If you grew up in the ’90s, then you’d remember Elizabeth Berkley for playing Jessie Spano, Bayside High’s resident overachiever in “Saved by the Bell.” While the majority of the original cast has moved on to different projects, we can’t help but wonder what has happened to her.
Actually, a lot has transpired since then–Everything from obviously being ahead of her time to being blacklisted from Hollywood, among many others. She has been in more projects than the one that shot her to fame. Sit back and read on to find out the intriguing story of the American actress.
Elizabeth Berkley Was Born With a Rare Condition
Elizabeth Berkley was born and raised in Farmington Hills to a conservative Jewish family in Detroit’s northern suburbs. She is the daughter of Fred Berkley, a lawyer, and Jere Berkley, who owns a gift basket business. She was born with a condition known as partial heterochromia.
It’s a disorder in which the irises of the eyes are different colors. For those who have noticed, Berkley’s right eye is half green and half brown, while her left eye is completely green. She also has a mole on her forehead that she conceals with cosmetics because of being bullied during childhood.
She Wanted to Be a Professional Dancer
Berkley attended the Cranbrook Kingswood School in Bloomfield Hills and graduated from North Farmington High School in Farmington Hills in 1990. She began dancing very early and rehearsed in a basement room set aside for her by her parents. She also auditioned for the lead role in the film “Annie.”
When Berkley decided to pursue a professional career as a dancer, she flew to New York City to practice with other dancers and choreographers – an experience she believed would help her, and it did. She performed in many ballets, including “Swan Lake,” as well as musicals in 1983.
She Initially Auditioned for a Different Role
After watching Berkley play the character of Jessie Spano, it’s difficult to imagine her playing another role. But, the truth is she actually auditioned for the role of Kelly Kapowski. The casting of Kelly was narrowed down to three then-up-and-coming starlets — Berkley, Jennie Garth, and Tiffani Thiessen.
According to executive producer Peter Engel’s biography, “I Was Saved by the Bell,” NBC executive (Brandon Tartikoff) petitioned for Berkley. Jessie’s part was created expressly for her because he couldn’t decide between her and Thiessen (who got the role of Kelly).
Berkley Was Heavily Criticized for Her Next Role
Berkley was practically typecast as a goody-goody in “Saved by the Bell.” After the show ended, she landed her first significant role in the NC-17-rated film “Showgirls,” where she played a Las Vegas stripper. The actress, who was 22 at the time, appeared in a number of scenes nude.
Unfortunately, the movie flopped, and Berkley was “bullied” for its terrible performance, something she still finds difficult to comprehend. She told People magazine, “I didn’t understand why I was being blamed.” In an interview with Us Weekly, Berkley reminisced on her “painful” experience but claimed she learned to be tough.
Berkley Won the Worst Actress Award
What could be worse than the heavy criticism she received? Well, we can think of one – a personal collection of Golden Raspberry awards for “Showgirls,” which included one for Worst Actress and another for Worst New Star (the film ‘won’ a total of seven anti-gongs and holds a record 13 nominations).
Paul Verhoeven (Showgirls’ director) went along with it and showed up to collect his Razzie. Berkley, however, didn’t, and we can’t really blame the actress for skipping out. The fact that Kyle MacLachlan, the star of “Twin Peaks,” was able to walk away unaffected by the experience is cruel.
Abandoned by her Agent
There is a popular saying that goes, “It doesn’t matter who runs away in the rain. It counts who stays in the storm.” If you still don’t realize how bad the reviews for “Showgirls” were for Berkley, here’s an indication – her agent abandoned her.
Berkley’s performance was panned, with Variety’s Todd McCarthy calling it “harsh, graceless, and quickly tiresome,” and The New York Times Janet Maslin said Berkley had “the open-mouthed, vacant-eyed look of an inflatable party doll.” After her agency dropped her, the bad publicity made it difficult for Berkley to get a new representation.
The Lawsuit Against Leonardo DiCaprio
Berkley was the subject of a huge $45 million lawsuit against Leonardo DiCaprio while she dated “Porky” star Roger Wilson in 2000. Wilson accused DiCaprio of hitting on Berkley after meeting her at a New York party following the premiere of his film “The Man in the Iron Mask.”
He confronted DiCaprio, who encouraged his friends to attack Wilson by shouting, “Let’s go kick his a**!” Wilson claimed in the lawsuit that he was hit in the throat, and as a result, his larynx was broken, thereby ending his career. The charges, however, were eventually dropped.
She Actually Rejected DiCaprio
Although Wilson got angry that DiCaprio hit on Berkley, she had already rejected DiCaprio’s advances. According to the reports, DiCaprio’s representative contacted Berkley and invited her to join the actor and his friends at a restaurant, but she politely declined the invitation, stating that she was already taken by Wilson.
The following day, DiCaprio and his friend left voicemails for Berkley, inviting her to join them for a party, which she still ignored. After the charges were dropped, DiCaprio’s publicist told People he was “grateful that the judicial system has finally resolved this case in a fair and just manner.”
The Lawsuit May Have Stalled Her Career
It’s never a good idea to be at war with a mega superstar, especially one like DiCaprio, who was just coming off a hugely-successful movie like “Titanic.” While it wasn’t Berkley who sued, her association with the lawsuit could have affected her career negatively.
By the time the case was dropped, Berkley had moved on from Wilson and had married Greg Lauren. But, did having her name involved in a lawsuit against a Hollywood star like DiCaprio close doors? We’ll never know, but it surely didn’t help.
Guess Who Elizabeth Berkley Once Dated?
Even though Jessie was romantically tied to Mario Lopez’s Slater on “Saved by the Bell,” Berkley had a real-life relationship with Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who played Zack on the show. Gosselaar, who portrayed Bayside’s resident clown, made this known: “When you’re working on a set, and we were young, there’s no one around, really,” he said.
“You work and live in a bubble.” Gosselaar revealed that the cast became more than colleagues because they didn’t have many other dating possibilities. They were on set so much and didn’t go to school. He told People, “All of us dated at one point or another – it was incestuous!”
Berkley Once Called a Critic to LEAVE HER ALONE!
Berkley reportedly called then-Variety chief theater critic Charles Isherwood to get off her back after his negative review during her 2005 Broadway run in Larry Gelbart’s “Sly Fox” revival. He also mentioned “Showgirls” in his review. Berkley was fed up. “Ms. Berkley explained that subsequent to that cinematic debacle,” he began,
“She had been rehabilitating her career by pursuing work with respected and talented artists,” Isherwood wrote in The New York Times, adding that he “hung up feeling guilty and chastened.” He did note that good actors can have poor movies, but Berkley didn’t have the “reputation to fall back on.”
She Is Also Very Close to Slater
In real life, she might not have dated her onscreen lover, Slater, but she’s close to him, which is evident in the Instagram images she shares. Their onscreen connection has endured the test of time, and they’re still as compatible as ever after more than 30 years.
Their characters returned to Bayside in the “SBTB” reboot, but this time as faculty members. They still refer to one another by their old nicknames and admitted on “The Ellen Show” that they’ve been calling each other “Dud” since they were 15. Berkley’s child even calls Lopez by that nickname.
Her Husband Had a Huge Crush on Her
Remember when we mentioned earlier how Berkley wanted to be a professional dancer? Well, it turns out she met her husband, Greg Lauren, in a dance class in 2000. They made eye contact through the studio mirror and, about a week later, went on a date – the rest is history.
In 2003, the lovers got married on a beach in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and had their son, Sky Cole, in 2012. Lauren told Us Weekly that his childhood crush was Jessie Spano, and when people find out who his wife is, they become envious.
A Woman of Many Talents
Besides pursuing a career in dancing and being a professional actor, Berkley was also a model once. Given how stunning she is, we can’t say we’re surprised. She signed with Elite Model Management in New York City when she was just 13 years old.
She was even a finalist in the agency’s annual “Look of the Year” competition, where models like Cindy Crawford and Helena Christensen got their start. Berkley continued to land acting gigs while striding down runways and eventually photoshoots and catwalks on movie sets and TV.
Her Soulmate Is a Fashionista
Soulmates are destined to find each other. And, even though she left the modeling industry, her fashion designer husband, Greg Lauren, still came into her life. Lauren also happens to be the nephew of renowned fashion designer Ralph Lauren.
The younger Lauren is as talented as his uncle, according to Berkley. In fact, her husband designed many of his wife’s outfits on the show. “Several of my shirts were done by Greg. I’m constantly in awe of his talent,” she told the magazine.
Time Heals All Wounds
Berkley has had a tense relationship with “Showgirls” from the onset. It’s not surprising, given that it never lived up to its billing as the “new Basic Instinct.” She once called the film “humiliating” and declined to address it by name in her book, “Ask Elizabeth.”
But Berkley did attend a 20th-anniversary screening of the film in front of 4,000 fans in 2015.
“Whether this film has been your guilty pleasure…or whether Nomi’s own plight and her fight and struggle has become your own anthem, I hope that it’s brought you comfort,” she said.
Hollywood Was Full-on Sexist
People didn’t really get over the fact that Berkley got naked in “Showgirls” because in the early 1990s, a sex tape could ruin, not build, an empire. Berkley took the brunt of the consequences as the film’s star, not the male writer, director, or producer.
This is despite conceding that the film’s flaws were mostly due to their own shortcomings. Berkley addressed the intense criticism in 2015, saying, “1995 was such a different time, where taking risks like that were not embraced. They were laughed at. They were shamed publicly.”
“Showgirls” Director Feels Terrible About Berkley’s Criticism
As we mentioned earlier, the executives of Showgirls have admitted that the movie’s shortcomings were their fault. Verhoeven notably told the Los Angeles Times that he feels terrible about what Berkley had been subjected to. “I never thought this continuous bashing of the movie and of Elizabeth would happen.”
“I realized with the nudity and the fact that critics are essentially Puritan that there would be backlash and anger, but I never thought the movie wouldn’t do well. So, I never accounted that she would be put in such a bad position, and I feel terrible about it.”
The Costar Who Was There for Her
Following her devastating experience with the dismal criticism of “Showgirls,” Berkley was cast in the film “The First Wives Club,” which was released a year later. The actress credits the 1996 comedy with providing her with the confidence she lacked after being shunned by Hollywood.
It helped that she had the support of her co-star, Goldie Hawn, who was a great source of guidance. Berkley played the young girlfriend of Hawn’s character’s ex-husband, and she and Hawn grew close to one another. “Goldie especially took me under her wing and was really supportive,” she told the BBC.
Berkley Has a Favorite Role
Although she might not have starred in many movies through the years, Berkley has a favorite. And, it may not be “Saved by the Bell. Berkley still appreciates the influence “The First Wives Club” had on her and her career more than two decades after it premiered.
She called it “one of her favorite jobs ever” for the chance to work with the “Overboard” actress. She shared an Instagram photo of herself and Hawn onset in 2015, saying she was “like an angel.” “I’m forever grateful to her now as a friend,” she gushed.
Trying Her Hands at Something Different
Since the big screens weren’t favoring her, Berkley decided to turn her attention to something different: the stage. She co-starred with comedian Eddie Izzard in 1999 in a London production of “Lenny,” a biographical play about contentious entertainer Lenny Bruce. The play received mixed reviews from critics.
Nevertheless, The Independent called Berkley’s portrayal of Bruce’s stripper-wife Rusty “impressive.” Even though the show only ran for a few months, the rigors of a stage schedule, from real performances to previews to rehearsals, were likely enough to keep Berkley from working elsewhere, particularly in Hollywood.
More Job Experience for Her Resume
Like her multitasking co-star Mario Lopez, Elizabeth Berkley has added ‘host’ to her resume. When Bravo created “Step It Up & Dance” in 2008, she was invited to be the host. The reality show featured young dancers from across the country who competed for cash prizes by performing various routines.
Berkley gave moral support to the participants on the short-lived series, which only lasted a season. She could relate to their enthusiasm and determination because of her dancing training. Despite the scathing criticism she had previously received, she was able to get her flow back with this role.
She Started an Advice Column
Berkley eventually started an advice column as a result of her passionate fanbase. “I’d be with my husband walking in SoHo or in a mall, and girls would come up for an autograph or a picture, and I really enjoyed engaging with them,” she told the Los Angeles Times.
After hearing all of these talks, her husband urged her to launch an advice column about how the now-defunct website “Ask Elizabeth” was born. Body image, self-esteem, friendship, and dating were among the issues addressed in the resource for females aged 11 to 18.
New York Times Best Seller!
Even though the site is no longer online, several of her advice pieces can still be seen on the Huffington Post, where she was a contributor. The column evolved into a non-profit organization and a book that made the New York Times Best Seller list.
It also grew into a lecture series, with the actress-turned-self-help guru giving talks to middle school students throughout the country. “For me, it’s about providing them with a safe space to deal with all they’re navigating and passing the mic to them,” she told Vogue.
A Painful Exit From Dancing With the Stars
Berkley joined “Dancing with the Stars” in 2013 when she partnered with the pro, Val Chmerkovskiy. She believes she owes her choice to enter the contest to her then-one-year-old son, who inspired her to do so since she was “in a joyful place.”
When she was eliminated just before the semifinals, the skilled dancer felt as though she had the rug yanked out from under her. During a segment on “Today,” she described her reaction to the unexpected announcement: “I felt a little… sucker punched. It feels like we got cut short.”
All Cannot Be So Bad
After going through lots of criticism from the media, the least Berkley could have gotten was praise after a performance. In the 2005 off-Broadway production of David Rabe’s “Hurlyburly,” she replaced Catherine Keener as Bonnie and starred alongside Ethan Hawke, Parker Posey, and Bobby Cannavale.
Berkley’s performance was praised, with The New York Times’ Charles Isherwood even apologizing to her for his previous criticisms of her abilities, saying that the fact that she “held her own among this skilled company of scene-stealers is a testament to how much her talent has grown.”
She Befriended Dancers Offstage
“Step It Up and Dance” premiered on Bravo in April 2008 and was axed after one season. With 826,000 viewers, the show was the network’s most popular in its time slot (10/11 C). It maintained its excellent ratings throughout its run, averaging 756,000 viewers each week.
Of the viewers, 522,000 were 18 to 49 years old – and contributed to Bravo’s highest-rated April ever. Berkley claimed that hosting the event was a rewarding experience. She was cited as saying that she became “involved in the dancers” after befriending several of them offstage.
Showgirls Was Truly a Disaster
As you likely already realize, the critics weren’t happy about “Showgirls.” As we write this, it holds a 16% on Metacritic and a 22% on Rotten Tomatoes. If we’re being honest, everyone was bad in “Showgirls,” but it was Berkley who fell on the proverbial sword.
And, it hurt Berkley – a lot. “I had the most extraordinary experience making the film. When a dream is happening, it’s unlike anything you can ever imagine,” she said, adding, “which is why when the movie came out, it was more painful than anything you can imagine.”
But Berkley Wasn’t the Problem
Although Berkley’s performance was panned by critics, everyone involved in the film claims she wasn’t the problem. According to the Los Angeles Times, Verhoeven said, “If somebody is to blame, it’s [screenwriter] Joe or me. I think she did exactly what we wanted and what we thought would be good.”
“And apparently, we failed.” Berkley’s performance was so brilliant, he said, that the public couldn’t tell her apart from Nomi Malone. “Her performance that everybody is so against is based on a character,” Verhoeven said. “The hate towards her character—an edgy, nearly psychotic character—is actually a compliment to her performance.”
She Hasn’t Really Had a Starring Role Since “Showgirls”
Berkley has had a steady stream of television jobs for nearly two decades, including appearances on “NYPD Blue,” “The L Word,” and “CSI: Miami,” as well as single-episode guest appearances on shows like “New Girl,” “Melissa & Joey,” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” among a handful of others.
She has had roles in films such as “Lucky Christmas,” “Becoming Dick,” and the Lifetime classic “Student Seduction.” The issue is that none of these were lead roles. So, even if her performances were excellent, if you missed an episode or two of any of these series, you wouldn’t know.
She Had Her Son at 40
It’s a boy! Sky Cole Lauren, the actress and author’s son, was born on July 20, 2012, in Los Angeles, weighing 8 pounds. He’s the first child of Berkley and her artist and designer husband Greg Lauren, whom she married in 2003. Berkley was 40 at the time that she gave birth.
In May 2021, the former “Saved by the Bell” star told PEOPLE magazine that she was busy preparing for the ‘role of a lifetime.’ “I’m due this summer, and there is a reason why they give you nine months to get ready!” Berkley joked. “It does allow you to prepare.”
Saved the Bell’s Reboot
Old things can become new again, especially in Hollywood where, at this rate, they’ll end up rebooting every movie that’s ever been made. It was Save by the Bell’s turn in 2020. Mario Lopez and Elizabeth Berkley came back as A.C. Slater and Jessie Spano!
“The single-camera comedy that explores what happens when California Gov. Zack Morris gets into hot water for closing too many low-income high schools and proposes the affected students be sent to the state’s highest-performing schools — including Bayside High,” the plot according to The Hollywood Reporter.
What Has Happened to the Rest of the Cast of “Saved by the Bell?”
Everybody eventually moves on, and Hollywood is probably the easiest example of a place where workers move on from projects quickly. While Berkley took on less-significant roles, a large number of members of the “Saved by the Bell” cast have gone on to do other things.
Tiffani-Amber Thiessen was on “90210” and starred in the Netflix sitcom “Alex & Katie”; Mark-Paul Gosselaar appeared in “NYPD Blue” and “Franklin & Bash”; Mario Lopez has hosted a handful of shows; and Dustin Diamond did, well, we can simply say, whatever the exact opposite of Saturday morning children’s programming is.
Berkley’s Favorite “Saved by the Bell” Episode
For fans of “Saved by the Bell,” there is one episode, in particular, that will go down in history — and it revolves around Berkley’s character. The overachieving character becomes addicted to caffeine tablets in this episode. In the scene aptly titled “Jessie’s Song,” Jessie suffers a complete meltdown.
She passionately sings the Pointer Sisters’ song “I’m So Excited” and sobs into Zack’s arms. Berkley said it’s her favorite episode in an interview with “Today.” One of the reasons she enjoys it is that she was able to act it with her close friend and castmate Mark-Paul Gosselaar.
Meeting Her Husband Was a Scene Out of a Love Movie
Berkley has had a lifetime passion for dance since she was a child. She began tapping at the age of 4 and took jazz and ballet lessons by 12. She probably never anticipated that dance would play such an important role in her life as an adult.
The experienced dancer met her husband, fashion designer, and artist Greg Lauren in a dancing class in 2000. Their eyes met and locked through the studio mirror. They had dinner with their classmates that night and then went on a date just over a week later — and the rest is history.
“Saved by the Bell”
Are you having trouble remembering “Saved by the Bell?” Don’t worry; we’ve got you. “Saved by the Bell” is an American TV sitcom created by Sam Bobrick for NBC. It aired from August 20, 1989, to May 22, 1993. It portrays a bunch of high school buddies and their principal.
It is set at the fictional Bayside High School in Los Angeles and is based on the Disney Channel comedy, “Good Morning, Miss Bliss.” Although it focuses on lighthearted, humorous events, it occasionally addresses serious societal problems, such as drug addiction, drunk driving, homelessness, remarriage, death, women’s rights, and environmental issues.
“Saved by the Bell” Has Spawned Spinoffs
The show has spawned two spin-off series: “Saved by the Bell: The College Years” (1993–1994) was a primetime series that followed many of the characters to college, while “Saved by the Bell: The New Class” (1993–2000) was a Saturday morning series about a new group of students.
“Saved by the Bell: Hawaiian Style” was released in 1992, while “Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas” was released in 1994. The original show has been described as educational and informational. AOL TV even rated the show one of the “20 Best School Shows of All Time.”
“Showgirls” Was a Box Office Bomb Too
Prior to its theatrical release, substantial controversy and hype surrounded the film’s levels of sex and nudity, which was produced on a then-large budget of roughly $45 million. “Showgirls” was the first (and so far the only) NC-17-rated film to receive a wide theatrical release.
Many United Artists distributors were sent to cinemas across North America to play “Showgirls.” They wanted to ensure that viewers didn’t sneak in from other movies and were over 17. Due to audience restrictions imposed by the NC-17 rating and bad reviews, it was a box-office flop, grossing only $37 million.
The Book That Revealed All
In 2009, Dustin Diamond wrote “Behind the Bell,” an insider’s view of the show’s cast and personnel from his viewpoint. He portrayed many of his colleagues and their alleged backstage actions in an unfavorable light. Some of Diamond’s statements have been disputed by critics and debunked by colleagues.
In the book, Diamond claims to have had sex with 2,000 women, one being Linda Mancuso, NBC’s Vice President of Children’s Programming, who was 18 years older. Diamond later claimed that his ghostwriter was to blame for much of the book’s content, criticizing him for creating sensational stories.