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Out of the Archives, 1997: Alicia Silverstone on Loving England and Playing Batgirl

Alicia Silverstone stars in three new films this year – the terror/adventure The Requin (on Amazon), the comedy Senior Year and soon, the crime drama Reptile. Some time ago, the journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press interviewed her twice, in 1997: when she was 20 years old, about playing Batgirl in Batman & Robin directed by Joel Schumacher – with George Clooney as Batman and Chris O’Donnell as Robin –  and when she had produced, through her company, First Kiss Productions, the romantic comedy Excess Baggage in which she acted opposite Benicio del Toro.

Silverstone talked about her relationship to Batgirl prior to taking on the role of the young superhero in the movie Batman & Robin:I never saw Yvonne Craig as Batgirl in the television series Batman that was originated in the 1960s (1966-1968) and for me re-ran in the 80s, unfortunately I never knew Batgirl existed, but I was a big fan of Cat Woman, of the Joker and the Penguin, I loved the villains and I watched that series all the time. So when Joel Schumacher called me and asked me, ‘Do you want to be Batgirl?’ I thought, “Of course, why wouldn’t I want to be Batgirl? It sounds great.’ Mostly I got excited because he told me I’d be working with Michael Gough who played Alfred and is the sweetest, most gentle, most professional, wonderful man, and the relationship that Barbara Wilson has to her uncle is what drives her to be Batgirl.”

The young actress was glad to prove that Batgirl was as powerful as Batman and Robin: “It’s really great that this character allows women to be as strong as men, because I personally don’t believe that men are any stronger than women. Maybe in physical strength, but when you stick this black suit on all three characters, it doesn’t matter what gender we are. We’re all the same, we all have the same powers, and we are all fighting for something that we believe in, which comes from a good place. It’s really important for young people to realize that, if you’re a girl, you’re not less powerful than a man. Also, when young people go to the store and pick toys of their heroes, it doesn’t matter if a guy likes Batgirl or a girl likes Batman. It doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with them, because they’re all the same.”

Even though her mother Didi lived through the Women’s movement of the early 70s, her daughter said she did not learn about feminism from her: “My mom didn’t teach me that kind of stuff. She’s very old-fashioned English, so I grew up in that environment where women were not equal, and that is still the case today.  We’ve come a huge way, but we’re still slaves, especially in Hollywood, and I’m not going to let that happen, but I may fail in the process, because there’s no support for women. Most women, the second they’re successful, they don’t help other women, they go on the boys’ team, because they’re strong women and then they think, ‘Okay, I’ve got power now. I’m going to play with the big boys.’”

She believed this would be the best way to help women gain more power in the film industry: “You have to have women fighting for something together, and that’s why I’m so proud of First Kiss Productions, because we have very different business ethics. Our objective is not to be Number One, to steal, to hurt and to be really aggressive about being the best. It’s about looking at the people involved and trying to do something good for other people. I don’t believe that human beings are so greedy and so selfish. I feel very lucky to have what I have and if I just sit back and don’t do anything about anything else, then what’s my purpose anyway? So it’s really important that we get other young girls to have the power. It’s like what I was saying about Batman & Robin, we all have the same power in our hearts, in our stomachs and in our brains. There’s no gender difference about power, it’s all created because we allow it to happen. It’s going to take years to get rid of this prejudice, and I don’t know if it ever will go away, but I’m definitely going to fight to be an individual and not have any man tell me that he’s more powerful than I am, unless he could show me. To me the most honest power is in love and in all honesty, I don’t find that very often.”

The American actress was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, but loves England, where her parents are from: “When I was little I was really determined that I was English, not an American, but it’s pretty silly for me to feel that way because I grew up in America, I’ve spent all my time here and my influences have been American, but my parents are as English as they come, and so are my relatives. My mom was born in Scotland and raised on the Isle of Sheppey, my dad was born and raised in London, then they met when they were living in Florida, where my mom was a stewardess, and my dad owned a little coffee shop called Monty’s Sandwiches. So I am very fond of England and have a very romantic feeling towards England. When I would go there as a kid, twelve-years-old and younger, living there for chunks of time, I would read these novels and fantasize about horses and carriages running around, even though they weren’t there. So England is really close to me in my heart, but I haven’t lived there as an adult, so I haven’t had anything tainting that vision of how I see it.”

Silverstone explained how having British parents affected her upbringing: “It was definitely different to have European parents when I was in school, because I was free, I was allowed to express myself and my parents were very lenient about things like hanging out with boys. They weren’t very restrictive about life, they were more restrictive about eating healthy, going to bed on time and taking my vitamins, but they let me do what I wanted to do, which is very European. Most importantly, the biggest thing is that I got to see the world and understand it. I learned that every person was as important as the next, that no race or religion or color or culture was any less or more important, because as a little girl I got to see all different places and so it wasn’t shocking to me that there were other people doing other things in the world.”