Interview with Tiffani Thiessen from “White Collar”

It’s hard to believe that White Collar is already halfway through it’s third season. I’ve been a huge fan of the series ever since the pilot, and if anyone had told me then that I’d be interviewing someone from the show, I would have laughed at them. Well, here we are, nearly two years later, and I was given the chance to talk with Tiffani Thiessen, who plays Elizabeth Burke. USA Network was kind enough to extend an invitation to join a phone-in chat — on my birthday, as it happens! — and I had the amazing opportunity to ask Tiffani some questions about her character, upcoming episodes, guest stars, and her own experience working on White Collar.

I had never interviewed anyone, let alone a well-known actress that I admire and adore, before Thursday morning. Needless to say, I was very nervous. I really didn’t need to worry, though; Tiffani was incredibly gracious and kind, and I couldn’t have asked for a nicer person to talk to. (Seriously. ♥)

In the interview, Tiffani revealed some wonderful insights into Elizabeth’s character and her relationship with Peter and Neal. She also talked about what it was like to work with certain guest stars, related some great anecdotes from set, and dropped a few tantalizing hints about future episodes.

In last week’s episode, Sara stumbled upon Neal’s secret and ran away. What do you think would have happened if Elizabeth had been the one to find out about the treasure?
That’s hard! That’s a great question, wow. You know, I would think that she’d have a very hard time with it. I think there would be a lot of stewing, of trying to figure out how best to approach Peter about it. But I do believe that she’s always behind her husband. I believe that she would have to go to him, because I just think that’s part of being honest and being in a marriage, and also knowing right from wrong — she is married to an FBI agent! But I think she always tries to see the good in Neal, and so I think she would definitely explore the possibilities of what exactly went on, and what exactly was happening. And I think she would figure out that maybe he was having second thoughts and doubts about it. I think she would see that. But I think ultimately, she would have gone to her husband no matter what.

Do you think she would have given Neal the chance to do the right thing and tell Peter himself?
I think so. I think she probably would have gone to Neal first, before Peter. But definitely, no matter what, she would definitely go to her husband in the end.

There is an Elizabeth-centric episode coming up, and we’ve heard Joe Manganiello is going to be guest starring in that?
Yeah! He comes in and moves three doors down from the Burkes, and he’s our new neighbor. And he’s not so nice.

Uh oh.
Uh oh is right!

Can you tell us a little bit more about what was it like working with Manganiello?
Well, it definitely was not a hard episode to work on, he is quite a nice looking gentleman. [laughs] He was great! He’s actually, he has a past with Matt [Bomer]. He and Matt went to school together, so they were very close and good friends. But funnily enough, I actually worked with him more than Matt did, on the show. And he was great, he was so fun to have on the show. He was very gung ho about the part. We had a blast, all of us did.

White Collar, and USA Network shows in general, has such a wonderful cast of characters, but it’s especially great to see smart, capable women with fully developed personalities and motivations. What is it like for you as an actress to work on a show like that?
It’s great, it’s one of the things that definitely I was attracted to when I read the pilot. I loved that Elizabeth herself was in a marriage that was healthy, and it was a marriage that you don’t really see quite often on TV. It works, that’s what’s so nice about it. I love the honesty, I love the connection that Peter and Elizabeth have. And as well, I love the fact that Elizabeth is a smart woman, she’s extremely passionate, she has her priorities straight. She just seems to kind of have it all together, a really nice package, and I really strive to be like that every day.

Do you think Elizabeth would be a better FBI agent, or a better con artist?
Wow, that’s hard! Well, I always believe that women are better actors in their real life. Because I think we have an edge over men sometimes. [laughs] But that’s hard to say. At the same time, she’s been married to an FBI agent for over ten years, so she knows that world really, really well. I would say probably a better FBI agent. Only because she’s extremely close to her husband. But not that she couldn’t be a good con artist, too! [laughs]

Your husband, Brady Smith, was recently a guest star on the show. Do you think he had fun playing the bad guy? Because it really looked like he was enjoying it! ;)
I know, it’s so funny! We got a lot of feedback from our friends and family on how great of a bad guy he was, when he truly is the nicest guy in real life. [laughs] But he had a blast, he loved being able to play a character that was completely different from him. He loved getting to work with my costars, who he personally knows very well, being that he’s my husband. So he had a blast! He really had a great time, and enjoyed every second of it.

Is he a fan of the show as well?
Oh yeah! He watches every Tuesday. When we’re home– If I’m home, and if I’m not out having to do something or trying to put the baby down to bed, we are definitely fans of White Collar.

Is there been any particular scene you’ve shot this season that stands out in your memory?
Hmm, it’s hard, because I’ve actually had a lot more to do in the last few weeks, so it’s been really fun with a lot of these things that I’ve done. I’ll have to Tweet this one picture, but I’m gonna wait and do it until it gets closer to our series premiere in January. But I did an episode — it’s the first episode that brings us back in January — and I have this kind of stunt that I do that’s really funny. And I actually, I wrecked a chair in the middle of it. [laughs] And I’ll show you guys a picture of it. It’s really quite funny and that was a really fun scene to do.

You mentioned earlier that Elizabeth sees the good in Neal, perhaps more so than Peter. What do you think it is about Elizabeth’s character that allows her to see that? And what do you think it is about Neal she sees that Peter doesn’t?
I think she sees that there’s a part of Neal that really kind of envies, and has a feeling of desire, of wanting possibly what Elizabeth and Peter have. He plays this kind of guy that you know, loves the ladies and likes to be moving and grooving and out and about, and you know, he’s a con guy. But I think there’s a part of him that desires to be a little more grounded, and desires to kind of have a little bit of the white picket fence and the wife and the dog and all that. And I think she sees that, more than I think even [Neal] sees it.

What would you say is your favorite thing about working on White Collar?
Oh gosh. It’s one of the nicest casts and crew I’ve ever worked with in the almost thirty years I’ve been doing this. We laugh constantly when we’re working. Between Tim and Willie, of course, who loves to make people laugh– It’s just such a fun set to work on. I wish everyone could come and visit for even five minutes, they could see how much fun we’re having. And hopefully it translates on screen, the fun we’re having in real life.

I think it shows that everybody really loves each other. There’s a real camaraderie among the cast.
We do! Yeah, we even see each other on our off time. We actually do spend time together when we’re not shooting, which is rare.

Matt always says that he tries to get a song stuck in everybody’s head when he’s working on set…
Oh, yeah. That’s very big. That’s very big of Matt to do that, he constantly is doing that, which is quite funny. And it kills me because I’ll leave on Friday night with like three different songs that he has of course stuck into our heads, and I’ll have it all weekend long, and I can’t get rid of it until Monday when he comes up with a new song. [laughs]

Do you remember the most recent song he got in your head?
I actually haven’t worked with Matt in a little while, so I don’t have anything recent for him. But one song that constantly happens– There’s a term, when you turn around a camera and do a different shot, you say “turning around.” And so of course, one of the ones that he always does is that, [sings] “Turn around, every now and then…” You know that song? [laughs] That one’s the one that constantly happens, almost every day. … And I just want to say, that I apologize to everybody right now for singing, because I don’t have a singing voice. So I apologize if I ruined anybody’s ears. [laughs]


For the record, Tiffani’s singing voice is just fine ;)

You can follow Tiffani on Twitter at @TAThiessen.

White Collar‘s mid-season finale airs on Tuesday, August 9th at 9/8c on USA Network! Check back in a couple days for a pre-air review of the show’s final episode of the year!

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