Elizabeth Berkley expected her 1995 box-office flop Showgirls to transform her from Saved By The Bell actress into a major movie star. But when that didn’t turn out exactly as planned, it gave her the opportunity to take a different path that led her to become a best-selling author and motivational speaker.
The married actress, 38, gets real about dealing with life’s ups and downs, and offers tips about how to move forward effectively.
Although Showgirls has secured a place in history as a cult favorite, the NC-17 drama bombed in the theaters. How did she cope?
“Honestly, it was definitely a time that was difficult, but everybody goes through difficult times,” she tells me during her Ask Elizabeth book signing held this week at Dylan’s Candy Bar in NYC. “Mine happened to be in public, so it was even harder. Most of us, when we go through stuff, we can hide in our bedroom and no one knows about it, so I definitely had to walk through a bit more difficulty because it was public, but it made me so strong.”
She adds, “The greatest gift I got from that at such a young age was self-awareness, and true self-worth. Almost like having self-esteem and faith in myself tested in a big way, but for me, it was a choice. I could go down one road or another, and for me, I went down the more empowered road. I’m grateful it gave me the strength I have, that kind of authority in myself to know that I can handle anything.”
As women, we place great pressure on ourselves throughout our lives to get – and keep – the right guy, have the perfect family, the amazing career, and all kinds of material things. But bumps happen, and can derail our intentions.
What does she tell others about managing the expectations of their lives?
“Expectations can usually cause a lot of suffering, and can also block something amazing that wants to come through, if you’re attached to that one way,” she says. “For me, I love my acting, and I will continue working and all, but who knew that this wonderful surprise of [motivational series] Ask Elizabeth was another aspect of my life? It’s important to remain open to the adventures that life brings along your path. While it’s great to be goal-oriented and focused – I have that drive and focus – it’s also important to be flexible enough to be open to something maybe even greater than you imagined.”
For Elizabeth, what’s greater than she imagined is Ask Elizabeth, which is a program she began in 2006 to help teen girls with their self-esteem. The book of the same name is out now.
“My proudest moment might be right now,” she says, on a break between signing books as her doting husband, Greg Lauren (nephew of designer Ralph), entertains guests. “Seeing girls that I’ve worked with for almost five years walk through this line with a self-assuredness and a pride. I’m proud of them for being published. I’m proud of them being part of a book that is reaching and helping girls they may never meet in their lives. Especially because Ask Elizabeth started in New York, so I’ve seen girls from eighth grade now who are freshmen in college. That’s a prideful moment for me. To see them hold the book, they’ve been such a big part of it.”
She continues, “I’m also moved by the fact that the book made the best-seller list. It’s #4 on the best-seller list. What moves me about that is the over 30,000 girls I’ve worked with, know what the work can do. I’m grateful it’s going to be able to reach every girl that needs it now.”
Not only is Elizabeth making waves in the book world, but MTV has shot a documentary based on the journey of Ask Elizabeth about how the program has helped a specific girl.
What’s the most common issue young women face nowadays?
“The book explores fifteen of the most-asked questions from my workshop,” she says. “I’ve facilitated my workshops for five years now, for over 30,000 girls across the country – soon to be 40,000 – doing 1,000-girl Town Halls in ten cities. Macy’s is sponsoring my tour, and they’re gifting the book. But from those workshops, there is this collective group of questions that get asked over and over, so I boiled it down to the fifteen most-asked, and that’s what’s in the book. The themes address body image, goal-setting, family, identity, friendship issues…the emotional life of a teen girl. We’ve all been there. And we still go through some of that stuff. There’s an adolescent girl, still, in all of us … wouldn’t you say?”
And at 38, that adolescent girl inside Elizabeth would be attending her 20th high school reunion.
While Elizabeth is pleased with her present, she reflects fondly on her past that includes the 1989-1993 teen sitcom Saved By The Bell, which also starred Mario Lopez, Tiffani Amber Thiessen, Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Dustin Diamond.
“It’s sweet,” she says of her relationship with her Saved By The Bell cast mates, minus Dustin, whom she hasn’t seen in a long time. “It has a sweetness like people you went to high school with that you were so close with. We have a bond forever. We became famous together, we had our first, big, professional job together, we were 15,16, 17 … those years of our life. It’s something that connects us forever, and I still keep in touch with Mario, Mark-Paul and Tiffani. We are in each other’s lives as much as we can. We’re all, luckily, working so much, so it’s nice that we all transitioned into working adults, which is rare.”
She continues, “We were blessed with that. We also all had good parents who were very present for us, so that’s a big thing.”
Their fame was nothing compared to what stars face today.
“The Internet and the exposure is something different,” she admits. “Saved By The Bell was such an innocent time. We didn’t have paparazzi, we didn’t have the Web and gossip. We were insular. It was a safe, protected time. It wasn’t as difficult as it is now for young stars.”
Here’s my pic with Elizabeth: