‘It wasn’t some crazy thing’: Alicia Silverstone on acting and what the world thinks of her parenting
The voice is unmistakable. It’s the same one that has announced the giveaway of dozens of free cars. The one that can make anyone — “John Tra-vol-tahhhh!” “Tom Cuh-ru-ooze!” “Celine Dee-onnnn!” — sound as if they’re about to enter the gladiator’s arena.
It’s the voice of Oprah Winfrey. She’s sitting smack-dab in the middle of a very public patio at a very trendy vegan restaurant in West Hollywood during peak Sunday brunch hour. And she has spotted A-leeeee-shaaaa Silverstone at the table next to her.
Alicia Silverstone, as it turns out, was a guest on Winfrey’s now-defunct talk show in 2010 to talk about her passion for the vegan lifestyle. So after singing the actress’ name, she waves her over for a brief chat.
“I’m so happy to see you at this restaurant,” Silverstone says, referring to Gracias Madre, the organic, plant-based Mexican spot that serves chorizo made from tempeh and cheese formed with cashews.
“Alicia is a very famous vegan,” Winfrey advises her table mate, who happens to be “Selma” filmmaker Ava DuVernay.
After a quick hug goodbye, Silverstone returns to her table.
“It was really nice of her to say hi,” Silverstone, 40, says. “It was so helpful being on her show when I had my first book out. She loved my recipe with quinoa and pine nuts, which is divine. And I think I made my leek and artichoke and mushroom crostini, which is divine. Anyway, she liked it all.”
If you know anything about Silverstone, here’s betting that it’s: A) She played the iconic Valley girl Cher Horowitz in 1995’s “Clueless” or B) That she’s a vegan.
That’s because after shooting to fame at age 18 in Amy Heckerling’s classic high school comedy, Silverstone started to have mixed feelings about Hollywood. She found the attention she gained after “Clueless” overwhelming, and made a conscious decision to shift her focus elsewhere: her passion for animals and the environment.
So she wrote two books — one about her vegan diet and the other about raising children. She started a vitamin line, MyKind Organics. And she launched a lifestyle blog, sharing stories and videos about her experience raising her now 6-year-old son, Bear Blu.
But as the years passed, she started thinking about acting again. She began to dip her toe in, slowly, appearing in indie films and a few theater productions in New York. And then, a deluge: the lead role in “American Woman,” a television series based on the life of “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Kyle Richards, which will debut next year. A small part in “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” the latest movie from critical-darling Yorgos Lanthimos, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this week. And her first studio picture in 12 years: “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul,” the third installment in 20th Century Fox’s kid franchise that hit theaters last weekend.
In “Wimpy Kid,” Silverstone plays the matriarch of a family headed on a road-trip to a relative’s 90th birthday celebration. She’s eager for the trip to serve as a bonding experience, urging her three sons to turn off their electronics and pressing her husband (Tom Everett Scott) to tune out work.
Silverstone had to audition for the role, and expressed during the audition how strongly she personally felt about keeping electronic devices out of the home.
“I told them that my kid goes to a school where they don’t use electronics,” she recalls. “We do not want little people on devices. Airports and airplanes? Yes. That’s what they’re made for. But not during the week when they can be out playing and out in the world and enjoying life. So after the audition, I worried, ‘They probably think I’m a little extreme.’”
Instead, producer Nina Jacobson remembers that the filmmaking team was in awe of Silverstone’s parenting. On set her son was a constant presence, and the actress was somehow able to both film her scenes and tend to Bear without a nanny.
“She was able to be a mom and play the part of the mom at the same time, and I was super impressed,” Jacobson says. “It’s particularly impressive because she is a purist about technology, so he was never on an iPhone or an iPad. He was always doing some healthy, age-appropriate play. I think we were all like, ‘Wow, she’s a better parent than I am.’”
Not that Silverstone hasn’t suffered critics. After she posted a 2012 video of herself chewing food for Bear and then feeding it to him via her mouth — a practice known as premastication — the clip quickly went viral. “Good Morning America” even did a segment on the video: “Alicia Silverstone Feeding Baby Mouth-to-Mouth Video Spurs Debate, Is it Safe, Healthy?”
“It turns out, of course, that it’s good for babies — that bacteria. Everything about it is completely healthy and wonderful,” she says, sipping on some green juice. “It wasn’t some crazy thing. It just wasn’t something people were aware of, so I can understand it freaked them out. But I just thought it was love.”
Even so, Silverstone says she’s long past trying to turn others onto her sometimes unconventional methods. If others are curious about her diet, she typically refers them to her books instead of diving into a lecture.
“If you want to talk to her about it, she’s happy to talk to you about it, but if you’re eating a hamburger, she’s not a buzz kill,” says David Bowers, who directed Silverstone in “Wimpy Kid” and helped track down vegan-friendly makeup and clothing for her. “The first two days on set we shot a scene in a restaurant, and she had vegan fried chicken and mashed potatoes on her plate. But one of the other actors must have had a pound of sliced ham on his plate. And she was OK. I don’t think she loved it, but she didn’t complain.”
In many respects, Silverstone says, she’s become far more flexible about her beliefs than she initially imagined she’d ever be. On the “American Woman” set, she agreed to try on a fur coat, but eventually transitioned to faux fur because, she says, all her “energy dropped with that carcass on.” And she lets Bear — who considers a box of apple juice or pre-packaged hummus a treat — have sugar once a week.
“There are moments where that naggy thing happens,” she admits. “But I remember when he was little, he would say things like, ‘Mommy, if I just eat more vegetables, I’ll feel better.’ Words of wisdom by little Bear Blu. He knows he’ll get a little rash on his leg, a little itchy thing, if he’s eating sugar. Or he knows from his poop. When he eats funny, he can’t poop as easily, and it starts to get harder or runnier.”
Being vocal about her lifestyle choices has, in part, emboldened her in her acting career too. She credits her experience on the stage — most recently appearing in a 2012 Broadway production of “The Performers” — for giving her a new sense of confidence on-screen.
“I remember when I was younger, they would say I was very good at being very real, but often they would say, ‘We can’t hear you,’” she says. “And one time, in theater, Danny DeVito was directing me and he said ‘Bring it down!’ So that’s what happens now. I’m able to give so many different colors. You just go all in and so then they can say, ‘Oh, that’s a bit arch’ and I can say, ‘I know, isn’t that fun?’ and I can bring it down.”
Follow me on Twitter @AmyKinLA
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