'Clueless' star Elisa Donovan talks reuniting with Alicia Silverstone for Super Bowl ad: 'It was, without doubt, surreal'
More than 27 years have passed since Elisa Donovan first played Amber, Cher's nemesis in Clueless. Now, she's bringing the character back... although, you could say that she never really went away. People still regularly come up to Donovan and quote her famous lines, such as "Whatever" and "My plastic surgeon doesn't want me doing any activity where balls fly at my nose."
"It's really fun," Donovan tells Yahoo Entertainment. "I always think, like, 'It's better than being remembered for like some horror movie where I got slashed to pieces or something."
Donovan, who played Amber in the 1995 movie and the TV series, which ran for three seasons beginning in 1996, slips back into character for a new commercial that will debut during the Super Bowl. Her co-star is none other than Alicia Silverstone, who played Cher in the movie, and their ad is for shopping app Rakuten.
The full ad will air during the big game, but a clip released Monday shows the women recreating the famous debate scene.
"I have to say it was, without doubt, surreal," Donovan says of filming the ad. "I hadn't seen Alicia in several years… The film opened the L.A. Film Festival [in 2014], and I think that's the last time that we had seen one another in person. And so, I mean, it was bizarre. I walked on the set, and Bill Pope was the cinematographer and he was for the film as well, and I walked in the classroom, and he's like, 'Geez, you don't ever seem to change your wardrobe after all these years.' It was so funny. It was such a joy to see him, too, and, I mean, it was bizarre. They recreated the set to a T! From what was written on the board to our stands that we were speaking in front of…And we just laughed. There were moments where I looked over at Alicia, and I just felt like, 'What is happening? Where are we?'"
Donovan said she's asked to do an ad having to do Clueless "all the time," so she can only imagine how often it happens for Silverstone. She said yes to this one because it makes sense to her; the characters were serious shoppers.
"It's sort of this completely ideal marriage, and I felt like the timing was so right," Donovan says. "People are really feeling this affinity for the '90s, and it's coming back in this way."
The crowd-pleaser, which also co-stars Paul Rudd, Stacey Dash, Donald Faison and the late Brittany Murphy, continues to be popular with audiences. Donovan has a couple of theories about why so many people connect with it.
"One is that it's an incredibly well written script [from writer-director Amy Heckerling]. And it's very fully realized, all of the characters have full, real, rich lives," she says. "And there are some things about it that really transcended the genre and the time. And that is, you know, you have Black and white characters of equal importance in the film, of equal socioeconomic wealth and there was no mention of it, it was just this sort of idyllic world."
Heckerling gets much of the credit, of course, but everyone involved impressed.
"Everybody was operating at their best level, from wardrobe to set decoration to cinematography to the writing, the directing. Everything worked," Donovan says. "I think that's really the long answer."
Of her former castmates, Donovan is regularly in touch with Faison, who played Murray, the boyfriend of Cher's best friend, Dash's Dionne. They still text and, before Donovan moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco, would see each other now and then.
"He's one of my favorite people," Donovan says of Faison. "He's such a good guy, and he's so hilarious. And I went to his wedding, and he's great. But he's really the only one that I keep in touch with from the cast on a regular basis."
Surprisingly, the actress has only seen the movie that made such a difference in her life a few times.
"I was late to the premiere because I was shooting [Beverly Hills, 90210], so they sent the car and I got to the premiere, and the movie had already started," Donovan explains. "We did a test screening of it with Alicia, Paul, Justin [Walker], Donald and myself, that was before the film came out. And then I saw it in the theater, and then I just… there was an event that I had hosted at Skybar [in 2017], so I watched it."
The one thing that makes Donovan cringe when she looks back: that time she tried the knee socks-with-high heels look in real life.
"I remember a friend of mine who is also an actress, [wearing it too], and her husband seeing the two of us," Donovan says before laughing. "And he's like, 'You two are cartoon characters. You gotta cut it out. You know you can't wear those socks.'"
Scarlett, Donovan's 10-year-old daughter with husband Charlie Bigelow, hasn't seen Clueless yet, though some of her friends have. When she was in preschool, the kids preferred her as Belinda Bannister in the Dog Who Saved movies; their parents were the ones who loved the teen comedy.
These days, Donovan is working on a very different project, as she's adapts her 2021 memoir, Wake Me When You Leave, into a film. She's directing the story of a time in her life a while back when everything shifted, following her father's diagnosis with terminal cancer, her breakup with a serious partner and the unexpected cancellation of her show. The producing team is in place, and they've already cast some of the roles.
"People seem to have a really strong, visceral response to the material," Donovan says. "Making small movies is a labor of love, so we're just trying to get the second half of the financing now."
Donovan won't appear in the movie, and she's not yet revealing who will play her.