New Again: Alicia Silverstone

In New Again, we highlight a piece from Interview’s past that resonates with the present. 

A year and a half before she became known to generations of teen girls as Clueless’ naïve, selfish, but truly well-intentioned protagonist, Cher Horowitz, 17-year-old Alicia Silverstone was basking in the glory of early-’90s teen stardom. Having just starred in the 1993 thriller The Crush, opposite a smitten and much older Cary Elwes, the California native was developing a decidedly Lolita-esque image, complete with a spread in Interview featuring the young starlet pouting at a teddy bear in white lingerie.

Nearly 20 years later, Silverstone continues to act, pen vegan cookbooks, and advocate for animal rights. Most recently, it was announced that the now 36-year-old actress is to star in the Lifetime original series HR, where she will play a high-strung human resources who suffers a mood altering head injury. An apt role, seeing as when Silverstone sat down with Graham Fuller in February 1994, she openly confessed to her legendary clumsiness. —Hannah Mandel


Alicia Silverstone
Get ready to be smitten by Hollywood’s new mischievous kitten puuuurrrrrrfect
By Graham Fuller

“Come, lovely cat, my heart is amorous; Draw in your claws for me…” —from “The Cat,” by Charles Baudelaire

Play Scrabble with the letters in Alicia Silverstone’s name and you get all sorts of appropriate words: actress, cat, carnal, Eve, silence, salivate, sin, sincere, Lolita. And innocent? Nearly, but not quite. There are centuries of seduction in the scornful eyes and bee-stung lips of this hypnotic ingénue­—and considerably more ingenuity than ingenuousness. Sulkily malevolent as 14-year-old Darian, idolator of Cary Elwes’s unworthy journalist in The Crush, she filled the screen with overweening intelligence and sticky surfaces waiting to be touched. In “Cryin,” the Aerosmith video in which she karate-kicks a purse snatcher in the face and gives Stephen Dorff the finger from the end of a bungee cord, she was simply unstoppable. It’s a relief to know that she’s been equally good playing sweet or troubled characters in TV films like Torch Song, Scattered Dreams, and The Cool and the Crazy. Oh, I nearly forgot. There’s another word you can spell from a-l-i-c-i-a s-i-l-v-e-r-s-t-o-n-e: star.

GRAHAM FULLER: Suddenly this movie, The Crush, comes out with a stunning young actress in it. But no one knows where she comes from or who she is. So where did you come from?

ALICIA SILVERSTONE: It’s really difficult to answer that. Ever since I was a little girl, acting was my dream, but I didn’t know what that meant. I just knew I wanted to do what those people onstage did. At family get-togethers, me and all the other little girls would make up dances and routines for our parents. And relatives would tell my dad, “You’ve got to get her started in the business.” Finally, he started me modeling. I hated it more that anything, but I thought it was an outlet for acting. Then I got my first commercial, for Domino’s Pizza, and I went insane. I was so happy!

FULLER: When did you know that acting was going to be a profession for you?

SILVERSTONE: It was fun enough for me to be in an acting class, but I didn’t really think on a professional level. When my acting teacher, Judi O’Neill, brought me from San Francisco to live in LA with her for the summer, I did a showcase, and all these agents started calling. The second I got an agent, it all came together. Suddenly I was in business.

FULLER: Did you have to grow up quickly?

SILVERSTONE: Oh, yes. Partly, perhaps, because my parents are English and I spent a lot of time in England when I was growing up. Even though English girls, who are smart in school, tend to become savvy when they’re older, it seems most important in England to have a family, to get your job done and carry on with your life, whereas being a movie star is a pretty bullshit kind of thing. So living there made me more worldly. Also I think my mother—who’s a sensitive, sensitive woman with a huge heart—had a big effect on me.

FULLER: Do you remember your first day on The Crush?

SILVERSTONE: You’ve never seen anybody smile so much! It just felt like my face was glowing. I thought my first scene­—when Darian comes home after kissing Nick [Cary Elwes] and gets tucked in by her mom­—was the worst in the world. I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t get into character, though they told me it was fine. After that, I was supposed to do the scene where Darian takes her shirt off, which was a big deal for me, because even though it wasn’t my body, I still had to act like it was.

FULLER: They used a body double?

SILVERSTONE: Yeah, and that was really weird for me. I was happy that we didn’t get to it that day.

FULLER: Did you feel instantly at home on a movie set?

SILVERSTONE: Yeah, I forgot that the cameras were there. I’d taken my proficiency test so I could get emancipated and work long hours on the set…

FULLER: So you’re an emancipated minor?

SILVERSTONE: Yes, I went to Canada by myself to do the film when I was 15, and I turned 16 on set. I was like, “I can do anything.” But in my heart of hearts, I was lonely. So I trusted everyone, which was a mistake I learned from.

FULLER: Did you have a chaperone?

SILVERSTONE: No, it worked better for my character without one.

FULLER: How much did you plan in terms of projecting the kind of person that Darian was?

SILVERSTONE: I think about her more now than I did then. I wish I could go back and do the movie again, because it isn’t often that a young girl can be really aggressive and take over the whole movie. I wish I’d had more experience at that time. Now I feel I’m more molded. It feels like four or five years have gone by in one. I’m learning, and I’m getting smarter, though in some ways I still think of myself as naïve.

FULLER: Do you ever feel, “Wait! I’m only 17. Let me live a little first”?

SILVERSTONE: All the time, but I’m totally hypocritical about it because I say, “Look, I’m not just 17. I’m an adult. Don’t speak to me that way.” I do get a lot of condescension from people. My parents know I’m an adult because I handle all my own business affairs. But then they say, “Come home at 12 and have your milk and cookies.”

FULLER: How much Alicia was there in Darian in The Crush?

SILVERSTONE: Although she was only 14, she was older than I am. She knew exactly what people were thinking and she used it. I’d run away from it. I envied the power that she had. Although most of the time I imagine everybody thinks I’m retarded, that I look really ugly, I loved being able to walk on the set as Darian and think that everyone there was hot for me. I would never feel that way in life.

FULLER: What about the fact that audiences might respond the same way?

SILVERSTONE: It’s frustrating that people might see me in that way. Soon I’ll get a big movie that will show different things. The bad girls are great for publicity because people really go for that­—which is sad, but true! When I see myself in the “Cryin'” video, and people are going, “Oh, my God,” thinking I’m sexy, it cracks me up because in real life I’m so clumsy. Actually, my character in that video in the essence of what every woman wants to be, in the sense that she takes charge. She knows what she wants, and she’s going to get it somehow. At the same time, there’s something really soft about her, which came out in the next video, “Amazing,” where I got to be cute. I decided that if she’s going to just be a tough girl, you can’t love her. You can only want her physically. But I wanted to make her a real, whole human being.

FULLER: What’s the secret of it all for you?

SILVERSTONE: I don’t think I have one yet. I know what works for me. My basic technique is just being real. I can’t deal with watching actors act. I don’t even know if I have the right to talk like this, because I don’t feel like my work is at that place yet.

FULLER: Tell me about this play Carol’s Eve you’re doing at the Met Theatre in Los Angeles.

SILVERSTONE: I play a lesbian coke addict. It’s the first play I’ve ever done, though I used to dance a lot onstage when I was younger. So far it’s been a great experience. I took it for the pure reason that I was scared to death of it.

FULLER: Has acting become a passion for you?

SILVERSTONE: Oh, it’s huge. I had a passion for it before; now it’s more like a need.

FULLER: Do you feel that what you’re doing is helping you acquire some wisdom?

SILVERSTONE: Every day is a new experience, and every day I do things that require some sort of wisdom, but I have so much more to learn. What I’m learning most is that your happiness is the most important thing. I get really upset sometimes, and I think, “God, this movie is so tiring, and it’s not what I thought it was going to be.” Then you go, “Well, what make me happy?” So I go visit my friends, and we’ll be like the biggest clowns on the planet. When I’m free and when I’m a kid is when I’m the wisest, I think. Does that make sense?


New Again runs every Wednesday. For more, click here.