Sterling Silverstone

updated 08/21/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/21/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

WHEN 19-YEAR-OLD ASHLEY Lund was a sophomore at Beverly Hills High in 1992, she was, she admits, materialistic, superficial and snobby. "At Beverly," she says, "everyone is concerned about their image, name brands of clothing, what everyone's parents do, the car you drive." One of the few exceptions was a pretty blonde named Alicia Silverstone, who transferred to Beverly from a school near San Francisco and showed up in Lund's Spanish class one day. "She seemed so innocent and overwhelmed," says Lund, now a freshman at Pepperdine University in Malibu. "I just wanted to help her." The two became friends and members of Beverly's popular crowd. But while her fellow students followed every fashion trend, Silverstone opted for overalls and sneakers. "Alicia was absolutely the opposite of everyone at Beverly High," says Lund. "She thought we were so ridiculous worrying about materialistic things. She'd laugh at us and say, 'What am I going to do with you guys?' "

Alicia (pronounced Al-EE-see-ya) Silverstone may not have been a Beverly Hills High princess, but she plays one in the movies. The 18-year-old, who first found fame in a trio of Aerosmith videos, became the darling of the MTV generation for her role as a demented Lolita in the 1993 thriller The Crush, Now she is starring in the hit comedy Clueless as Cher, a spoiled Beverly Hills teen who picks out her clothes by computer and dismisses legions of admirers with her signature retort: "As if!" Critics have generally praised the performance, and those who have worked with Silverstone are not surprised. Amy Heckerling, director and screenwriter of Clueless, says, "I was up in the middle of the night writing [the Clueless script] and watching MTV. I saw her and said, 'That's the girl!' " Crush's director Alan Shapiro said that when the 15-year-old Silverstone auditioned for him, "I was stunned. She could shift from being a little girl to a mature, sexual woman right before your eyes."

The only one who seems clueless about Silverstone's ascent is Silverstone herself. "I've always been dorky and goofy," she says. Goofy might be a stretch, but she is one down-to-earth siren—a screen star who still favors jeans, who wolfs down astonishing quantities of food and who gushes about her traditional Jewish upbringing. "I loved my bas mitzvah," she has said. "I used to go to temple like four or five times a week when I was growing up." Silverstone has been basically boyfriend-less since she recently broke up with 28-year-old Beverly Hills hairdresser Moize Chabbouth. Until this summer, Silverstone and her beloved mutt Samson shared a Hollywood Hills bungalow with Jennifer Rubin, a costar in The Crush.

Though she comes off as the all-American girl, Silverstone is the daughter of English-born parents. Her dad, Monty, is a financial consultant, her mother, Didi, a retired Pan Am flight attendant who used the free airline tickets she got as a job perk to fly her husband and kids to London in the summer. As young children, Silverstone and her older brother David, who is now 23 and a film production assistant in L.A., were regular theatergoers. Back home in the San Francisco suburbs, Silverstone started doing local modeling at the age of 8. "I hated it," she says, "but it was good money." At 14, she found something she loved when she signed up for an intensive theater workshop run by Judi O'Neil, an acting coach and talent scout. "She had a sweetness and commitment," says O'Neil

That summer, O'Neil persuaded Silverstone and nine other promising students to move to Los Angeles to pursue show business careers. The aspiring actress helped pay her own living expenses by waitressing at Cafe Mocha, a coffeehouse on Melrose. She barely had time to brew a cappuccino before she won a guest spot on The Wonder Years as Fred Savage's fantasy date. That job led to parts in the TV movies Judith Krantz's Torch Song and Scattered Dreams. Before her 16th birthday, she had landed her Crush role. Silverstone then took her high school equivalency exam, and with her parents' approval, had herself legally emancipated so she could work the long shifts without a legal guardian on the set. But though she was away from her parents, she wasn't lacking surrogate guardians on the Vancouver, B.C., set, among them actress Gwynyth Walsh, who played her mother. "It wasn't difficult at all to pretend to be her mother and to love her," Walsh says.

If the critics didn't get Crush (Janet Maslin of The Neiv York Times dismissed the movie as "make-work for wayward models"), Silverstone's contemporaries did: She won MTV Movie Awards for best breakthrough performance and best villain. By then, many fans already knew her as the "Aero-smith babe," a description Silverstone found irksome. "I'd rather be seen as an actress," she says, "than as a pretty little body."

Silverstone does what she can to make that happen. She may have had dozens of costume changes in Clueless, but she spent her time in between reading Wuthering Heights. "We were having Heathcliff conversations all day around the set," says Paul Rudd, 23, who plays her stepbrother. Silverstone last week signed a $10 million, two-picture deal with Columbia and has three upcoming movies—the coming-of-age saga Le Nouveau Monde and two thrillers, The Babysitter and True Crime. But her most gratifying acting experience was the Shakespeare training course she took this summer in Lenox, Mass. "Shakespeare is my God now, in every way," she has declared. "He is a religion in his own."

There are those—many of them male, many of them in high school—who would say the same about Silverstone. During the Clueless shoot, guys would gather outside the set panting for an autograph from her. And she always obliged. But to those who would worship at the altar of Alicia, she would like to say a few words. "I'm still the same old Lissy I'll always be," she says. "I'm just a normal girl."

SHELLEY LEVITT
JOHN GRIFFITHS, JOHN HANNAH and GAIL SCHILLER in Los Angeles

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