Match Shtick

updated 10/13/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/13/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

She's doing it again. Nearly a decade after she leapt to stardom as Cher Horowitz, the hip, spoiled teen matchmaker in 1995's Clueless, Alicia Silverstone is back dispensing romantic advice. In Miss Match, her TV series debut, Silverstone plays Kate Fox, a Los Angeles divorce lawyer who moonlights as an amateur relationships guru, arranging dates for friends and strangers alike. "It's in her nature to want people to be happy and in love," the actress says. "She's in love with love."

The question is: Just how crazy in love is Silverstone with her role? Miss Match executive producer Darren Star (Sex and the City) says there is someone on the show's set whom Silverstone has been trying to fix up with one of her friends. Unfortunately "she's the first to admit she doesn't have the matchmaker gene," says Star. "We'll have to see how that turns out."

Fortunately, Silverstone doesn't need any fixer-upper advice herself. "I like who I have," says the 27-year-old actress, who's been dating Chris Jarecki, lead singer of the neopunk band S.T.U.N., for about five years. "Chris and Alicia are really respectful of each other's occupations," says her Miss Match costar and friend Lake Bell. The couple spent much of the summer together on tour with his L.A.-based band, and recently, says Bell, "I remember a night shoot we did that lasted until, like, 4 in the morning, and he came and drove her home"—home being the L.A. house she shares with her pack of rescued dogs.

For a while, it seemed like her career needed saving as well. She took a few wrong turns after Clueless, playing Batgirl in the critically lambasted Batman & Robin and producing and starring in 1997's instantly forgettable Excess Baggage. On the other hand she was still working in films (Love's Labour's Lost), onstage (Broadway's The Graduate) and behind the scenes (her company First Kiss Productions produces the award-winning cartoon show Braceface for ABC Family Network). She might not have been in the headlines, but she was still in Hollywood. So when Star was trying to cast his show last year, "the only person I came up with was Alicia," he says. "I was a huge fan of hers from Clueless. I was curious about whether the quality she had in that film, the way she cared about other people, was still there. It was."

And that's made for a pretty happy set. An outspoken animal-rights activist (see box, p. 108), "she has a lot of dog toys in her trailer," says Bell, who brings her pit bull Margaret to work. "She'll rehearse lines with [her pit-bull-Labrador mix dog] Samson in her lap." Meanwhile, her castmates are also exposed to Silverstone's other great animal-related passion: She and Jarecki are vegan—strict, no dairy, fish, eggs or meat of any kind vegetarians. "She's forever bringing in baskets of vegan foods for the crew and makeup trailer," says Bell. "She gives it to us to say, 'Hey, happy day!' But you know there is a message there too." After meals—vegan or otherwise—Silverstone insists that all leftovers go into a trash can marked: "Please put your scraps here and they will be given to hungry dogs." Naturally her love for all things canine extends to the ones at home. "I'm at work 15 to 16 hours a day—I feel so guilty," says Silverstone "I come home and say, 'I'm sorry, guys. I love you.' It's so hard."

Especially since Silverstone grew up in a northern California household full of pets. The daughter of English-born parents Monty Silverstone, a financier, and his wife, Didi, a former flight attendant, Silverstone gained a cult following in her teens, first as a Lolita-esque stalker in 1993's The Crush, then in a trilogy of Aerosmith videos, which led to her casting in Clueless.

Then came the backlash. At the 1996 Academy Awards, Silverstone, who had just been cast as Batgirl, was razzed as "Buttgirl" by the tabloids for looking like she'd put on a few pounds. A few years later she adopted her vegan diet, inspired by her animal-rights beliefs. A "great byproduct," she says, was that "I lost weight. I feel great, I have more energy." In 1997 she decided to slow down her career. "I had done something like nine films from age 15 to 18," she says. "And I think I had to stop and go, like, I want to buy a house. I want to live a little bit.'"

By April 2002 she was ready to return to the limelight, making her Broadway debut as Mrs. Robinson's daughter Elaine in The Graduate. Darren Star caught her performance and pitched Miss Match over dinner. "She ate a lot of vegetables. I understood," he says. "Alicia did not suggest making her character vegetarian. But the characters on my show are eating constantly, and I decided I'm not going to keep putting steak in front of her."

Despite the tailor-made role, Silverstone admits to mixed feelings about taking it. "I'm psyched about the character I'm playing," she says. "At the same time there's that little voice that's like, 'Oh my God, what are you getting into?' I realty do like the slower-paced life." Or, as her friend, Clueless director Amy Heckerling, puts it, "Alicia could be Elizabeth Taylor or a farmer. She doesn't care."

Pamela Warrick, Sean Daly and William Keck in Los Angeles

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