haven't watched a TV show. I haven't done any of that in so long! It's quite sad. Right now, it's my daughter, my job and I started a company called PetitNest, which is a children's furniture and bedding line, with my partner [Lonni Paul] last fall. All my free time is really going to all of those things right now. The TV that we used to watch a lot were a lot of A&E shows and a lot of Dateline NBC and those kinds of things.
And I know you did a little bit of directing. Is that something that you would want to do again in the future?
You know, I would. I would love to. I would absolutely love to. It's something that I did and people responded to the short that I had done. I would absolutely love to when I get a little bit more free time and Harper's at an age where she's on her own schedule, in a sense, because she's all over the map now. I would love to maybe even direct a show. That would be fun. It's something I would love to explore more of.
Great. Well thank you so much for chatting with me!
Thanks, honey. Enjoy the rest of your day!