Alicia Silverstone: 'I wouldn't wish fame on anyone'

Although she says she was born to act, Alicia Silverstone tells James Rampton that her life as a Hollywood princess hasn't always been a bed of roses

The spooky Traku Voke Palace outside Vilnius, where we are today, has the same ambience as the deserted hotel in The Shining: an isolated, seen-better-days, rambling old country pile. A house but no longer a home, it is teeming with ghosts and completely cut off from the 20th century, let alone the 21st.

So why has the star of such high-profile movies as Clueless, Batman & Robin, True Crime, Love's Labour's Lost and Scooby Doo 2 agreed to take what is doubtless a serious pay cut to headline in an indie pic shot in the empty wastelands of rural Lithuania? Silverstone's answer is short and sweet: sibling rivalry.

Written and directed by debutant film-maker Stephanie Sinclaire, who for the past 18 years has worked at the King's Head Theatre in north London, the movie centres on a pair of preternaturally close sisters, Violet (played by Silverstone) and Grace (Sienna Guillory, from Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Take a Girl Like You).

Locked away from the rest of the world by a fanatically overbearing father, the beautiful blonde sisters have been brought up never to venture outside their dilapidated country estate. They rely only on each other.

Divorced from the outside world and objective reality, they hatch a plan to seduce a random stranger, become pregnant by him and then ditch him. Above all else, it is imperative that the sisters do not fall for this tall, dark and handsome interloper. But when Violet entices home the rugged and alluring Luke (Joe Anderson), things go badly awry. The sisters have not appreciated the cataclysmic effect that letting an outsider into their magic circle will have. In the hedonistic ambience of the decaying house, Violet and Luke embark on a passionate affair.

Maddened by jealousy, and terrified that this will mark the end of her special relationship with Violet, Grace swiftly unravels. She begins by creating paintings depicting Luke as the martyred Saint Sebastian, before eventually taking far more drastic action. As you might expect, this particular fairy-tale romance does not have a happy ending.

An impassioned advocate of animal rights and a card-carrying vegan who was last year voted the world's sexiest female vegetarian, Silverstone is picking at a mushroom risotto she has brought along in a Tupperware box, and swigging from a bottle containing her own herbal concoction.

She is dressed in Violet's bohemian costume of a white silk shirt and vintage-chic ruched purple skirt. With luxuriant blonde locks and cheekbones that many actresses would sell their cosmetic surgeons for, Silverstone looks every inch the sort of femme fatale who could lure a man to his doom.

But, given to thoughtful and serious answers, she is far removed from the stereotypical Hollywood starlet. She starts by outlining the inherent dangers of Violet and Grace's chokingly intimate relationship. "They have been given these amazing tools by their domineering father," she reflects. "If they had been allowed to socialise with them, it would have been great. But as it is, their relationship is claustrophobic and unhealthy. They are so dependent on each other, it is bound to end in tragedy.

"Violet is utterly torn. As soon as she sees Luke, she forgets all about the plan she's made with Grace. She wants to be with both Luke and Grace. She starts to realise that her father's teaching is invalid because it excludes the possibility of love. Violet is desperate to fall in love, to experience the unfamiliar and to see the world outside. She craves adventure. She wills this fantasy romance on herself. At first, it's this crazy crush, but she ends up 100 per cent in love with Luke. It becomes a giddy, uncontrollable love.

"Violet had thought that her way of life was magical and for the greater good, but he challenges that and makes her think, 'what kind of existence do I have if I can't have love?'. Grace encourages Violet to stay with her, but she is selfish in not wanting her sister to live. Grace is like one of those over-protective mothers who feel their daughters don't love them enough."

Violet is a delicate flower, and she exhibits an acute artistic sensibility. "Her whole life is a work of art," Silverstone says. "It's great to lose yourself in that. I'm absolutely in touch with that part of myself. I float between being a bohemian and a punk."

She may have hippie leanings, but at the same time this daughter of British-born parents - an estate agent and an air-hostess - clearly has a good business brain. Brought up in California, Silverstone always yearned to be a performer. She laughs: "I think I was tattooed with the word 'actress' when I came out of Mom's tummy." Her desires were fulfilled in 1992 when - aged 16 - she won a small role in TV's The Wonder Years.

She went on to star in Aerosmith videos and land MTV awards for Best Villain and Breakthrough Performance for 1993's The Crush, in which she played a teenager fixated on an older man. In a precocious move, she sued her parents in order to become an "emancipated minor" and evade child-labour laws that would have restricted the time she could have spent shooting the movie.

But her really big break came two years later when she took the lead as the ultimate Valley girl in Clueless. Her sassy performance as Cher in Amy Heckerling's fizzing transposition of Jane Austen's Emma to modern-day Beverly Hills helped the film gross $250m worldwide.

Hollywood loves nothing better than a proven box-office winner, so at the age of 19 Silverstone was given a $10m acting and producing deal by Columbia Tristar. She set up her own production company, First Kiss, responsible for such movies as 1997's Excess Baggage. For this movie alone she was reportedly paid $3.3m. Not bad pocket money for a teenager.

It has not, however, been entirely plain sailing. After she played a PVC-wrapped Batgirl in Batman & Robin, some critics cruelly dubbed her "Fatgirl". The memory obviously still stings.

"The worst moment was when I was walking through LA airport and saw a group of photographers," the actress recalls. "They suddenly gave chase, screaming, 'Hey, Fatgirl!', and I just had to escape. I ended up hiding in a box. Weird stuff happens a lot in Hollywood. There are so many young girls who are bulimic or anorexic because of all this nonsense about weight. It just seems ridiculous that society judges people by their weight. To me, the only thing that makes someone attractive is if they're a good person."

Silverstone also expresses disappointment that Love's Labour's Lost, Kenneth Branagh's flawed but ambitious 2000 musical reworking of the Shakespeare play, did not set the box office alight.

"The things that move me and excite me aren't necessarily going to be box-office hits all the time," she says. "My favourite film I've ever done was Love's Labour's Lost and I think, in box-office terms, barely one person saw it. But I still think it's the greatest movie, and I don't care if anybody doesn't like it. I saw it in seven different countries and the audience would leave the theatre dancing. I think that's a pretty incredible thing."

Having been forced to do her growing up in public, Silverstone remains ambivalent about life in the limelight - hence she kept her recent wedding very private. Standing barefoot on a beach at a private estate in Lake Tahoe, California, she married her boyfriend, Christopher Jarecki, the lead singer with the rock band STUN. "I like to keep my private life locked away, which is almost impossible in Hollywood," Silverstone sighs. "Fame is not anything I wish on anyone. You start acting because you love it. Then success arrives, and suddenly you're on show."

The actress has an enormous and dedicated cyberspace following - which charts her every move on websites such as alicia-fans.com - but is keen to play it down. Describing herself as "this weird, dorky girl who just hangs out with her dog", Silverstone says that "I am so happy that people think I'm attractive because I don't. I don't think it's accurate. It's a shame that people pigeonhole you.''

Silverstone, 28, has packed a lot into her life so far, but she is not about to slow down. She co-starred with Queen Latifah in Beauty Shop, released earlier this year, and recently headlined in Miss Match, a TV series about a divorce lawyer devised by Darren Star, the creator of Sex and the City. She also took the lead in the Broadway production of The Graduate. Her one unfulfilled aim is to collaborate more regularly with a great Briton. "If Kenneth Branagh had a movie for me every year, I'd feel very settled. But he hasn't made one since Love's Labour's Lost. So if you could just have a word with him..."

But she is also eager to generate more work as a producer. She was recently an executive on Braceface, a successful TV animation series about a schoolgirl with magic braces on her teeth.

"Producing rings different bells," she enthuses. "It's a way to create opportunities for yourself and to stop getting bored. Producing Excess Baggage at the age of 19 was an amazing experience. I was hiring actors like Benicio Del Toro and Christopher Walken. What a trip! Lucky girl, huh?"

'Silence Becomes You' will be released later in the year

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