‘Saved By the Bell’: Tiffani Amber Thiessen’s Kelly Kapowski Was Almost Played by Another Actress on the Series

Casting stories from iconic shows are always worth reanalyzing, especially when another actor was originally intended to play a famous character. Just about every sitcom or drama in existence auditioned numerous actors to play a character that went on to the pantheon of TV character greatness.

Saved By the Bell was no different, even if all the teen actors at the time probably aced their auditions. Things could have gone differently for Elizabeth Berkley, though. In the musical chair audition process, she almost played another character who so happened to date Zack Morris.

What was the story behind Berkley nearly playing Kelly Kapowski? It turns out maybe she would have loved the Kelly role better.

Tiffani Thiessen as Kelly Kapowski, Lark Voorhies as Lisa Turtle, Leanna Creel as Tori Scott
(L-R) Tiffani Amber Thiessen as Kelly Kapowski, Lark Voorhies as Lisa Turtle, Leanna Creel as Tori Scott | Paul Drinkwater/Getty Images

Elizabeth Berkley tried out for the role of Kelly Kapowski

Most official sources say Berkley auditioned for the role of Kelly, yet the producers never thought she was quite right, according to Mental Floss. Why is a bit of a mystery considering Berkley was as equal of a beauty as Tiffani Amber Thiessen, if arguably too attractive for the role.

Maybe it had nothing to do with physicality and more in the chemistry with Mark-Paul Gosselaar. Had Berkley played Kelly, her character would have dated (and later married) Zack Morris. Both of them also would have transitioned as a 30-something married couple in the upcoming Saved By the Bell reunion series on Peacock.

Instead, Thiessen won the Kelly role, maybe because she projected a more down-to-earth quality, not including having a different hair color from Zack. After all, the latter was a blonde (Gosselaar dyed his hair that way), and Kelly was a brunette.

Imagining Berkley as Kelly is still worth thinking about and how it could have shaped her later acting career. According to her, the Jessie Spano role was not expressing herself like Berkley wanted.

The producers liked Elizabeth Berkley so much, they created Jessie for her

Despite not winning the role of Kelly, the casting team knew Berkley had talent. They liked her enough where the writers created Jessie Spano as a personal favor.

This seldom happens in the world of TV, especially for a young actress with only a few prior TV credits. In the pilot episode, Jessie did not exist until showrunner Peter Engel and the team wrote the character in for the official first episode, according to Complex.

Her character added to the cast chemistry, not including having her own share of relationships, as in dating A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez) for a while. There was even a brief fling with Zack, albeit realizing they had to stay friends.

Outside her being a popular character, Berkley began to dislike the Jessie character. One reason is Jessie was an overly straight-laced girl, something Berkley hated portraying.

Maybe Elizabeth Berkley should have played Kelly anyway

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Well, none of the girls in the Saved By the Bell cast were promiscuous by any means. They all dressed fairly conservatively, though it seems Jessie was made more that way.

Berkley said to Bethenny Frankel (on her old talk show Bethenny) back in 2013 that the producers forced her to wear a one-piece swimsuit, US Magazine reports. She reasoned since Jessie was a feminist in the show, why not allow her to express herself in a normal swimsuit or bikini? During a photoshoot, Thiessen and Lark Voorhies were clearly seen wearing skimpier swimwear while Berkley wore the one-piece.

Perhaps there was fear showing too much of Berkley’s body would cause some problems since she was slightly more svelte. For a young actress, however, this could obviously prove frustrating.

No wonder Berkley acted in Showgirls in 1995, maybe as a direct result of the built-up frustration over not being able to express herself physically on Saved By the Bell. More recently, she expressed happiness at returning to the role in the upcoming NBC Peacock sequel series. After becoming older, maybe the one-piece swimsuit seems more appropriate than it did as a teenager.