With over 30 years of indelible acting performances to her name and a public persona as the ultimate unconventional earth mama, Alicia Silverstone is out to prove that she’s anything but Clueless
Thirty minutes before we’re scheduled to chat by phone (before SAG-AFTRA joined the WGA strike), Alicia Silverstone posts a photo of herself on Instagram. The background is gorgeous—the glistening waters and lush shores of Italy’s Lake Como. The dress she’s posing in is stunning—an insanely voluminous, cotton-candy-colored gown designed by Christian Siriano (the two are besties, gallivanting around Italy together while Silverstone’s son is at sleepaway camp). But it’s the caption that’s so iconic: “Just another little pink frock I had laying around from Fred Segal.” It’s a nod to Cher Horowitz—the role that shot Silverstone to superstardom—and one of the most-quoted scenes from one of the most-quoted movies of the ’90s, Clueless.
Silverstone will probably always be best known for Cher’s wide-eyed naivete (and computerized closet), but she’s 46 now. She survived the misogynist churn of ’90s Hollywood by stepping away from the spotlight and pouring her energy into veganism, environmental activism, motherhood, and theater instead. Yet lately she’s come back to our screens in a big way, pursuing roles that are weird (in 2017’s suspenseful The Killing of a Sacred Deer), wild (in 2018’s second-wave ’70s series American Woman), and wonderful (in Netflix’s The Baby-Sitters Club from 2020 through 2022). Now we’re reaching peak Aliciassance (yeah, I said it), with her sweet coming-of-age movie Mustache getting kudos on the festival circuit and Jennifer Reeder’s feminist horror flick Perpetrator hitting theaters and streaming on Shudder on September 1. Plus, she’s also in the new Netflix fall thriller Reptile, which reunites her with her Excess Baggage love interest Benicio Del Toro. Cher is a grown-ass woman. And the innocent gleam in Silverstone’s eyes is now more of a discerning, self-possessed glint.
It’s been 28 years since Clueless came out, but the pop culture relevancy of Amy Heckerling’s satirical, Beverly Hills-based take on Jane Austen’s Emma has barely dimmed. Celebs still give nods to the film’s legendary fashion (see Margot Robbie’s yellow tweed skirt suit during the Barbie media blitz); “You’re a virgin who can’t drive” is embedded in the shade lexicon; and Silverstone’s very first TikTok, which featured her re-enacting Cher’s famous “Ugh, as if” scene with her son, Bear, has nearly 57 million views. (Side note, in another TikTok, she schools fans on the correct pronunciation of her name, “Ah-lee-see-yuh.”) Silverstone even reprised the role in one of this year’s most talked-about Superbowl ads. “People love [Clueless] so much,” she says. “It just keeps going and going. It’s classic.”
Silverstone grew up in the Bay Area—raised by her Scottish mom and London-born dad—and after doing a bit of modeling was cast as a high schooler obsessed with her older neighbor in The Crush. Next, she starred as a rebellious teen in a trio of Aerosmith videos during MTV’s heyday. (I cannot overstate how much this flannel-wearing, middle-finger-flipping version of Silverstone imprinted on us young Gen-Xers and elder millennials.) That’s how Heckerling discovered her Cher. And though Silverstone was only 18 at the time, she was already being put through the wringer. “I had been working back-to-back projects. By the time I showed up to Clueless, I was so exhausted, and I didn’t feel like I could be a kid,” she says. “I remember feeling very inspired and excited by the character. But I just didn’t have a social life at all. Paul Rudd was having fun, and Breckin [Meyer] and Donald [Faison] were having fun—everybody’s having the time of their lives, and I was like, ‘This is a job and I’m working.’ But I loved playing the character, so that was a joy.”
What came after Clueless was less joyful. The major profiles written about Silverstone at the time were shockingly dude-bro. Rolling Stone called her “a kittenish 18-year-old movie star whom lots of men want to sleep with.” An Entertainment Weekly writer described her as a “gym locker pinup” with lips “glistening and upturned like a wedge of tangerine.” She was one of the youngest women to ever get a studio development deal with her production company, First Kiss, but people didn’t like that either, and the schadenfreude was palpable when her first release, 1997’s Excess Baggage, bombed financially. But when I ask her about the onslaught of fame in the aftermath of Clueless, and the way the industry did her dirty, she’s ready to move on.
“I feel like I’ve touched on these things before, so it’s not super interesting for me to keep going over it,” she says, brusquely. “I suppose if we were sitting, drinking wine for hours, then perhaps I could come up with something of interest, but not stuff I would want to share here.” I can’t blame her. She’s said a lot. Particularly about the body shaming she experienced in the early years of her career—the way paparazzi nicknamed her “fatgirl” when she played Batgirl in 1997’s Batman & Robin, or when a columnistdescribed her as “more Babe than babe.”
That’s when she stopped taking such high-profile roles and focused on things outside of acting, like her love of animals. At 21, Silverstone could no longer reconcile the hypocrisy she felt eating them. “I had rescued this dog, Sampson, and he was like my boyfriend. I loved him more than anything. And then I was rubbing his leg and I thought, Wow, this leg really feels like the chicken that I just was eating,” she says. “When I made that connection, I thought, Well, why aren’t I eating my dog? I’m sure my leg tastes great, too, but I don’t want anybody to eat it.”
For Silverstone, the impact of going vegan was immediate. After “soothing” stress ulcers with a steady diet of frozen yogurt while filming Clueless, giving up animal products made her feel “so alive and healthy,” but even more so, empowered. “For my generation and the generations before, women struggled with self-worth and being able to stand up and say, ‘I need this. I want this. No, thank you. No, thank you. No, thank you,’” she says. “When I was able to stand up and say no for something that I believed in—oh my God, this was so earth-shattering for me, because now I was standing strong. And somehow, that gave me words that I didn’t have before.” She wrote her first book, The Kind Diet, in 2009, launching her platform The Kind Life, about veganism and sustainability, at the same time. In 2013 she even started a vitamin business, mykind Organics.
But she never totally gave up acting, and a theater experience reminded her why. “I did a David Mamet play, and I just couldn’t deny the fact that I loved acting so much,” she says. “So anything that came with it that I rejected—all the nonsense and all the hard things—I was able to remind myself, Oh, but I actually really love acting.” She began approaching it differently, taking only projects that truly lit her up—part of the reason we didn’t see her much for so long. But in the past few years, that’s changed. And she’s flexing Silverstonian facets we’ve never seen before.
In Reptile, she’s the wife of Benicio Del Toro’s tortured detective, and like a true murderino, she helps him suss out the possible suspects in a brutal murder case. In Perpetrator, she plays the steely Aunt Hildie, helping her teenage niece Jonny through a mysterious, supernatural coming of age. Even though it was cut from the film, there was one particular moment in the script that hooked her. “There’s this one scene where Jonny goes into a house and starts stealing stuff,” she explains. “And when the guy comes home, she has to hide under the bed. He comes in with this young girl, and he doesn’t want to have sex with her on the bed because he doesn’t want to mess up the bed, because of his wife or something. So he does it on the floor and the whole thing is so gross. The girls’ eyes lock, because she’s on the floor and the other one’s under the bed. And they just both say to each other, ‘Are you OK?’ And they both say, ‘Yes.’ And to me, that scene really just got me.”
Something else that’s influenced which projects she chooses is parenthood. In 2011, Silverstone had her son, Bear, with her then-husband, musician Christopher Jarecki. “Being a mom for me has been the greatest thing that’s ever happened. I mean, it’s the deepest love I could ever have,” she says. “I remember that when he would be on my boob breastfeeding, the whole world would stop. It was like there was nowhere I needed to be, nothing I needed to do. My priorities were able to shift in such a beautiful way where it’s like, I’m a mom first.”
Silverstone has been very forthcoming about what some might call her “unconventional” parenting techniques. When she posted a video of herself “baby-birding” Bear in 2012, passing chewed food from her mouth to his, it almost broke the Internet. More recently, she incited a rash of judgey headlines after sharing that the two still co-sleep. When I ask why she thinks the way she parents rankles people so intensely, she segues into a much larger cultural conversation. “I think that Americans in general are so disconnected from themselves, from love. I think it’s an epidemic,” she says. “We’ve made everything so convenient. There’s a pill for this, and a pill for that, and a coffee for this—there’s an outside-yourself solution to everything that doesn’t work, but they just keep doing it. And it’s very profitable.” She points to the way pregnancy was pathologized, the “witch hunt against midwives,” and how women have been told for decades that the only safe place to give birth is in hospitals. “It’s just not accurate at all,” she continues. “There are all these narratives that we get fed. That’s why I don’t trust any of it. You have to dig deeper. I love good doctors. I love science, I really do, but I appreciate when science is actually upheld and not manipulated and given a narrative. With all the things that I do in terms of taking care of my baby, it just depends on the flavor of that day. Sometimes people are OK with it and sometimes they aren’t. Everything I do comes from love and nature and research.”
Not trusting the narratives is part of what’s made her a lightning rod for online criticism when it comes to her political stances as well. After endorsing Bernie Sanders in 2016, her frustration with the system took its toll. In June she announced she was no longer registered as a Democrat but as an independent voter, while simultaneously declaring her support of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., a Democratic presidential candidate, who, depending on where you fall on the spectrum, is either a dangerous, Joe Rogan-adjacent conspiracy theorist or an anti-establishment, non-corporate-shilling leader. Silverstone believes the latter, whether people want to hear her out or not, explaining that she’s been working with Kennedy for years on environmental issues. “I want a kind and just country that I can be proud of, and neither party represents me. They all want us divided and distracted by all these little things so that they can continue to be corrupt. And that is what I’ve been woken up to in a massive way,” she says. “I don’t want to keep picking the best of the worst. Everyone’s like, ‘Oh, there’s these two terrible options. Which one’s the least harmful?’ Enough of that.”
What about the fact that many members of the LGBTQIA+ community oppose Kennedy’s rhetoric suggesting environmental pollution is causing kids to become gay or transgender? “All of my friends are gay, and I have many trans friends, and none of them are upset in real life,” she says, reproaching our culture’s general lack of nuanced discourse. “I think the main thing is that people are not actually doing research. They just hear something and latch onto it. If you want to understand something, you can’t just look it up on Instagram. You can’t just watch CNN or read The New York Times. You’re not going to come up with a nonbiased, non-paid-for point of view. You have to go way deeper,” she says. “I love everyone. I believe that we all want the same things. We all want to love our children, to have a healthy, clean place to live, and we want to have freedom, all of us.”
At this point in her life, Silverstone has become accustomed to media scrutiny and the judgment of strangers. But if I were able to look her in the eyes and ask if she’s OK, it seems that now her answer would certainly be, “Yes.”