'Clueless' actress Elisa Donovan says the movie was really 'a help to me' as she struggled with anorexia

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Elisa Donovan had the time of her life making the movie Clueless, but that doesn't mean it was easy. The actress, then in her early 20s, was privately struggling with anorexia even before she was cast in the 1995 Amy Heckerling film.

"I certainly kept any of my eating disorder issues to myself, because I wasn't even able to handle them myself, so I certainly wasn't sharing them with anyone else," Donovan tells Yahoo Entertainment. "And, you know, I look to that time … and the work I did at that time as kind of a help to me, because I was most concerned about losing my job. So that initially is what helped me to stay on the recovery path. While that's no recipe for true recovery ... it helped me to stay on there until I got to the place where I realized that I really wanted my life back."

On an April episode of the Celebrity Catch Up: Life After That Thing I Did podcast, Donovan revealed that she was still in denial about her eating disorder at the time: "I had maybe three or four days off in one week, and I almost had a heart attack." When doctors spoke with her about an eating disorder, she was afraid that having one is what would keep her from being successful. She decided to seek help during filming.

Still, she looks back at Clueless the movie — she reprised her role in the TV version from 1996 to 1999 —with nothing but love.

"Doing the film Clueless was so magical, in the sense that, for everybody, all of the kids, it was really the first big film that anybody had really worked on, and it was exciting," she says. "Because you're all around the same age, working with your peers. Everybody is so committed and excited. It was … it was a terrific experience."

Elisa Donovan, second from left, poses with her
Elisa Donovan, second from left, poses with her "Clueless" castmates on the set. (Photo: Everett Collection)

She has particularly happy memories of the late Brittany Murphy, whose work before Clueless mostly consisted of appearance on TV shows, such as Sister, Sister and Party of Five. Murphy died in December 2009 at 32. The coroner ruled that the cause was pneumonia and anemia combined with "multiple drug intoxication" from prescription and over-the-counter medication.

"I just remember Brittany being really sweet and sort of like a hummingbird, I always say, 'cause she had this a lot of fluttering energy," Donovan explains. "And she was so talented and such a strong spirit. She's greatly missed for sure."

After both incarnations of Clueless, Donovan co-starred in another fan favorite, the TV series Sabrina the Teenage Witch, from 2000 to 2003. That's when she experienced a different kind of hard times.

"Over the course of an extraordinarily short period of time, my dad was diagnosed with cancer, my TV show was canceled and the relationship that I was in ended, with a man I thought I was going to marry, and then my dad died shortly after his diagnosis," she says. "So I essentially was stripped of everything that made my life make sense, everything that gave me an identity, that brought me joy, success, and I kind of was just humbled back down to zero, and that’s what prompted me to write the book."

That book is Wake Me When You Leave: Love and Encouragement via Dreams from the Other Side, out June 8. It's her story about emerging from the darkness. Donovan says she found writing therapeutic.

"I wrote this book, because I, I feel like it's my sole purpose to communicate in this way and to carry this message," she says. "I think there was some confusion over the years when we were pitching it ... people thought, 'Oh, she's going to write about being in Clueless and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. And we were constantly up against this battle of, 'No, no, no. This is not a vanity book. She doesn't have a ghostwriter.' It isn't about, 'Oh, look how I am on-set,' because I thought, 'Well, who wants to read that?' Somebody way more famous than me is going to write that book."

— Video produced by Jen Kucsak and edited by John Santo

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