‘Clueless’ star Elisa Donovan on battling an eating disorder before fame: ‘Everything was going to fall apart’

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Elisa Donovan has faced great triumphs in Hollywood – and painful losses.

The actress, who starred in “Clueless” and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” is opening up in a new memoir titled “Wake Me When You Leave.” The book, which is currently being turned into a film, explores how the 50-year-old’s career skyrocketed until her show was unexpectedly canceled, her relationship ended and her father was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Donovan said she hopes her book will give readers, particularly those struggling with the loss of a loved one, a sense of hope.

The star spoke to Fox News about how she faced her eating disorder while on the set of “Clueless,” her relationships with her former castmates today and how writing her story — as heartbreaking as it was to relive those memories — helped her heal.

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Elisa Donovan has a new book titled ‘Wake Me When You Leave: Love and Encouragement via Dreams from the Other Side.’

Elisa Donovan has a new book titled ‘Wake Me When You Leave: Love and Encouragement via Dreams from the Other Side.’
(Storm Santos)

Fox News: What inspired you to release your book now?
Elisa Donovan: It felt like the right time to share the story. And I’ve had enough perspective on the events that have changed my life. I feel like people really need sources of hope and positivity. I wanted to show people that you can be faced with great grief and tragedy and still come out on the other side.

Fox News: You have starred in such iconic films and TV shows from the ’90s. When did you realize that you had made it?

Donovan: Well, I don’t know if one ever feels like “I’ve made it” but I will say, I remember things changing when I was on an escalator in a mall, going to a movie, and all of these kids just started swarming the escalator. 

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Elisa Donovan starred as Amber Mariens in ‘Clueless,' which premiered on Friday, July 21, 1995. 

Elisa Donovan starred as Amber Mariens in ‘Clueless,’ which premiered on Friday, July 21, 1995. 
(Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

And, I said to my friend who I was with, “Oh, there must be someone famous on the escalator.” And, so the two of us were looking around, wondering who it might be, and then we got to the top and they swarmed me. It was me. I went, “Oh, this is a different experience.” *laughs*

Fox News: During the filming of “Clueless,” you were faced with an eating disorder. Could you recall that moment when you knew that you needed to get help?

Donovan: Well, I had been struggling with an eating disorder prior to that film. But, it was during the course of shooting the film that I started to go into recovery. And, that was really when I knew that I needed help because I wound up in an emergency room and knew that everything was going to fall apart if I didn’t really start to focus on my health.

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Elisa Donovan and Alicia Silverstone, circa 2014.

Elisa Donovan and Alicia Silverstone, circa 2014.
(Photo by Araya Diaz/WireImage/Getty Images)

Fox News: Did you feel that embarking on an acting career in Hollywood made it worse for you at the time, or did it stem from something else that you didn’t address until that very moment?

Donovan: I don’t think that anyone can blame Hollywood for eating disorders. It’s a much more complex issue than wanting to be “skinny,” but I certainly think that in entertainment, at that time especially, it was somewhat champion to be very, very thin. 

And, certainly, it was… People turned a blind eye rather than saying, “You need to become healthier.” So, I think it’s an environment that certainly may endorse it, but I showed up there with those issues long before… I had them long before I arrived in Hollywood, and it was my own responsibility to have to combat them and choose to recover.

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‘Cluless’ was written and directed by Amy Heckerling. Seen here seated from left, Elisa Donovan (as Amber), Stacey Dash (as Dionne), Brittany Murphy (as Tai, in center), Alicia Silverstone (as Cher Horowitz) and Joseph D. Reitman (as Student). 

‘Cluless’ was written and directed by Amy Heckerling. Seen here seated from left, Elisa Donovan (as Amber), Stacey Dash (as Dionne), Brittany Murphy (as Tai, in center), Alicia Silverstone (as Cher Horowitz) and Joseph D. Reitman (as Student). 
(Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

Fox News: What’s one memory of Brittany Murphy that makes you smile whenever you think about it?

Donovan: I remember we shot this music video for a Luscious Jackson song that was in the film. And it just makes me laugh, thinking of us doing that in these neon roller derby outfits. We were bumping up against each other, acting as if we were these roller derby girls. It was really fun.

Fox News: How would you describe your relationship with the rest of the “Clueless” cast?

Donovan: Oh, we had a great time, and I still keep in touch with Donald [Faison]. I adore him. He’s a friend and a great guy.

Fox News: When it comes to “90210,” who did you bond with the most and why?

Donovan: That was another great experience. I felt so fortunate like I hit the jackpot with these projects. Everybody on that show was really just very fun and incredibly welcoming. They could have… They had all been working together for so many years, and oftentimes when you come in as the new guy and you’re only there for a short period of time, you can feel like an outsider.

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From left: Soleil Moon Frye, Melissa Joan Hart, and Elisa Donovan arrive for the 100th episode party of ‘Sabrina, The Teenage Witch’ at the Sunset Room on October 23, 2000, in Hollywood, CA.

From left: Soleil Moon Frye, Melissa Joan Hart, and Elisa Donovan arrive for the 100th episode party of ‘Sabrina, The Teenage Witch’ at the Sunset Room on October 23, 2000, in Hollywood, CA.
(Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Online/Getty Images)

But no one made me feel that way. And I loved it. I loved Jason Priestley, he’s one of my favorite people in the business. He’s such a great human. I loved working with Tori Spelling. Everybody was really great.

Fox News: What’s your relationship like with Melissa Joan Hart today?

Donovan: She’s just terrific. I love her. She’s one of the most grounded people that I’ve come across in this business, which is no small feat, considering she’s been in front of a camera since she was a child. I just love her. We had a ton of fun. She’s also professionally supportive. She’s a good friend. She’s terrific.

Fox News: Did you ever face any kind of typecasting after starring in so many notable projects?

Donovan: Oh, certainly I was typecasted. Soon as I did “Clueless,” I was typecast as the shallow Beverly Hills wealthy girl comedian *laughs*. It’s never bad to be typecast because it means that you’ve succeeded at something, but it can be frustrating when you’re recognized for just one thing. So, in that regard, it was frustrating, but again, the flip side of that is, it’s only because you did something well and a lot of people enjoyed it. You can’t complain too much.

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Elisa Donovan with her father.

Elisa Donovan with her father.
(Photo courtesy of Elisa Donovan)

Fox News: Right around the time that “Sabrina” was canceled, your father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and your relationship with your significant other ended. What gave you the strength to keep going?

Donovan: I don’t know that I felt that I had any strength, really, at the time. So, I think once you hit that “rock bottom,” as they call it, or certainly an emotional bottom like that, there really isn’t anywhere to go but back up, and you just let go. And, I think what pulled me out, was knowing that I am such a lover of life and that I had more things I wanted to create and to do and to accomplish and to share. So, I think that that instinct and that drive is really what allowed me to put one foot in front of the other.

Fox News: What would you say was the most difficult chapter for you to write? And how did it finally feel to pour those feelings into paper?

Donovan: I think the most difficult part was probably really delving into when my dad was very sick. He was at home mainly. And, that last couple of weeks was incredibly debilitating for my family We all suffered quite a bit and he was obviously suffering, and writing that part was really difficult.

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Elisa Donovan and her family.

Elisa Donovan and her family.
(Photo courtesy of Elisa Donovan)

 When I initially first wrote it, it was incredibly difficult and unintelligible. Then over time and through the revision process and having that distance that I have now, it was easier to articulate what we were all going through… It was really cathartic for me to be able to put that down… That was really fulfilling for me.

Fox News: How are you doing today?

Donovan: Oh, I’m just doing great today. I’m so happy. And, a lot of times, I think we culturally want to avoid challenges or we want to ignore them or we want to just move past that and not talk about them. And, I can say, unequivocally, that for me, all of those things that I went through have really enhanced my life, ultimately. 

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Elisa Donovan is now a proud mom.

Elisa Donovan is now a proud mom.
(Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

I’ve walked through all of those challenges. But because I was able to walk through them, I have a richer life today. So, I hope that people really get that from this book, that it’s important to acknowledge our difficulties so that we can come through to the other side stronger.

Fox News: If you were sitting down with your younger self right now, what would you tell her?

Donovan: I would say, “I love you. Just hang in there and trust that we will get through this and that your life will be even fuller than it was before.”