White Collar has quickly become one of my favorite new shows. It’s exciting, action-packed, and not to mention one of the most beautifully shot series I have seen. It centers around the unlikely partnership between FBI Agent Peter Burke and Ex-Con Man Neil Caffrey (Tim DeKay and Matt Bomer respectively). The show also has an incredible supporting cast: Willie Garson, Natalie Morales and Tiffani Thiessen (who plays Elizabeth Burke, Peter’s wife). I recently had the chance to participate in a conference call with Tiffani (one of my childhood heroes, of course), where she talked about her new role, the USA network and what drew her to the project.
On what made her want to be a part of the show: Ever since I read the script, which has been a little over a year ago now, I fell in love with it. I fell in love with the characters. I fell in love with the show, and more and more, when the cast was brought together, the more excitement I had for the show and wanting to be a part of it. This is really the first time I feel like in my whole entire career which has been over 25, 26 years of doing this that I finally feel like I’m kind of playing a role a little closer to home for me, which is kind of exciting.
On the audition process: It was an interesting audition process. I’ll be totally honest. I went in and read for this before they even cast Tim’s role of Peter. I did great. I was put on a short list, and then months go by and didn’t hear back because they hadn’t cast the role of Peter yet. Then, they finally cast the role of Peter with Tim, which I was ecstatic about because I was such a huge fan of Tim’s work that I was hoping to get called back again and be able to read with him. They actually had moved on and started looking at some other girls for the role. Funny enough, they were looking at girls younger than I was, which I thought was kind of funny. A month or so goes by, and they have not cast the role of Elizabeth. I finally got a call again. They said they really wanted to bring me back again and see what the chemistry could be like between Tim and I, and we blew it out of the park. The moment I met him and we read, it just was right. It just fit perfectly, and so I read with him once for a chemistry read, and then I went in and tested for the show with him with a couple other girls. I was told that USA usually takes a few weeks to make decisions, but I was told later that night that I got the role, so I was very excited.
On her character’s background: I think you’ll start to see background on all of our characters, especially the guys. Surely, this show is definitely the guys’ show. It’s Matt and Tim’s show, and Willie and I definitely play more of a supporting role, but you will definitely see much more of me in the further episodes as you’re coming along. Last week or two weeks ago you saw a little bit more of what I really do for a living and kind of my career, which is really nice to kind of see because we really never saw that in the pilot, and it was something that we kind of came up with actually after we shot the pilot. They’re definitely putting more of what I do outside of my relationship with Tim into the show a little bit, and that’ll continue on even, hopefully, in seasons from here on out, which hopefully there’ll be five to ten years of White Collar. In general, I can’t give you exact specifics, ideas of what’s going to be happening, but I can promise you you’ll see a lot more of her.
On becoming a new mother (she is expecting): You know, that’s a very good question in the sense that I really don’t know being that I am a first-time mom, so it’ll be a very different kind of thing for me being that I’ll be working and being a mother at the same time. There are millions of people who do it. My mom did it herself, so I know I can handle it, but it’ll be a very new experience, so it’s hard to say what is going to be like. It’ll be all brand new for me.
On whether her pregnancy will be incorporated into the show: I don’t know. That’s actually going to be up to the writers and the executive producers and USA and Fox and everybody involved. I’m going to be still somewhat not too pregnant along when we’re finally coming to the end of the season. We really don’t have too much more left, so it’s really up to them if they want to. I’m open to whatever they feel. We tried to time it to a certain degree so I wouldn’t show too, too much.
On her character’s relationship with Peter: I don’t know if I would actually use the word strained. I think in every marriage there’s always the challenge of making time and making priorities in their relationship when people have careers, and what you will start to see more and more is my career, being that it takes up a lot of my time as well. I think it’s going to give a lot of, not so much looking into Peter’s career and how it affects our marriage. There’s also my side of it as well. I think she is very understanding to that. She’s been living with it for so long and knows what he does for a living, and she knows what she married. I don’t think there’s a strain to it. I think there’s a challenge. I think probably the challenge is the word I could use for that. I think what Neal brings into it is that I think my husband on the show is very kind of black and white in the way he thinks, and I think Neal is definitely much more colorful, and I think he will definitely teach my husband a little more of the colorful side of being romantic and all those things that you do need in a marriage as well.
On her on-screen marriage: I really try, and Tim and I both have long talks about this as well as our creator, Jeff, that we really wanted this to be a relationship that does work on TV, not one that has a lot of problems, not one that you constantly see drama, which you see a lot on TV. Funny enough, Tim and I come from marriages that work, that really do work like that, so I think we really take it from just our own experiences. Tim’s been married for quite some time to a wonderful woman and has two great kids. My husband and I have this wonderful relationship and humor has a lot to do with it, communication, all those things I feel that are so, so important. I take those just being from my parents who’ve been married for over 45 years. My grandparents were married for 67 years. It’s important, so I feel like I take from my own life and really try to bring what I can to the relationship and the characters.
On whether she wants to direct an episode of White Collar: Yes, they definitely know directing is something that’s in my thinking of wanting to do more and more, and it all really just depends on time and all that. I wanted to make sure that when we started the show my focus was on my character and what I’m doing as an actress. Now with my new role coming as a mother, it’s going to be a little more challenging, but it’s definitely something I want to do more of, so yes.
On what her 2nd choice career would be: It’s so funny. Last year when we did the pilot, we really didn’t know what Elizabeth’s character was going to do for a living. They had some ideas, and they kind of changed it, and then I had come to Jeff Eastin, our creator of the show and said, you know, it’s funny. I think it could work, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do if I wasn’t an actor. I’d always wanted to be an event planner, and I think it could work really well for Elizabeth’s character being that she’s in New York City. We could really show the city in a different light, and they loved it. I have to say funny enough, that was my idea, and that’s exactly what I would do if I wasn’t an actor.
On how her previous roles have prepared her for this one: It’s funny. I think I’ve made this statement before a few times, but it is really true is that this is the first character in over 25 years of me doing this that I actually feel like it’s the closest to me that I’ve played in all the different shows and movies that I’ve done in my career. I think it’s more about myself and my own experience that I can bring to Elizabeth. She has this really solid wonderful marriage. I feel like I have that with my own husband. She’s career-driven, which I feel like I am. It’s all those things that you put towards a character like her that I feel that are definitely very much me.
On being a part of a USA Network show: [It's] absolutely exciting. I tell them this all the time that I feel blessed to be on such an amazing network. This is the first time I’ve ever done a cable show, and I’m utterly thrilled and over-the-moon with the fact that they’re so supportive and they’re so behind their shows, and they really do give such a great chance of us really trying to make it. It’s nice. It’s nice to feel like we’re really wanted in a sense and really have a lot of passion behind us. It’s a lovely, lovely feeling.
On the challenges she has faced creating a new character, when people remember her for her past roles: Yes, well, it’s bittersweet at times. There’s good and bad. There are people who of course followed my career and who have loved the shows that I’ve done in the past and are always up to seeing something new of myself or any of my past co-stars, which is really wonderful. Then there’s always people who have opinions, and of course, that’s how the world works, and that’s A-OK. Some people were really open and loving to the fact that I’m actually playing a role that’s quite different than what I’ve played in the past. Like I said, it’s definitely much more close to home for me, this character, but some people had a hard time with it. Some people didn’t believe the relationship between Tim and I, which is so funny to me because we had chemistry from day one, but that’s how the entertainment business works. That’s how people are, and that’s okay. Everybody has their opinions.
On what makes White Collar a show that should last many seasons: Well, I think a few reasons. People are already enjoying it. We’ve had a lot of great feedback and a lot of great critics really loving the characters and the storylines and the show and us on it, which is exciting, the fact that we are on a network like USA. They are so behind us, and they really put us out there, and it’s nice to have the passion behind us because I think that helps a lot. These network shows, sometimes they don’t give it a chance, and it’s nice to know that we have somebody who’s really given us a chance. I think we, knock on wood, I think you’re going to see us for awhile.
On her favorite moment so far: Wow, that’s hard. I think there are a couple episodes coming up that I’m definitely a little heavier in, which is kind of nice to really get to explore my character a little bit, but each episode is so exciting and so fun, and it’s such a ride that it’s hard for me to pick out one more than the other or one little bit more than the other. That’s a hard choice. I have to think about that a little longer, and I know we wouldn’t have time.
On being a part of a male dominated cast: It’s great, actually. It’s not my first time, so I feel like I’m definitely, I have the experience. With past shows, I did a show called Fastlane that was literally me and two guys. It’s funny. I don’t know why, but I tend to gravitate to shows that have a lot of male co-stars. I grew up with two brothers, so I guess it’s just normal for me to be around guys. It’s fun. It’s where I feel comfortable, I have to say.
On the pressure of the business: It’s all there. It will never go away. I don’t think our business and the entertainment business in general will ever just be okay with how people are. I think we’re in a business that critiques everything we do, and you kind of just take it with a grain of salt. I look at my grandmother, and I think she’s aged beautifully, so I hope that I could be a smidgen of how she’s aged. There’s nothing you can do. All you can do is take of yourself and do the things that make you feel good and make you healthy and age appropriately, but there’s always going to be people out there are going to say something, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Like I said, you have to take it with a grain of salt.
On her input regarding Elizabeth’s character development: It’s interesting. We are very lucky to be on a show (and that’s all of us across the board) that our executive producers and writers are very open to anything we have to say, which is so nice because not a lot of shows are like that. They believe a collaboration always works best, and not that we are there writing the show, nor is that what we’re supposed to be doing, but they’re always very open to any time we have a question or concern or have an idea, they’re always open. It’s nice to be able to get on the phone or sit down with them and talk with them about it, and we all feel that way, which is really great.
On whether we will see an episode centered around Elizabeth: I don’t know. That’s a question that really I can’t answer. Again, I say the show really is Matt and Tim. It’s their show, and it was from day one. I knew that coming in. I came in knowing that this role was supportive, which I was completely happy with. It’s funny. I’ve been doing this for so long that I was actually okay not having to work every day and having the weight of a new show on my shoulders. As well as I really just fell in love with this character, and I fell in love with the cast that they started to put together, but you’ll see definitely, there’s an episode coming up that I’m much more heavy in, and you’ll see that every now and then that I’ll be a little heavier in certain episodes. It’s not something you’re going to see every week because, again, it’s not my show. I’m a supportive role on the show.
On what she would tell viewers about why they should tune into White Collar: Oh gosh, well, besides having really cute guys on the show, it’s definitely the type of TV and movies that I like to see. I’m a huge fan of The Thomas Crown Affair and those kinds of feels of movies and shows and 48 Hours, which is so interesting, Catch Me If You Can, things like that. If people are really into those kinds of movies and those kind of story-telling, they have to watch this show. It is so absolutely entertaining. The characters are so rich and so fun to watch and follow. As well as you see New York City in a completely different way. It’s shot in a beautiful way. It’s interesting, a lot of shows that are shot in New York City can be a little more dark and gray, and this show really, I think, kind of captures New York City in a really beautiful light, and it’s nice.
Be sure to tune in tonight at 10 pm for an all new episode of White Collar!