Family & Companions
Going from all-American teenage superstar to respected, grown-up working actress, Tiffani Thiessen never lost the affection she earned from fans with her breakthrough role as Kelly Kapowski on "Saved by the Bell" (NBC, 1989-1993). The endearingly cheesy Saturday-morning show was a phenomenon, and Tiffani-Amber Thiessen - as she was billed then - was chief among its charms as a good girl whose relationship with Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) became a romance for the Gen-X ages. Easily stretching to play the devious vixen Valerie Malone, Thiessen revitalized a post-Shannen Doherty "Beverly Hills, 90210" (FOX, 1990-2000). She also starred in a string of made-for-TV movies and brought her next-generation-Heather-Locklear touch to many troubled series, including "Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place" (ABC, 1998-2001) and "Fastlane" (FOX, 2002-03). She worked with Woody Allen in his feature "Hollywood Ending" (2002) and settled comfortably into marriage, motherhood and a starring role on "White Collar" (USA Network, 2009-14). While she made her name as the queen of TV guilty pleasures, as an adult Thiessen proved she had talent and staying power to spare.
Born Jan. 23, 1974 in Long Beach, CA, Tiffany Amber Thiessen was the daughter of Robyn, a homemaker, and Frank Thiessen, a landscape architect. Thiessen's grandmother had bestowed "Amber" on her because she believed in the strength of two names; hence the actress went by "Tiffani-Amber Thiessen" for the early part of her career. Her uncle, Roger Ernest, had a foothold in the entertainment industry, and suggested that the young girl attempt a career in show business. At the age of eight, Thiessen booked a Barbie commercial. Beauty pageants followed, and Thiessen won Miss Junior America in 1987. The following year, she won Teen magazine's "Great Model Search" and landed the cover, propelling her to win the role that made her a star, Kelly Kapowski on "Saved by the Bell" (NBC, 1989-1993). The colorful Saturday-morning sitcom about a group of six high school friends was a cultural phenomenon despite - or because of - its cartoon-like storylines. Out of nowhere, Thiessen, Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Zack), Elizabeth Berkley (Jessie), Lark Voorhies (Lisa), Mario Lopez (Slater) and Dustin Diamond (Screech) became teen idols.
As the beautiful teen queen Kelly, Thiessen was the female lead of the ensemble show, and the romance between her and Gosselaar's Zack provided a through-line for the popular series all the way through its run and beyond. Thiessen used her newfound popularity to branch out in a series of TV-movie and sitcom roles, including the wrenching "A Killer Among Friends" (CBS, 1992) where she played a murder victim whose mother (Patty Duke) searches for justice. She played a thankless supporting role as Carla Gugino's best friend in the Pauly Shore big-screen comedy "Son in Law" (1993), and returned to her roots by reprising the role of Kelly in "Saved by the Bell: The College Years" (NBC, 1993-94) before closing that chapter with her and Zack's "Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas" (NBC, 1994). In real life, Thiessen had been dating Brian Austin Green from "Beverly Hills, 90210" (FOX, 1990-2000), which made it an easy decision for Aaron Spelling to add her to that show's cast to replace the recently exorcised-from-the-set Shannen Doherty.
In her new zip code, Thiessen shed her good girl image to play the pot-smoking vixen Valerie Malone, and helped send a jolt of energy into the wilting show as well as into her career. She quickly won over her castmates, including Jennie Garth, who became her best friend. While the show had begun as a more realistic depiction of naïve Midwesterners plunked down in the wealth and opulence of Beverly Hills teen culture, during Thiessen's stint, the storylines around her became more sensational and far-fetched. Perhaps working together was not the best recipe for this particular couple, because Thiessen and Green broke up in 1995. Still, her soaring profile helped her steadily star in a series of TV movies like a deceived wife in "The Stranger Beside Me" (ABC, 1995), a resilient rape victim in "She Fought Alone" (NBC, 1995), a mysterious coma survivor in "Sweet Dreams" (NBC, 1996) and as a small-town woman haunted by ghosts in "Buried Secrets" (NBC, 1996), which she also co-produced.
Thiessen kept adding to her filmography, appearing in the gritty film "Speedway Junky" (1999) as a cheating wife, the "SNL" spin-off "The Ladies Man" (2000) and the terrifyingly bad horror spoof "Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday the Thirteenth" (2000). Real-life tragedy touched the actress in 1999, when her boyfriend David Strickland, best known for his role on the Brooke Shields sitcom "Suddenly Susan" (NBC, 1996-2000), committed suicide in Las Vegas. Professionally, she soldiered on, and as "90210" ended in 2000, she was again a free agent again, dropping "Amber" from her professional name to go by "Tiffani Thiessen." That same year, she landed a recurring role on "Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place" (ABC, 1998-2001) as a volunteer firefighter, and got back on the relationship horse when she fell in love with one of the show's stars, Richard Rucculo. The two were engaged in 2001, and Thiessen's career continued to climb steadily with a recurring role on "Just Shoot Me!" (NBC, 1997-2003) as the new sex columnist for Blush magazine, and a part in the Woody Allen comedy "Hollywood Ending" (2002), where she played a sexually aggressive actress putting the moves on the director. The following year, Thiessen dissolved her engagement.
Thiessen next accepted the flashy puppet master role on the expensive action series "Fastlane" (FOX, 2002-03), where she played the mastermind police lieutenant in charge of two wisecracking undercover cops (Peter Facinelli and Bill Bellamy). Although the show and Thiessen's turn - which sent shockwaves through gossip columns with a much-hyped lesbian hot tub kiss - were well received, production costs doomed the series. In the hopes that she could yet again breathe life into a struggling show, Thiessen was brought on to the troubled sitcom "Good Morning, Miami" (NBC, 2002-03) as the station's nutty new boss, but not even the almighty former Tiffani-Amber could save the doomed show. In happier real life news, she married actor Brady Smith on July 9, 2005, and the same year directed and co-produced her first film, "Just Pray" (2005), the debut venture of her production company, tit 4 tat productions. Thiessen then had an opportunity to play her most adult role thus far as a brilliant doctor attempting to save the world from a deadly "Pandemic" (The Hallmark Channel, 2007). Having successfully made the transition from teen star to adult working actress, Thiessen continued to be a valuable asset on TV, and she was hired to resuscitate the ailing sitcom "What About Brian?" (ABC, 2006-07) as a sexy and shrewd businesswoman who charms the main character and his friends.
Thiessen's good-soldier efforts were finally rewarded when she landed a lead role on a critically respected TV show with staying power, getting excellent reviews as a supportive and insightful wife on the hit comedy/drama "White Collar" (USA Network, 2009-14). She had reason to rejoice in her personal life as well when she and her husband celebrated the birth of their first child, a daughter named Harper Renn Smith on June 15, 2010.
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Began modeling in print catalogues and ads (date approximate)
Began competing in beauty pagents at age nine
Won the beauty pageant title of Miss Junior America
Played popular and sweet cheerleader Kelly Kapowski on the successful NBC Saturday morning teen series "Saved By the Bell"
Feature acting debut, "Son-in-Law"
Reprised role of Kelly on the short-lived primetime spin-off "Saved By The Bell: The College Years" (NBC)
Co-starred in "Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas" (NBC)
Joined the cast of Fox's "Beverly Hills, 90210" in its fourth season as trouble-making Valerie Malone
Signed production deal with ABC to develop sitcom
Had leading role in the screen comedy "The Ladies Man"
Played recurring role on the ABC sitcom "Two Guys and a Girl"
Played recurring role as a sex columnist on "Just Shoot Me" (NBC)
Acted in Woody Allen's "Hollywood Ending"
Had supporting role in Fox series "Fast Lane"
Had a recurring role on the NBC sitcom "Good Morning, Miami"
Directed a short (21 minute) film titled "Just Pray"; first major effort from her new production company, Tit 4 Tat Productions
Joined the cast of the ABC ensemble drama "What About Brian" as Natasha Dylan, Dave's (Rick Gomez) new boss at KC Gaming
Joined the cast of USA Network's crime drama "White Collar"