Q & A: White Collar’s Tiffani Thiessen

tiffani_thiessenTiffani Thiessen is probably best known for her role as ‘Kelly Kapowski’ in the classic (for good and bad reasons) Saved by the Bell. Since that series ended, she’s worked pretty much non-stop in shows like Beverly Hills, 90210, Fastlane and Good Morning, Miami.

She’s now starring in USA’s White Collar and she recently talked with me in a conference call about her work on the show.

She plays ‘Elizabeth Burke’, the wife of FBI Agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay). She loves commuting from her LA home to the New York set, wishes she could be more like her character and thinks determination is one of the most important qualities an actor can have.

White Collar airs on Tuesdays at 10/9c on USA

For the full interview, click the audio link above or download from iTunes

In what ways would you say you are most like and least like her, your character that you play?

Tiffani Thiessen: I think I’ve said this before in an interview that as one of the first characters that I’ve played in the 20 some odd years I’ve been doing this business, crazy business, that I feel most like my character this time.  I inspire to be Elizabeth Burke every day.

The really only difference that I see, and a big difference, is the fact that they don’t have children and I, of course, now have a little seven and a half month old myself, so I think those are the only real big differences.

After all of your experience on various sets, do you have a chance to offer your input or say into your character?

Tiffani Thiessen: We have a great relationship with our writers and our producers and creators of our show and they always welcome our ideas, which is actually really nice because not every show is like that.  And there’s been a few little inputs that I have – at the very beginning they had Elizabeth have a different career.

At the time I think when the pilot was written she was an accountant and they ended up scratching that during the pilot and shooting and that’s why in the pilot you really don’t know what she does for a living because they couldn’t figure it out.

And so when the show got picked up I sat down with Jeff Eastin, the creator, and we kind of went around some ideas of what possibly could be her job and her career and I’ve always thought that if I wasn’t an actor I always wanted to be an event planner, an event coordinator.

So, that’s where that idea came from.  I told him and he was like I love it, so that’s actually, it was definitely a big input of mine.

What’s your advice to actors?

Tiffani Thiessen: I think determination, being resilient is probably the only thing that you can really tell somebody because it really is one of the hardest businesses to make it and to crack, but the more that you can kind of push yourself and stay into it, the better chances you have

What did you think about the episode ‘Forging Bonds’ where you get to see the back stories of all the characters?

Tiffani Thiessen: You know, it was fun because at the beginning you kind of come up with your own story of how things started, the characters and like the relationships that started and things like that.  And sometimes they’re different than what the creator had envisioned.

Your character has emerged as a strong and very positive role model for women.  Did you approach the role with this potential in mind or did it just happen organically as a result of the writing?

Tiffani Thiessen: Well, it was definitely written that way and that was one of the reasons why I loved the character so much and I go back to the fact that, and I’ve said this a few times that you don’t see a lot of strong women have strong marriage relationships on TV.  You just don’t see it very often, so that was one thing that I really, really enjoyed reading the script about and really falling in love with Elizabeth in that sense.

So, absolutely, it was the writing for sure and then of course every actor puts their own two cents into a character to make it their own.

I wanted to know if you could go ahead and tell us the differences between working in L.A. versus New York.

Tiffani Thiessen: The weather.  That is the biggest difference as it’s like 75 degrees here today and it’s freezing back in New York City.  That is probably the biggest difference.  But what’s really nice, I’ve always wanted to be bicoastal, it’s so funny; and then, so when this job came about I kind of had like a little wish come true where we get to spend six months in New York and six months in L.A. and two great cities, I think.

And now that I have a kid it’s even fun to be able to have her kind of really have both cities because they are so, so different in the sense, the noise and the lights and the excitement of New York City it’s such an amazing city and the restaurants and everything that it has to offer, the arts and all that.

And then L.A., we have great weather.  I mean, it’s like 75 degrees year round it seems like here in Los Angeles and it’s beautiful and you’re outside all the time.  So, she’s got the best of both worlds, so it’s just really nice.

Tiffani-Thiessen-White-COllarDo you find that being an actress it’s easier to work, though, in one city versus another or t he attitudes are different?

Tiffani Thiessen: Yeah, 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, I think, actually a very big problem.

As you know and everybody knows, our state is broke.  So, hopefully, the big guys will kind of figure something out and try to get our entertainment industry here in California up and running again because it really has, it’s hard for a lot of people, the economy and stuff, and so it’s funny that every single one of us from the show is from Los Angeles and we technically all live in L.A. and so we actually commute and uproot ourselves to New York City every time we go back for the show.

When you do a show for a long period of time how do you keep your character fresh for you?

Tiffani Thiessen: I think it’s a dance between the writers definitely keeping the words fresh and putting, you know, constantly exploring the character as you kind of peel the layers back like an onion almost and really kind of digging more and more, which is actually kind of funny how the last episode of White Collar was very much that way of kind of going into the past of a lot of these characters and figuring out how the relationship started and stuff and I think that has a lot to do with keeping characters interesting for the audience to watch.

You grew up in the business and now you’re a mom , I’m wondering how you feel about getting your daughter started or if she came to you and wanted to get started at such a young age?

Tiffani Thiessen: I’ve actually gotten asked this a lot lately and it’s nothing I would encourage.  And the reason being, you know, 20, 30 years ago when I was in the business it was a lot different than it is nowadays.  And 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 for that kind of stuff.

I mean, and when she’s old enough and over 18 and can 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 something I would wish for her at this point.

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