Alicia Silverstone

For the Telegraph Magazine, 1995. Looking at it now, I think I was a bit mean about her.

Alicia Silverstone wallpaper. She was an internet sensation.

A year ago, Alicia Silverstone was the “Aerosmith babe”, celebrated for appearing in the American hard-rock band’s videos, wearing inadequate clothing and a provocative expression. Her prize was the coveted “Best Video Of All Time” award from MTV, the channel for young men with a tendency to drool. 

Now though, thanks to a perfectly adorable lead role in Clueless, this year’s hit high school comedy, she is about to mean something to the rest of us. She has just signed a $10 million three-picture deal with Columbia Pictures. And her next film, she says, will be one she has produced herself. “It’s nice,” she says, “Because they [the studios] know that I have proved myself to be a good actress, so that’s very useful to them. 

“And how they’re useful to me is that I want to be able to create really brilliant projects that are going to mean something to people and mean something to me. By being a producer I can be in control of who my co-stars are, and who’s writing the movie, and who’s going to be directing it.”

It will also, she hopes, provide her with roles that will enable her to emulate the actresses she admires. “Jodie Foster, Meryl Streep, Helena Bonham-Carter, Laura Dern: those types,” she says, which seems to cover the ground. She does not mention Kathy Bates, for some reason.

Described in one American magazine as the possessor of “the most ripely precocious baby-doll allure since the nymphet glory days of Tuesday Weld,” Alicia comes across as somewhere between 15, when her education stopped and her film career began, and 32, which is when actresses normally start worrying about being “in control”. Chronologically, she is not yet 19, but in attitude she is a veteran.

Amy Heckerling, writer and director of Clueless, was on her treadmill one day (for exercise, not punishment) when the video for Aerosmith’s “Crying” materialised before her eyes. In this, our heroine ends up dangling from a bridge on the end of a bungee rope, after modelling various crowd-pleasing but dramatically necessary outfits. She doesn’t actually speak: but that didn’t stop Ms Heckerling offering her the lead in the new film. 

A cloud drifts across Miss Silverstone’s sunny features when this story is raised. “I don’t know why she says that, because she knows very well that’s never what really happened. It’s certainly not accurate,” she chides, gently. By that stage, she insists, she had already done lots of real acting, and the director was well aware of it. 

Hers is, after all, a career that started at eight, when her parents, a British-born pair of Californians called Monty and Didi Silverstone, allowed her to take up modelling. She did that until she was 12, using the money for acting classes, and then became an actress, starting with a pizza commercial. Later she was offered the female lead in The Crush, playing a murderous erotomaniac. 

Unfortunately she was only 15, and would have lost the job unless she agreed to be legally “emancipated”. “If I had not gotten emancipated I would only be allowed to work nine hours a day,” she explains, “but because I was emancipated I was able to work slave labour: 18 hours a day, sometimes 20 hours.” 

There’s an irony there somewhere, especially when you hear that the authorities in LA are desperate to stop children becoming “emancipated”, not to hamper the star-making machinery but because the poor are taking their kids out of school and making them work. “My dad was sneaky,” confesses Alicia, “He found a small town instead of doing it in LA. I went for a test, and went to talk to the judge.”

And so, with one bound, she was free. Since then she has made nine films for television and cinema, though Clueless is the first to be seen here. Her character, Cher, is a rich, pretty, vacuous 15-year-old who tries to control the destinies of her friends. Alicia is excellent: pert, likeable and suffused with a bracing yet unthreatening brand of sexuality. 

What’s more, she delivers her lines with panache. The teenage dialogue is crisp and witty, a piece of wishful thinking by the writer/director, who modelled her plot on Emma. Alicia has yet to read the source material. “It’s on my booklist,” she grins.

These days the books she studies are those which detail her box-office appeal. Clueless, she tells me, has already taken six times what it cost to make — “and that’s only domestic”. She is, to use the vernacular, “hot”. But then she always has been, particularly in a whole series of pictures showing her in Lolita mode (soft toys, nightwear, soft furnishings): these are a particular hit on the World Wide Web, the computer network where her fans hang out. 

In interview, though, she’s as demure as any Jane Austen heroine, were it not for her disconcerting habit of swivelling and arching her upper body in the direction of the interviewer, all the while producing cracking sounds from her spine.

“I don’t think my looks have anything to do with what I’m doing,” she says, fixing me with the eyes of a shopping-mall Siren. “I’ve said this before, but when I got my Domino’s Pizza commercial I got the role not because I was pretty — I’m sure there were a lot more pretty girls in the audition — but because I ate my pizza, and they really believed I liked the pizza. 

That’s why I got my Domino’s pizza commercial,” she insists, with a touch of steel. Jodie Foster, watch your step. 

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