Tiffani Thiessen admits that her work life has been “pretty surreal” these days.
That’s because the actress — who first made a splash as cheerleader Kelly Kapowski on the beloved ‘90s teen sitcom “Saved By the Bell” — is now playing the mother of a teenager in the Netflix sitcom “Alexa & Katie,” working on the very same soundstage where she shot “Bell” for four seasons some 30 years ago.
In some ways, the two series are similar — both old-school multi-camera sitcoms shot in front of a live audience. But the stakes run a little higher in “A&K,” which follows two high school besties, rebellious Alexa (Paris Berelc) and rule-following Katie (Isabel May), as they run the standard gauntlet of teen angst, but with one extra hitch — Alexa has cancer. Thiessen plays Alexa’s clingy but well-meaning mom, Lori. Season three premieres on Monday, Dec. 30.
At 45, Thiessen hasn’t lost that cheerleader charm. She transitioned from teen hottie to working adult actress thanks to stints on Fox’s “Beverly Hills 90210,” USA’s “White Collar,” and even a turn on her own cooking show, “Dinner at Tiffani’s.” (Foodie fans can check out her cookbook, or await a new one she’s working on now.) Married and a mother of two, she recently spoke by phone with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.
How much is “mom Lori” like “mom Tiffani?”
Well, they’ve tailored the character to me a little bit. She’s very into food, which is very much a part of my life. It’s interesting how that happens a lot on TV shows. I remember when I was shooting “White Collar,” and they couldn’t figure out what they wanted that character to do for a living. They wound up making her an events planner, which spoke to my passion for food and planning parties. (Lori) in the next season actually has a career change coming, too.
Possiblyyyyyyyyy. (She laughs.)
What I like about the show is the way it deals with cancer, but not CAAAANCER. It’s an element in this family’s life but isn’t all-consuming.
Alexa wants to have a normal high school experience as much as possible. We’re also showcasing this friendship between girls who’ve been friends since they were little. That’s huge for girls.
I’ve interviewed cancer patients. They often say how the diagnosis is rough, but there’s more to their life than just that.
Yeah. You’ll see a lot of that with Alexa’s storyline in the next season. How she doesn’t want cancer to define her. It IS a big part of her, but she doesn’t want it to be ALL of her.
This show is like coming full-circle for you.
I’m playing the mom to kids the same age as I was when I started out —a nd on the same (sound) stage. It’s kind of cool to watch these two young girls at work — to see the innocence about it. The eagerness. The excitement. I’m almost reliving it through their eyes, which is really fun.
Have they asked for your advice?
Very much. Paris (Berelc, who plays her daughter on the show) comes to me still…and we’re not even shooting right now. She texts me for advice. She’s a hard-working, very smart girl. And she’s seen that I AM still working. She’s seen my work ethic. So she’s asked for my opinion often, which is sweet.
Given the date, I have to ask—what are you doing for New Year’s Eve?
Being that I have two younger kids (daughter Harper, 9, and son Holt, 4), nothing crazy.
Do the kids get to stay up till midnight?
That’s a little late — for all of us. I don’t think even I want to stay up that late. (She laughs.) We do our own pretend midnight, usually around eight o’clock.
Fair enough. Living in L.A., you can always relax at the beach on New Year’s Day. I envy you that.
Yes. I lived in New York City for seven years, off and on, so I know what you mean.
Did you ever get to the beach out on Long Island?
Every weekend we could during the summer, we’d get our tushies out there, yes. Montauk was one of our favorite areas. My husband surfs, so he loved it.
So which beach is better—West Coast or East?
Ha! (She laughs.) They’re very different. I wouldn’t say better. I grew up in Long Beach, California, so I’m used to the southern California beaches, which are different from the East Coast—and different from the Northern California beaches, too. It’s just nice to be able to sit and watch the water, you know?
Yeah, they’re all good.
I agree. If someone wants to give me a beach house anywhere, I’ll take it.