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Curled up barefoot on a worn bench at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, her Stella McCartney pumps kicked off on the floor, Alicia Silverstone practically vibrates with enthusiasm. The 33-year-old actress can barely sit still as she discusses her current role in the Manhattan Theatre Club production of “Time Stands Still.” First, she’s hugging her knees into her chest, then crossing her legs aimlessly; next thing, she’s jumping up and swinging her arms to demonstrate how acting opposite her co-star Laura Linney is akin to a great tennis match (“I mean, I don’t even know how to play tennis”), then it’s back down again, leaning intently forward, blue eyes widening. You’d think Silverstone had chugged a case of Red Bull.
But her effervescence is as natural as the famously eco-friendly lifestyle she leads (Silverstone is an animal and environmental activist and, as her best-selling book “The Kind Diet” attests, she’s also a devoted vegan who avoids processed and artificial sugar). It’s not hard to see why playwright Donald Margulies — a Pulitzer Prize-winner — sought her out to play the perky Mandy.
In “Time Stands Still,” Linney is Sarah, a wounded photojournalist who has just returned to her Williamsburg, Brooklyn, apartment with her writer boyfriend (Brian d’Arcy James). When her ex-paramour and current editor Richard (Eric Bogosian) comes to visit, he brings along a surprise: his bubbly, event planner girlfriend Mandy (Silverstone), who enters the room like a cheerleader crashing a G-8 summit.
Yet in Silverstone’s hands, Mandy is more than just arm candy. “[Donald] never wanted her to be a ditz. He always said she’s a smart girl,” says the actress as she fiddles with some rings. “She really is a truth teller. She’s not cynical. She’s guileless.”
“I wanted the character to surprise us and defy our expectations, and I think that’s what Alicia’s doing,” says Margulies. “People are calling me going, ‘My god, Alicia Silverstone! The hell with Laura Linney — we knew she could do that. But my god, Alicia Silverstone.’”
They could be forgiven for their reaction. Ever since her breakout role as Cher in “Clueless” at age 18, Silverstone has had a tough time reclaiming her career. After the film’s meteoric success — and Silverstone’s ensuing iconic status — the San Francisco native signed a multimillion-dollar deal to produce, among other things, the forgettable “Excess Baggage.”
“I didn’t know what the f--k I was doing at all,” says Silverstone, who was also criticized for weight gain and poor film choices. “Now I’m like, ‘Why on earth was I doing that?’”
But her newfound fame also brought other opportunities, and before long, Silverstone, a lifelong activist, became an outspoken proponent of what she calls “the food revolution.”
“After ‘Clueless,’ when everything was so scary and freaky, it was always OK with me that I focused more on what was very important to me, which was changing the world,” says Silverstone, who has worked with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Christopher Jarecki, and a slew of rescued dogs. “Maybe three years ago, I realized I can have it all: I can change the world, but I can also be really passionate about what I do as an artist and allow myself to have a wonderful, beautiful life.”
Silverstone has already signed on to Amy Heckerling’s forthcoming project “Vamps,” in which she’ll play a “nice vampire” opposite Krysten Ritter. As for the rest? Simple, really.
“My fantasy scenario is that I get to do a really great play every other year, and one or two amazing films every year — and the rest of the time, just keep trying to make the world happier with healthier foods and education on health and the planet. And be perfectly balanced with time for my husband and dogs, and time to have a baby and be with my friends and travel the world,” says Silverstone, without taking a breath. “I’ll let you know how it goes.”