Byline: Alison Oneacre
NEW YORK — “It’s so much fun when somebody messes up!” gasps Alicia Silverstone before launching into a story about the previous night’s performance of “The Graduate” in Boston. An actor missed his cue and left her character, Elaine Robinson, alone on stage. “I couldn’t ad-lib because I’m standing on the street. I would have been talking to myself,” she squeals in a phone interview with WWD from her hotel room. “So I just waited and Jason [Biggs] finally came out. The audience had no idea whatsoever but it made for a really exciting moment.”
Not exactly words one would expect from an actress who admits that she was so nervous she “wanted to puke” after her first performance opposite costars Kathleen Turner (Mrs. Robinson) and Biggs (Benjamin Braddock). But then again, neither Silverstone nor her career has ever been predictable — including her upcoming appearance on Broadway. After touring to sold-out audiences in Baltimore, Toronto and Boston, “The Graduate,” adapted from the 1963 Charles Webb novel and directed by Terry Johnson, opens in previews at the Plymouth Theater tomorrow for a six-month run.
Over the phone, Silverstone, 25, sounds remarkably like her most famous character to date, Cher, the indomitable Beverly Hills blond who rocketed her to fame in 1995’s “Clueless.” Although it’s her only day off after eight performances in six days, she’s like a caffeinated sorority president, zipping candidly from one topic to the next with disarming charm and frequent self-conscious giggles.
“I just love being Elaine,” she gushes. “Every night I do it differently. I feel very, very close to Elaine in terms of her needing to break out of her existing life. I can definitely relate to how she didn’t have a lot of self-worth. She doesn’t have any concept that she can do what she wants to do and that she can get out. But she’s on the right path.”
Silverstone defers from comparing her own life too closely to Elaine’s, saying that her life is complicated. However, after watching her own star rise so quickly in Hollywood, the actress is intimately acquainted with the downside of fame. In 1996, while filming “Batman and Robin,” the media bared its fangs scrutinizing her love-life, her strained relationship with director Joel Schumacher and most aggressively, her weight.
“At the time, I wasn’t able to take it in personally,” says Silverstone. “I took it as if they’re going to say that Alicia — I couldn’t even see it as myself — if you’re going see this girl from ‘Clueless,’ this really skinny girl as fat, then what does that say to every young person that’s fatter than me? Because I wasn’t fat. I was this really cute little girl who had a really cute healthy figure.”
Silverstone says that at her young age, she was not even ready to be looking at her body the way the press already was. The message the media put out for her teenage fans disgusted her. “I don’t know if those people had children or not but they were doing that to them,” she says. “They were doing something very damaging. But most of those people are really damaged anyway. People who sit around and make a living off of commenting on people’s bodies tend to have something wrong with them. That’s not a job I’d pick!” After “Batman and Robin,” she kept a low profile in Hollywood, taking roles in smaller films like 1999’s “Blast from the Past” and the upcoming “Scorched.” She also discovered a new passion, veganism. (She’s already converted six of her colleagues on “The Graduate” set.)
“I want the whole world to go vegetarian,” she says. “The coolest thing is when I became vegan, I didn’t have to worry about that s–t [weight issues] anymore anyway. I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want and as much of it as I want. So it’s the good karma of being a conscious person. You get to be skinny and happy and healthy.”
Having endured the wrath of the press, did this theater neophyte nurse any residual anxieties about accepting the role of Elaine?
“I’ll never ever, ever, ever make a decision in my life based on how somebody else is going to accept it or deal with it,” she says. “That’s something every human being struggles with — getting over their insecurities and self-worth issues and accepting that you can’t do things for other people’s approval. You just can’t live like that, especially with work.”
For the record, Silverstone has received positive critical reviews for her portrayal of Elaine ranging from “endearingly sweet” to “likely to inspire adoration in all but the most glacier-hearted audience members.” She claims that the close relationships she’s made with Turner and Biggs have left an indelible impression.
“It’s not like a family, ‘Woo Woo, we’re all best friends,”‘ she says. “There’s so much respect for each other. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.” Much of that experience has to do with Turner, whom Silverstone calls a nurturing and good woman. “Every day before the show, she walks around to each person and says ‘Gonna have a great show’ and gives them a hug. It sounds weird but you have that little moment of warmth. It’s nice to connect before.”
Biggs’ antics provide the comic relief. Silverstone says she has a hard time keeping a straight face opposite him. “We just start laughing and laughing backstage and picking on each other. Then, the curtain comes up and you’re like aaaah!”