White Collar Q&A: Words with Tiffani Thiessen (February, 2011)
Tiffani Thiessen has been a part of some of the biggest pop culture sensations on television during her career. On USA Network's con artist dramedy White Collar, she plays FBI Agent Peter Burke's wife Elizabeth, who just a few episodes ago got to share in some con action of her own. On a recent conference call, Tiffani took time out of her schedule to discuss new motherhood, her secret event planner dreams, and why you won't see her on Dancing With the Stars.
What do you like about playing Elizabeth?
It's one of the first characters I've played in the 20-some odd years I've been in this business that I feel most like. I aspire to be Elizabeth Burke every day. I love that she's a career driven woman. I love that she puts her relationship and her marriage first. I love the relationship she does have with her husband where, you know there's a lot of love between the two of them and a lot of trust. But there's also a great friendship between the two of them.
What do you find challenging about the role?
It's one of the closest roles to myself that I've played probably in probably my entire career. I have to say it's not really been a tough role in that sense because I do feel like it's close to home for me. I'd probably say the hardest thing is the juggling aspect of my personal life, now having a baby and going to work. Everything else is quite nice and fun, I feel very blessed to have the cast and the crew that I do.
You portray one of the few functioning marriages on TV, which is a refreshing change. What's it like working with your onscreen husband Tim DeKay?
Tim is such an amazing man, I fell in love with him the first moment I met him. I was always such a big fan of his work. I've watched a lot of his shows in the past and when we had our first chemistry read, we hit it off right away. Funny enough, it's like he and my real husband have a lot of the same qualities so it kind of just fits and it really took off from day one.
Do you have a chance to offer input into your character?
Well, you know it's funny. We definitely have a great relationship with the writers and producers and creators of our show. They always welcome our ideas, which is really nice because not every show is like that. They've listened to a few little inputs that I've had. I guess at the beginning, they had Elizabeth have a different career. At the time when the pilot was written, she was an accountant and they ended up scratching that in the pilot and shooting. That's why in the pilot you have no idea what she's really doing because they couldn't figure it out. So, when the show got picked up, I sat down with Jeff Eastin the creator and kind of went around some ideas of what possibly could be her job and her career. I always thought if I wasn't an actor I would've wanted to be an event planner or an event coordinator, so that's where that idea came from. I told him and he loved it.
What was it like to finally be part of the con in "Burke's Seven"?
You know, it was really fun and you actually get to see even more of that towards the end of this season. I was a little absent at the first half of the second season because obviously I was pregnant and I had my daughter, but I always love to get in the mix with the guys. You know, how much fun it is to get to work with Tim and on the business side of things and Matt is adorable and Willie, you know I actually started doing more and more things with Willie which has been quite fun. It's a rarity I believe that we have such great chemistry.
Has your daughter visited set yet?
I make a little joke about it, wherever my stuff goes she goes. She's actually been attached to my hip since day one. She and my mom actually who helps me came to set with me every day. She's definitely a little veteran.
Your character has emerged as a strong role model, do you approach her that way?
Well it was definitely written that way and that was one of the reasons I loved the character so much. I've said this so much but you don't see a lot of strong women who have strong marriages on TV, you don't see that very often. That was one thing I really enjoyed reading the script and really falling in love with Elizabeth in that sense. Absolutely, it was written that way for sure, but every actor puts their own two cents into a role to make it their own.
What are the differences to you of working in New York rather than Los Angeles?
The weather! That is the biggest difference as it's 75 degrees here today and it's freezing back in New York City. That is probably the biggest difference. What's really nice, is I've always wanted to be bicoastal so when this job came about, I kind of had a little wish come true where we get to spend six months in New York and six months in LA, two great cities I think. Now that I have a kid, I think it's great for her to kind of really have both cities which are so, so different in that sense. The noise and the lights and the excitement of New York City, it's such an amazing city and the restaurants and the arts. In LA we have great weather, it seems like it's 75 degrees year round, and it's beautiful and you're outside all the time. She has the best of both worlds and it's really nice.
Is it harder to work in one city or the other?
It used to be that it was easier to find work in Los Angeles, but that's really shifting now. It's shifting a lot where I find a lot of my friends who are actors are not even shooting in Los Angeles anymore, which is actually a very big problem. As you know and everybody knows, our state is broke. Hopefully the big guys kind of figure something out and try to get our entertainment industry here in California up and running because it really has hit hard for a lot of people. It's funny that every single one of us on the show is from Los Angeles.
Have you enjoyed the developing friendship between Neal (Matthew Bomer) and Elizabeth?
Oh, absolutely. I mean who doesn't want to stand next to Matt and work with him. Towards the end of this season…we do the entire episode pretty much together, the two of us. I don't want to give it away, but it's a lot of fun.
Some of your former Saved by the Bell castmates have done Dancing With the Stars, is that something you'd consider?
I've been approached quite often and it's not something I'd consider actually. It's not something I see in my future. I give a lot of credit to people who do it, because it seems like a lot of work. But, you know right now, for me, my life right now is about my show, acting, my kid now, and my husband. It's not really a part of my world at this point.
You've grown up in the business; as a mother would you encourage your daughter if she wanted to pursue acting?
It's nothing I would encourage, the reason being 20-30 years ago when I was in the business, it was a lot different than it is nowadays. Nowadays, with the tabloids being as aggressive as they are, and people making money off of the misfortunes of actors, I just would not want her to be susceptible to that kind of stuff. When she's old enough and over 18 and old enough to make those decisions, then of course I would support her in whatever she wanted to do. But, when she's under 18 I would definitely not advise it. It's not what I would wish for her at this point.
White Collar airs Tuesdays at 9:00 PM on USA.