Alicia Silverstone Was Destined For Big Things, But Here’s Why She Vanished From Our Screens

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Actress Alicia Silverstone became a pop culture icon in the mid-1990s thanks to her starring role in Clueless. But while she appeared destined for a lengthy Hollywood career, she then seemed to disappear back into obscurity almost as quickly as she emerged from it. And it seems that there was purposeful reason why.

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Spotted by director Amy Heckerling in an Aerosmith promo, Silverstone was cast as Clueless’ leading lady during the 1990s. Pretty soon, her performance as Cherilyn ‘Cher’ Horowitz had launched her to worldwide fame. In fact, Silverstone was considered such hot property that she was offered a contract by Columbia-TriStar which was reportedly worth up to $10 million.

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Of course, this lucrative deal came with weighty expectations. And when Silverstone’s next few movies failed to deliver at the box office, her commercial stock plummeted. However, the actress insists that she, not the industry, was responsible for her disappearance from the multiplex. So with all that in mind, here’s a look at her eventful career.

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Silverstone first entered the limelight at the age of just six, after landing various modeling jobs. She soon switched her attention to acting, making her screen debut in 1992 as the dream girl of Fred Savage’s character Kevin Arnold in hit dramedy The Wonder Years. A year later, she ventured into the film world as a vengeful teen in sexually-charged thriller The Crush.

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Proving that she meant business, Silverstone acquired a legal emancipation from her parents in order to fulfill her working commitments on the movie. And her efforts paid off when she picked up Best Villain and Best Breakthrough Performance at 1994’s MTV Movie Awards. Her role in The Crush also attracted the attention of video director Marty Callner.

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Callner subsequently cast Silverstone in a promo for Aerosmith’s “Cryin’.” She also appeared in the videos for “Crazy” and “Amazing,” popping up with Liv Tyler in the former. One particularly impressed viewer of all this work was Amy Heckerling, a filmmaker looking for the lead in her next movie Clueless.

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Heckerling believed that Silverstone would be perfect for the role of rich girl Cherilyn ‘Cher’ Horowitz in the rough adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. And, in the end, her intuition paid off. The film became a massive critical and commercial hit in 1995, propelling Silverstone right on to the A-list.

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In a 2017 interview with Variety, Silverstone admitted that she initially found all the new-found attention difficult to deal with. She said, “I was young and I thought it was really overwhelming and it was really intense… When it’s like, ‘That’s Alicia Silverstone!’ everywhere I went, it was a lot for a little person. But then life goes on and you figure it out.”

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Silverstone also revealed that Clueless very nearly didn’t get made at all. She recalled, “One studio said no to it. They didn’t think anyone was interested in watching a movie about a young girl. Those people now kick themselves that they were not part of that film. They were like, ‘We don’t think anybody is going to care. It’s not going to sell tickets.’”

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Speaking to The Guardian in 2015, Silverstone dismissed any talk of her leading role in Clueless being a lightweight one. “If you look at what makes that movie so good, it’s because of the complexity of the character Cher,” she insisted. “If you were watching a girl just run around and bounce around, you wouldn’t like the movie so much. That’s what I’ve become good at, layering in the heart, layering in the complexity.”

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However, in another interview with Entertainment Tonight in 2017, Silverstone revealed that she initially struggled to get to grips with who Cher was. She said, “When I grew up I did not like these kinds of girls. I could not stand them, so it was hard for me to even, like, get into this character because that was something I’ve always hated.”

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Striking while the iron was hot, Silverstone also graced three other movies in 1995. She played the daughter of a revived dead man in Hideaway, appeared as a young Frenchman’s romantic interest in Le Nouveau and starred in B-movie The Babysitter. She also set up her own production company and landed a money-spinning deal with the studio Columbia-TriStar.

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A straight-to-video thriller called True Crime followed in 1996. And a year later Silverstone assumed the role of Batgirl in Batman and Robin. The latter film, however, proved to be just one of several monumental flops in her career. The comic book adaptation was even nominated at the Razzie Awards, with Silverstone receiving the unwanted accolade of Worst Supporting Actress.

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Silverstone’s Hollywood reputation also took a blow when her production company’s first movie flopped with critics and audiences alike. In fact, Excess Baggage only took a measly $14.5 million at the domestic box office. Respected critic Roger Ebert offered faint praise in his review, describing Silverstone as “no better than okay.”

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Released in 1999, Blast from the Past fared a little better. But on entering a new century, Silverstone decided to focus her efforts on less commercial fare. She appeared in Kenneth Branagh’s take on William Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, provided a voiceover in and executive produced animation Braceface, and graced the Broadway stage in The Graduate. She also took parts in smaller movies such as Global Heresy and Scorched.

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In 2003 Silverstone took on her first major recurring TV role, playing Kate Fox in Miss Match. The actress picked up a Golden Globe nomination for her portrayal of the matchmaking attorney. But sadly, the awards recognition wasn’t enough to save the show. NBC took the romantic dramedy off the air after just 11 episodes.

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Silverstone returned to multiplexes in 2004 when she played a villainous news correspondent in Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. She was then cast as a high-spirited salon stylist in 2005 comedy film Beauty Shop. Indeed, this Barbershop spinoff would prove to be her final widely released North American picture of the decade.

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But Silverstone didn’t go completely AWOL. She appeared in straight-to-DVD thriller Silence Becomes You, put in a supporting turn in young adult movie Stormbreaker, and starred as a single mother in Hallmark TV movie Candles on Bay Street. Silverstone also added to her theatrical resume with parts in Boston Marriage and Speed-the-Plow.

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In the late ’00s, Silverstone officially became a writer, after she penned vegan nutritional guide The Kind Diet. She also cameoed in Tropic Thunder and Rob Thomas’ promo for “Her Diamonds.” And she also joined Megan Mullally in an unsuccessful pilot named Bad Mother’s Handbook. But it was in the 2010s where Silverstone’s acting career finally got back on track.

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After appearing in festival hits The Art of Getting By and Butter, Silverstone enjoyed two Clueless reunions. She first joined forces again with Heckerling on indie horror Vamps, before sharing the screen with Jeremy Sisto on sitcom Suburgatory. Silverstone then impressed with her comedic turn in Broadway production The Performers.

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Silverstone’s prolific streak continued with roles in coming-of-age indie Angels in Stardust, rom-com Who Gets the Dog? and porn industry exposé King Cobra. She went on to appear in revenge flick Catfight, kids’ sequel Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul and drama The Tribes of Palos Verdes. And in 2017 a future Academy Awards favorite came calling.

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Silverstone was cast in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, a film by Oscar-nominated director Yorgos Lanthimos. The movie was recognized at the Cannes Film Festival, where it competed for the prestigious Palme d’Or. However, Silverstone’s return to TV in American Woman didn’t achieve quite the same level of success. It was pulled by the Paramount Network after just a single season.

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Silverstone soon got back to winning ways with a supporting role as Diane Keaton’s strong-willed daughter in Book Club. A year later she showed up in horror movie The Lodge and the short film It Takes A Long Time to Get There. Of course, Silverstone has almost become just as renowned for her activism as her acting career.

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After adopting a vegan lifestyle in 1998, Silverstone appeared to make it her mission to convert others. In 2007 she posed nude for a PETA commercial promoting vegetarianism. And she repeated the stunt for an anti-wool campaign nine years later. She’s also established a rescued animals sanctuary in Los Angeles. And she once wrote to Vladimir Putin imploring that prisoners in Russia have access to vegan meals.

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And Silverstone hasn’t been afraid to speak out on other weighty issues, too. Over the years, she’s publicly endorsed or contributed to the presidential campaigns of Denis Kucinich, Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders. The actress has also come under fire for her vocal support of the highly controversial anti-vaccine movement.

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All in all, Silverstone has an acclaimed stage career, various film and TV commitments, and a sideline as an activist. Yet she’s still seen by many as someone who failed to live up to their early potential. However, according to the actress, her withdrawal from the spotlight at the turn of the century was her own decision.

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In 2015 Silverstone revealed that during the height of her fame, she started to shift her focus elsewhere. She told The Guardian, “I was just a theatre kid. I never wanted to be in movies or TV. There’s no support or schooling on what do you do when you suddenly found yourself famous as a young woman. It was just too much for me. So I decided I would use this to spotlight something that is very meaningful to me.”

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Saving the entire planet subsequently became Silverstone’s rather lofty ultimate goal. As she put it, “I went on a quest to change the world, to make things better – for children, for the Earth, for animals. I wasn’t paying attention to my career, I was paying attention to something else.”

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Considering the negative publicity she received for her post-Clueless films, you can’t blame Silverstone for wanting to leave Hollywood behind. In a 2018 chat with Vanity Fair, the actress reflected on one particularly cruel period. Following her presenting stint at the 1996 Oscars, the press started to comment on her weight.

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“She looked more Babe than babe,” was how a body-shaming Entertainment Weekly writer discussed her appearance at the Academy Awards. And it wasn’t just the critics who were poking fun at her weight, either. While shooting Batman and Robin, rumors began to circulate that the actress was struggling to fit in her Batgirl costume. And the film’s storyboard artist then made matters worse.

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“I heard that she was in the costume department being synched into a corset to fit into what they were going to try to do the costume,” Tim Burgard told the Hollywood Reporter in 2017. “So I did a cartoon of what I thought that looked like… It was a private joke, just the guys in the art department.” Unfortunately, things escalated when the sketch was discovered by a production assistant.

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Referring to all the talk of her appearance, Silverstone recalled to Vanity Fair, “It was a real turnoff for me because I was a rebellious teenager. When I was having my crazy moments post-Clueless, I was being called ‘Fat Girl.’ It didn’t make me think, ‘Oh yes, I’m going to try really hard to be [what you think I should be].’”

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Instead, Silverstone decided to stick it to her biggest detractors. She told the magazine, “I had no interest in being famous or maintaining any kind of fame. If you told me that acting meant I was going to be called fat and have to do things a certain way, then I was like, ‘F*** off.’”

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Understandably, a disillusioned Silverstone subsequently decided to hand more power to her behind-the-scenes team. “It was all so complicated and hard,” she admitted to Vanity Fair about her brief stint on Hollywood’s A-list. Thankfully, however, Silverstone later realized that she could still pursue an acting career – but while doing things her way.

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Silverstone discussed this lightning bulb moment in 2015, telling The Guardian, “One day I went, ‘Wait, I want to act, too, what’s going on?’ There’s a lot more to it that obviously is personal and private. But that’s where I’m at. I can happily have a husband and a child and a life, and I get to contribute in a really meaningful way to the world and I also get to be an actress.”

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In a 2018 interview with As If, Silverstone admitted that she should’ve been a little choosier at the peak of her fame. She said, “Clueless was my ninth movie, and I was honestly tired at that point. I had been working back to back and I didn’t have anyone around me to say, ‘Let’s slow down and be more selective from an experienced point of view.’”

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Silverstone also acknowledged that she also took her eye off the ball when it came to her own production company. She added, “If I could go back in time, I would be much more selective with the scripts I took on, the directors I worked with, and the team I surrounded myself with. That’s one way I could have been less anxious.”

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Thankfully, Silverstone appears to have learned from her past mistakes. She went on to tell As If, “Today, I just want to play with the most amazing people that I can play with. I am a little bit like a stallion who has been chained down, and I’m ready to run.”

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And there will be plenty of chances to see Silverstone on screen in the near future. She will play a woman hellbent on putting a stop to the wedding of her brother and his French girlfriend in The Pleasure of Your Presence. Silverstone will also star alongside Rob Corddry as a married couple undergoing therapy in comedy Judy Small.

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And you should also be prepared to feel old when you see Silverstone in 2020 series The Baby-Sitter’s Club. In this Netflix reboot, the actress who played one of the ’90s most iconic teens will now herself play the mother of a teenage girl. Indeed, Silverstone will appear as Elizabeth Thomas-Brewer in the live-action adaptation of Ann M. Martin’s hugely popular books.

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