“I once thought that there were no second acts in American lives,” F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote, in his notes on The Last Tycoon. To which Cher Horowitz in Clueless would say: “Ugh, as if!”
Nearly 30 years after she spoke those iconic lines, we are witnessing the second act in the career of Alicia Silverstone.
Her Super Bowl ad for shopping platform Rakuten, where she slipped back into Cher’s yellow tartan skirt to recreate the Clueless debate scene, went viral (as did her first TikTok appearance, again as Cher, spoofing the “as if!” scene with her son Bear), returning Silverstone to the top of the pop culture conversation.
In the independent film world, Silverstone has never been hotter. With roles in The Lodge —the 2019 Sundance chiller from Good night mommy directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz — and Jennifer Reeder’s new meta-horror film Perpetrator, which premiered in the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Film Festival this week, the former teen idol is quietly reinventing herself as an indie scream queen. And it’s not just horror. At South by Southwest next month, Silverstone will be seen alongside Hasan Minhaj and Rizwan Manji in Imran J. Khan’s family dramedy. Mustache. Grant Singer’s crime thriller Reptile, where she stars alongside Benicio Del Toro and Justin Timberlake, comes out later this year. She just wrapped production in Amsterdam on Krazy House, the English-language feature Dutch comedy hitmakers Steffen Haars and Flip van der Kuil (New Kids Turbo, Ron Goossens: Low-Budget Stuntman).
“In terms of my work, I’m having nothing but fun now,” says Silverstone, “I had a ball in Amsterdam, making a film with these amazing interesting filmmakers. I’m really happy with my life. Just seeing Benicio Del Toro again on the set of Reptiles. We haven’t worked together for 27 years [since the Silverstone-produced Excess Baggage in 1997]. I thought: ‘it’s been an incredible journey’.”
The journey has not always been smooth. Silverstone was thrust into the limelight as a teenager, after her debut film, The Crushin which she plays a 14-year-old stalker trying to seduce a 30-something journalist, played by Cary Elwes.
“Things started to happen right away. At the MTV Movie Awards, I won best newcomer and best villain,” she recalls. “Then came the Aerosmith videos [Cryin, Amazing, Crazy] and I was working a ton, I was working in France with Alain Corneau, I did films with James Gandolfini [Corneau’s New World]with Jeff Goldblum and Christine Lahti [1995 thriller Hideaway], all these different movies. I was very young but I took my acting very seriously.”
Those Aerosmith videos caught the eye of Amy Heckerling, who thought Silverstone would be perfect for her new project, a coming-of-age comedy loosely based on Jane Austen’s. Emmabut set in 1990s Beverly Hills.
Clueless was born. The film was an instant hit and shot Silverstone to the top of the Hollywood A-list.
“When Clueless came out, it really shifted. I had been the girl from Crush, then I was the Aerosmith chick, and then, after that, I was Cher,” she says, “It was very complicated and I don’t think I knew how to manage it: I didn’t have the foundation, the good tools to deal with it, I wasn’t prepared for it in any way, shape, or form. I really had no idea what was happening, and it didn’t feel comfortable.”
The industry backlash did not take long. When, in 1995, Silverstone signed a $10 million two-picture pact with Columbia-TriStar, the LA Times wrote a story under the headline: “Carrey! Schwarzenegger! Stallone! Silverstone?” suggesting Silverstone’s deal was emblematic of the sort of unsustainable salary inflation that was ruining Hollywood. While it might be ok for those male stars to get paid $20 million a picture, the piece argued, it was crazy to hand half that (for two films) to that blond from Clueless.
Then came Batman & Robin. Joel Schumacher’s star-packed superhero flick — Clooney! Schwarzenegger! O’Donnell! — was the colossal flop of 1997. Panned by critics for its OTT performances and farcical, rubber-molded outfits — Silverstone shudders when she recalls her Batgirl costume “it was really hard to get in and really, really hard to get out of”— it earned Silverstone the dubious honor of a Razzie for worst supporting actress.
While she can still find some positives from the Batman & Robin experience —”working with Michael Gough [who played Alfred] was magical. We had a very special bond. And George Clooney was so big brother-kind to me” — the film marked a low point. It was the beginning of the end of Alicia Silverstone as a 90s screen icon. She did manage to go out on a high: alongside Brendan Fraser in Hugh Wilson’s delightful, if under-appreciated at the time, high-concept rom-com. Blast from the Past (1999).
“I wasn’t happy and what I did was really extract myself a bit from my acting career and went more into my activism,” Silverstone says. “I went to Africa. to help the elephants, I went to Peru to try to help the rainforest. I found my passion for writing books on healing and health. The Kind Diet books came a bit later but that was the start of the journey there.”
She never fully stopped acting, but for the next decade, Silverstone seemed content to dip in and out, mostly playing roles tailored to her Cher persona — as the matrimonial attorney/matchmaker in NBC’s short-lived series. Miss Match (which got her a Golden Globe nomination), or the naive and bubbly stylist in Queen Latifah vehicle Beauty Shop (2005).
And she discovered the theater, making her Broadway debut alongside Kathleen Turner and Jason Biggs in a stage version of The Graduate in 2002, appearing in David Mamet’s Boston Marriage in 2007.
“It was there, when I was on stage, doing a David Mamet play, being directed by David Mamet, it reminded me how much I really, really love acting, and I was sad I’d let go of so much of it, Silverstone recalled. “There were so many amazing opportunities that I said no to, because I didn’t feel able. But after that play, I thought, geez, I’d really love to do that again. So when I came back to the movies, it was sort of continuing the journey I started in the theater. I started to be able to do really interesting things in film too.”
Interesting like playing the mother of a mysterious boy in Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer —”working with Yorgos was a dream. I love his movie Dogtooth so much!” she effuses. Interesting like the role as a woman battling doomsday preppers in Drew Mylrea’s sci-fi thriller Last Survivors. Interesting like playing the spooky Aunt Hildie in Perpetratora smokey-voiced blond that seems plucked straight out of 40s film noir.
“I wanted to do the role even before I read the script,” she says Perpetrator“[director] Jennifer Reeder is just so exciting, everything about her and her movies. She’s so vulnerable and sexy and beautiful and strong. When I met her, I knew this one someone had a voice I hadn’t seen before.”
Now 46, a generation away from CluelessSilverstone says she’s “doing life right.”
“It’s not easy, being an activist, a mother and an actress all at the same time. But I’m doing my best,” she says. “I continue to do speaking engagements about health and our earth, all of that is really meaningful to me. The most important thing to me is being fully present with my son. As for acting, I’ll keep finding a way to dabble, to stay in there.”
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