IN AMERICAN WOMAN, ALICIA SILVERSTONE SHEDS HER CLUELESS IMAGE
Interviewed by her Clueless costar Twink Caplan, Alicia Silverstone reflects on the film that ignited her career, and discusses her new role in American Woman.
by TATIJANA SHOAN
by TWINK CAPLAN
by STACEY JONES
by KYLEE HEATH
for STARWORKS GROUP
by LAUREN ANDERSEN
Over the last century there have been many adaptations of the witty and romantic social satirical works of English novelist, Jane Austen—but film scholars and fans continue to embrace Amy Heckerling’s film, Clueless. At the time of casting, a young teenager by the name of Alicia Silverstone was building a career. There was no question of who would play the lead character in Amy’s project. Clueless opened and Alicia became a teenage icon overnight. She was one of the first women of her generation to set up her own production company, First Kiss Productions. She’s honed her acting skills on Broadway in The Graduate, Time Stands Still, The Performers, and Of Good Stock. As an author, she’s written two books; The Kind Diet explores ways to clean and strengthen your body and the planet through a vegan lifestyle, and The Kind Mama offers advice to women who want to experience a natural pregnancy and birth.
I spent a wonderful afternoon with Alicia at my home in West Hollywood. We reminisced as we talked about our past, caught up as we discussed our present, and shared our hopes and wishes for the future. Below, she looks back on Clueless, and chats about her new role in American Woman, which premiered on June 7.
Twink Caplan: In American Woman, you play Bonnie Nolan, who is based on the mother of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Kyle Richards, who co-executive produced the show.
Alicia Silverstone: I wasn’t familiar with Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, so I didn’t know who she was. What I did know going into that room was the show was about a woman’s mother who was very eccentric. The stories I was told about this woman sounded fantastic and very wild, and for her time she was a trailblazer in how she handled things alone, which women did not do in the 70s. Back then, a woman couldn’t get a loan out on a house in her own name, she needed to get a man involved. I just love the line in the pilot where my character says to her husband, “if you would just give me a little bit of money, I wouldn’t have to ask you all the time.” She was entirely dependent on him.
How did you prepare for this role, and tell me about your decision to take it on?
I’ve done a lot of theater in recent years. In theater, I get to play incredible characters, which are very different from what most people would associate me with if they have only seen Clueless. When I read the script for American Woman, I knew this was a part I wanted to do because she reminded me of a theater character. What I find interesting about this character is Kyle loves her mom. When you talk to her, there’s no sense of damage done, which is kind of bazaar to me. She has such love for her mother, this woman who was, at times, a bad mother with a lot of flaws, but was also a loving person and fierce protector. [She was] terrified of embarking on this new life as a single mother. When I was in this meeting, I wondered when I would have to start my tap dance. When do I need to convince them that I am the best person for this part? I cried when I left the meeting because I knew I got the job!
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Acting for film and theater require two different disciplines, two different energies. Do you marry the two disciplines? Do they feed one another?
When I was younger, pre-Clueless, I was very shy, but I was very real, which is why I got parts. But the note I would always get from a director was, “could you speak up, can you be louder?” Once I started working in theater something came out of me. I remember working with Danny DeVito and he asked me to take it down a notch, which I thought was a great compliment! I became more of a woman, I was no longer a quiet little girl, and that has a lot to do with growing-up. I’m very expressive and sometimes my face may move around too much, and I’ve had no cosmetic work or Botox done, so my face can really move! I remember when I was younger one film director put his hand on my forehead during an audition to get me to stop moving my forehead, and that’s when it dawned on me that when I move my face too much it’s distracting. But, that’s not a problem in the theatre.
“Today, I just want to play with the most amazing people that I can play with. I am a little bit like a stallion who has been chained down, and I’m ready to run. In American Woman, I have come unchained.”
You were one of the first actresses to have your own production company. Can you tell me about your trajectory, your focus, what you’re aiming for?
If I could go back in time, I would be much more selective with the scripts I took on, the directors I worked with, and the team I surrounded myself with. That’s one way I could have been less anxious. Today, I just want to play with the most amazing people that I can play with. I am a little bit like a stallion who has been chained down, and I’m ready to run. In American Woman, I have come unchained.
You were just a teenager and had to carry Clueless, which became a huge success, and you were suddenly catapulted into instant fame. What life lessons did you learn from that?
It’s hard to talk about because it reveals things that are very private. You have to do a lot of work on yourself because life becomes completely overwhelming, and I didn’t have anyone I could really turn to. I wasn’t preparing for fame, and I never wanted it. I loved acting because it was a form of therapy. Clueless was my ninth movie and I was honestly tired at that point. I had been working back to back and I didn’t have anyone around me to say, “let’s slow down and be more selective from an experienced point of view.” When I was shooting Clueless, I would fall asleep between takes when we were shooting the driving scene with the driving instructor.
Was that the pivotal moment that put you on the path with your activism?
I have been rescuing animals since I was around 8 years old. The boys in school would tease me by pretending to step on a beetle and I would just lose it! I always had a sense that we shouldn't harm any creature. It may have come from my own need to be cared for. When you look into the eyes of a cow, a sheep, or any creature, you can see their souls, like looking in the eyes of a child. When I was 21 I saw a documentary that changed me— after that I could never look in a mirror again and be ok with what I saw if I didn’t change.
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Do you think your son Bear Blu will have the acting bug?
I have no idea, at this moment he wants to be a farmer in Hawaii because we were just there. Who knows what it will be tomorrow. I don't want to put anything on him, I don't want to imprint him in any way, but of course they pick things up from you.
Your book, The Kind Diet, was released in 2009 and became a New York Times best seller. And your second book, The Kind Mama, came out in 2014 and was #1 on the NYT List.
People would always ask me about veganism and I would write them little food prescriptions for what was ailing them. I took me years to write both books because I had to hone in on all the information I gathered over the years. The reason I wrote The Kind Diet and The Kind Mama is because nothing like it existed. What was missing was the sexiness of the vegan diet, the deliciousness of it. Every vegan book I had read prior to writing mine did not look so yummy, and I understood why it had the reputation of tasting like cardboard. I wanted to reach the masses and let them know if they wanted to feel good, look good, eliminate illnesses, have glowing skin, and help save the planet at the same time, read this.
The film Book Club is coming out this summer and I got to work with the incredible Diane Keaton. I’m most excited about American Woman, and, of course, spending as much time as possible with my son.