Alicia Silverstone

Born 1976

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ALICIA SILVERSTONE was born into wealth and privilege to British parents, and became a Hollywood star. Little did she realise that back home she had a secret sister brought up in foster homes

Alicia Silverstone

May 2005

Alicia Silverstone has been around for so long that it is hard to believe she is only 28. She started modelling when she was eight, starred in her first film at 15, and made her name playing the superficial yet kind-hearted teenager Cher in the hit movie Clueless when she was just 18.

She is slim and gorgeous with a flawless complexion the standard Hollywood look and it is hard to believe that, after her role as Batgirl in Batman & Robin, for which she was required to put on weight, she would be faced with chants of 'Fat girl! Fat girl!' wherever she went.

She recalls:

'It hurt at the time but I just hope that I was an example to other young girls and showed them that you can be five or ten pounds overweight and still star in a movie.

    'There was a point when I was so sick and disenchanted with every film studio's demand for physical perfection, that I thought it would be a good thing for all young girls to eat burgers and sweets as a form of rebellion. But I don't think that any more, because it's not healthy. Although I refuse to subject my body to two hours on a treadmill every day just to get hired.'

Miss Silverstone knows all about being healthy. A committed vegan, she arranges for us to meet in a Los Angeles restaurant frequented by the young and pretty, and which offers a mind-boggling array of organic dishes. It comes as no surprise when she orders a non-dairy smoothie.

Once, when she was asked to describe herself, her summing up ran to just three words: 'deep, selfless, passionate'. Which goes some way to explaining why she once smuggled all her empty water bottles from her London hotel room back to California, fearing that they wouldn't be recycled otherwise. 'I've got to save the world,' she said.

She is a curious combination of perkiness and bite. Her perkiness enables her to put a positive spin on almost everything, while her bite emerges when you delve, in her opinion, too deeply into 'personal matters', which really don't seem that personal at all. But, given that she has worked in showbusiness most of her life, perhaps she deems such defence mechanisms necessary.

She begins perkily enough, however, discussing her latest film, Beauty Shop, a hit comedy in the U.S., starring Queen Latifah and Kevin Bacon. It's a lively enough movie with Alicia playing the lone white hairdresser, Lynn, in Queen Latifah's salon, although both are somewhat overshadowed by Bacon's narcissistic hairstylist, Jorge.

Says Alicia:

    'Oh, he was just so funny. I had trouble keeping it together whenever he was on set. It was a great job to have. I got to sit in my trailer for hours and read a lot and organise my filing cabinets,' making it sound anything but a great time. 'It would be wonderful to do a sequel.'

Still, when you've worked for as many years as Alicia has, then any free time you can get to sort out your filing cabinets must seem like a blessing, although it's baffling why anyone would want to take them to work and install them in their trailer.

After the success of Clueless, which took 150 million at the box office, Alicia landed a 7 million multi-picture development deal, and produced her first film at 19.

She has worked non-stop ever since, sometimes successfully, as in Kenneth Branagh's Love's Labour's Lost, and sometimes not so successfully, as in Batman & Robin, which flopped. Her last TV series, Miss Match, was taken off the air after just one series, although she earned a Golden Globe nomination and rave reviews for her role as a divorce lawyer by day and matchmaker by night.

She has packed a lot into a short space of time and gives the impression of being much older than her years. She says:

    'I love my life and I think I have a sense of balance now, but I've learned to play, too, which is something I never used to do. I started working when I was eight; I've always wanted to work so I don't feel I've missed out on a childhood. I was independent from the word go, and I can remember being mature for my age from about the time I was four. I was always being told what an old soul I was and was desperate to be out there working. I worked in a bakery at the age of 12 just to earn some extra money and show my dad that I could be self-sufficient. He was a very successful businessman and maybe I just wanted to prove a point.'

Alicia's father, Monty, is a British-born property developer, while her mother, Didi, is a former Pan Am stewardess from Dunfermline, Scotland. The couple met in Florida, and Alicia and her older brother, David, were brought up in San Francisco. Says Alicia:

    'My mum's job meant that she was away quite a bit My dad worked long hours, too. Not that that was ever a problem or anything. I think it was a very European upbringing and Europeans tend to grow up faster than Americans. My parents were always really encouraging about the arts, but never pushy. We'd go to the theatre and see plays, and they'd also send me to summer camp, which I liked. Mum would be away for a bit, but then we all used to go on vacations, which was good.'

At the age of 13, she discovered that she had an elder sister, Kezi, living in London. Kezi, the child of a relationship that Monty Silverstone had before he married Didi, couldn't have had a more different upbringing from her famous sister. For while Alicia was brought up in a secure home in relative affluence in the States, Kezi spent her childhood moving between several different foster homes, her mother unable to cope with the rigours of bringing up a child on her own after Monty left her just months after Kezi's birth.

In an interview earlier this year, Kezi said, 'It wasn't much of a childhood', although it is interesting to note that, like Alicia, Kezi also started modelling (though not until she was in her teens) and did some acting, too, with small roles in Footballers' Wives and Jonathan Creek. Now, she is best known for her musical career, having had a hit with her single What A Feeling.

But it was not until she was 18 that Kezi decided to contact Barnardos to try to trace her father (who, unbeknown to her, was also trying to find her), and in 1990, when Kezi was 19 and Alicia 13, they finally met. Alicia was told by her father, at first, that Kezi was a distant cousin (he wanted the girls to get to know one another before telling Alicia that she had a half-sister). After Kezi had returned to England, Alicia's father eventually came clean and told his youngest daughter the truth. She phoned Kezi straight away and, incredibly for someone so young and seemingly without a hint of rancour, told her, 'I've always wanted a big sister.'

Alicia is cagey when discussing her family, particularly this aspect of her childhood, but she admits that she and Kezi:

    'get along really well. We all spent Christmas together the whole family and Kezi's boyfriend, too. Unfortunately, we only had four days together, as I had to go to Lithuania to do a film, but it was great. We've always felt very bonded, right from the start, and no, I never felt jealous when I heard that I had a sister and it wasn't a shock to me at all.

    'We became psychologically connected very quickly. Kezi lives in England and I'm out here, so although we kept in touch, it hasn't always been easy to meet up. But over the years, we've spent a lot of time together. One of our cousins died in the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, and although that was a horrible time, it was also when a lot of families were able to reconnect...

    'It was so strange, but ever since I was a young girl, any chance I could get to hang around an older girl and be her friend, I would take it. When I was two, I was hanging out with five-year-olds, so maybe somewhere, subconsciously, I knew I had an older sister.'

When asked if they've ever discussed their respective childhoods, Alicia clams up 'this is getting way too personal' but she admits that they will

    'see each other in the summer and Kezi will probably come out here. We have a very sisterly relationship and I'm really proud of her. I love her music I think she has a great voice.'

And has Alicia seen Kezi acting on TV yet? She looks startled.

    'Kezi' acts? I didn't know she was an actress. Why wouldn't she tell me? I knew she'd done plays and musicals when she was younger, but I didn't know she was on TV, too.'

Alicia's own professional career began at the tender age of six, when her father took some snapshots of her lying on a sheepskin rug in a bathing suit, and thought that his daughter had a future as a model. She modelled for a few years, an experience she claims not to have particularly enjoyed, but which 'enabled me to pay for acting classes. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to act and my dad was really encouraging.'

Alicia says that she loved acting lessons because:

    'they were so cathartic both for me and for the others. At school, everyone was walking around as normal, but in acting class, people were sobbing about whatever experiences they had and were really opening up, which I found very inspiring and therapeutic.'

Why would someone so young require therapy or catharsis? She sighs:

    'Oh, you know. Everyone has to sort out stuff in their own head and I don't really remember what I was thinking about when I was 12.'

At 15, she won her first movie role, as a teenager obsessed with a journalist twice her age in the film The Crush. While making the film, she caused a stir by going to court to became 'legally emancipated' from her parents and declared an adult, in order to get around child labour laws that would have interfered with her working hours.

The action, supported by her parents, was described in many newspapers as a 'divorce', something that still rankles with Alicia who insists that she:

    'wanted to work and absolutely loved doing Crush. I wanted that job and 1I would have done absolutely anything to get it. All it meant was that I could legally give up school and work 23 hours a day as a slave. Anyway, I was 15, living by myself and making a movie with Cary Elwes who wouldn't have fun doing that?'

The Crush was followed by several appearances in Aerosmith videos, a few TV shows and then her role in Clueless, which shot her to worldwide fame.

After that, it was perhaps inevitable that a backlash would ensue and it did, almost immediately. Her first film venture as a producer, on the movie Excess Baggage, which she co-starred with Benicio Del Toro was a flop, as was her next film, Blast From The Past.

Then came Batman & Robin, which Alicia starred as Batgirl opposite George Clooney and Chris O'Donnell a film notable for the vitriol of the reviews and the harsh assessment of Alicia's figure, encased as it was for much of the film in a skintight catsuit.

    "Well, of course it hurt because I'm only human, but I looked at the people who were shouting "Fat girl!" at me and I thought it was ridiculous because they didn't look so great either. And then I felt that I didn't care what anyone said about me any more, and that even if I lost my career, I was going to do exactly what I wanted to do.

    'The irony was that I became a vegan out of personal choice, and my body just got so healthy and skinny, and my skin became radiant, that I started looking fabulous anyway. So it all worked out in the end.'

And does Alicia think that far too much emphasis is put on looks these days, to the point where plastic surgery in Hollywood has got out of control? She screws up her face.

    'I think it's a boring subject and I just don't care. I don't want to have surgery myself, but I don't want to judge people who do. And I'd rather talk about more interesting things anyway.'

Which is all very well, except that the things that are interesting are the subjects she clams up on. She has been seeing Chris Jarecki, the singer of punk band S.T.U.N., for several years but won't talk about him; and, predictalbly when asked about rumours of on-set rormances with Benicio Del Toro and Kenneth Branagh insists, 'Just write that they're all true'', in a tone that gives absolutely nothing away.

But she does admit that she would eventually like to start a family:

    'I'm obsessed with babies. I'd like to adopt and I'd like to have my own children, but I really don't know if I'd give up vork to look after them. I know I wouldn't want to be working on a show and bringing up children, because I don't want to be the kind of mum who pats her kids on the head and then goes off to work all day.

    'I'd love to raise a family on a farm and grow my own food, and grow my hair down to my ankles and be a kind of punk-rock hippy.'

Just don't expect Alicia to tell you about it when she does. That's too personal.

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scattered dreams uk dvd | scorched uk dvd
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