LOS ANGELES --In the daring new movie Love's Labor's Lost, beautiful blonde Alicia Silverstone stars as the French princess in a musical in which she has to sing, dance and spout Shakespeare all at once.
"Growing up in the suburbs of San Francisco, there was a tiny risk that I might turn out to be a `Jewish American Princess,'" laughingly admits the actress during a recent interview, while sipping hot tea in the corner bar at the Four Seasons Hotel.
For the 23-year-old actress and star of such films as Clueless and Batman and Robin (she was Batgirl), the princess role is "the most ambitious " she's ever tackled.
Silverstone's rise to fame came early in her life. First there was modeling as a 6year-old. Then at the age of 15, she did a guest spot as Fred Savage's dream girl in TV's "The Wonder Years."
At that age she moved into her manager's Hollywood home so she could concentrate on a show business career. Her first feature role was in the short-lived flick, The Crush (l993), in which she played a man-obsessed teenager. She also showed up on three music videos for the rock group Aerosmith.
But her role as the sweet, quintessential, Beverly Hills Jewish teenager Cher Horowitz in the l995 movie Clueless (an update of Jane Austen's Emma) was what made the film industry--and fans--take notice.
In her personal life, Silverstone was rarely clueless. She grew up in an upper-middle class home in Redwood City, California, where she and her family attended Temple Beth Jacob. Her parents encouraged her to pursue her ambitions.
She has fond memories of her childhood. "I was reared in a traditional Jewish household," Silverstone recalls. "We lit candles Friday night and had seders. My brother David and I went to Hebrew school and had our bar mitzvahs. I have wonderful memories of my bat mitzvah."
Silverstone comes from an international background. Her father Monty, a real estate businessman from London, is Jewish. When he moved to Florida, he met his Scottish-born wife Didi, a Pan Am flight attendant, who was Christian. She converted to Judaism before they were married, and Silverstone spent her formative years in several San Francisco Bay area communities where she "often" went to temple with her 93-year-old grandfather Sidney Silver.
Silverstone is "very proud" of her Jewish heritage. Although she has not been observant recently, the actress says she often has thought about being more so.
"Recently I went back to temple to see how I felt about Judaism now that I'm more mature," Silverstone says. "Judaism turned me into who I am today, and I definitely feel I live a very spiritual life. I got that from my parents."
Love's Labor's Lost is set in the late 1930s. Director/writer/star Kenneth Branagh has ambitiously married Shakespeare's prose with some of the most popular works of George and Ira Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter. What you get is one of those Hollywood college flicks of the '30s and '40s--think Rudy Vallee meets Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.
The golden-haired Silverstone confesses that she felt lucky to land the part.
"I wanted to be in this movie no matter what," she confides. "Then I started worrying about whether I could keep up with the rest of them. What if they figure out that I can't sing? I was even afraid to sing in the shower. The terror was so exciting it was like a drug," admits the actress, who was sporting eye-catching black leather pants, a gray silk blouse and high heels.
Nonethless, Silverstone pulled it off. "She took a big, brave leap," observes Branagh. "She has naturalness, plus she's a great light comedienne with enormous energy and talent."
As for her career, her Clueless success landed her a $10-million multi-picture deal with Columbia Pictures. Silverstone's recent films include Excess Baggage (l997)--which she also produced--and Blast From the Past (l999), both of which came and went quickly.
Silverstone admits that her reputation in Hollywood is more for the movies she's rejected than the ones she's done.
Right now, she says, "I'm in a strange place. I'm too young to play the leading man's girlfriend and too old for teen roles"
Silverstone's First Kiss Productions has four film projects in the works.
Meanwhile, Silverstone, an animal rights activist, lives in a comfortable house in the unfashionable San Fernando Valley, with her two dogs Samson and Peanut Butter.
As for her private life, she has been steadily dating musician Christopher Jarecki.
Silverstone says that she copes with the onrush of fame by simply "trying to be as normal as possible. I have a strong sense of what fame is and it's totally different from what I am.
"I'm not my career, and my career is not me. If I'm not doing a film, it doesn't upset me not to work. I'm more interested in working on myself and being the best person I can be."