Elisa Donovan on Self-Care, Surviving a Very Serious Eating Disorder and Her Love for Jason Priestley


She may be ‘90s red-haired royalty (yes, you know her form CluelessSabrina the Teenage Witch and Beverly Hills 90210, to name a few), but Elisa Donovan also has a very serious side. This summer: The launch of her first book, Wake Me When You Leave, a personal memoir (and a currently in-production film) about losing her job, her relationship and her father to cancer—all over a very short period of time. The 50-year-old recently chatted with us about the creative process, shared some BTS Beverly Hills 90201 intel and let on about what’s next for the long-awaited months of summer.

What made you sit down and start writing this book?

“I’ve always been writing creatively, as a creative outlet, but also as a therapeutic tool for myself. When I write, I feel like I’m channeling things, but I really didn’t start to formulate it into an actual book until maybe a year afterward [my father’s death]. It was a lot to process at one time, which is what the book is essentially about. It was a very long process.”

You’ve been open about your eating disorder. What is your approach to it now? 

“The recovery process of an eating disorder is very multilevel. It’s strenuous if you really want to recover. I feel very fortunate that I put that work in years ago—meaning I worked with a nutritionist, with a psychiatrist, with a therapist, and with the full gamut of support. Because of that, I have a really healthy, happy life today. I’m such a proponent of speaking about it, one, to demystify what the real issues are, that it is a mental, psychological, physical, spiritual thing that isn’t just, “Oh, I want to be skinny.” All of that has actually very little to do with it in the end.

The way that my life now…I never focus on the externals of anything—certainly not with regards to the body. I think about health and feeding my body. Now, it’s a source of joy. I love dinner parties. There’s a real sense of community and joy around eating. It’s a full circle of recovery is the short answer.”

Things have changed, hopefully, for the better.

“Yes! I really I’m thrilled to see that it’s coming to the forefront of our discussions in society and in our culture. There was a time, at the height of things for me, when I was really struggling…being at a supermarket and at the checkout stand seeing every single magazine cover had, “How to lose weight, how to look younger!” Everything had to do with all of these things regarding physical appearance; how to change what you look like, and I thought, “Wow, this is quite a message we are being given, subliminally, very literally and consciously and unconsciously.”

I’m happy to see that that conversation has shifted—that we’re talking a lot more about our inside and our mental health and our full health as it relates to the full body, mind and spirit. I think that, ultimately, that is going to take us in the right direction.”

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I hope so. You’ve been in so many iconic roles. I can clearly remember when you stepped on in Beverly Hills 90210. Can you share any behind-the-scenes beauty intel?

“First of all, I just loved 90201. That was such a great, lovely experience for me. Jason Priestley is probably one of my favorite people that I’ve worked with professionally. He’s such a lovely person. He made me feel very comfortable and at ease in somewhat uncomfortable circumstances in the script—like having to be in bed with him on the first day of filming. [laughs] But he’s a good egg, for sure.

In terms of beauty, I always had anything cucumber-thing on my eyeballs in the mornings in hair and makeup. It works!

Then, in more recent years, I am all about using those gels for under the eyes that are like silicone almost, that are cold. Now, I buy them at Whole Foods, and they are amazing. Basically, you’re getting up so early, and it doesn’t matter how much sleep you get—your body is not that accustomed to being up so early and you are getting paid to look and feel fresh. It’s always helpful to have things that are anti-inflammatory and just cooling. Those are the definite go-to on a regular basis.”

Your red hair color is a bit of your calling card. Do you have any secrets to how you keep it up?

“The pandemic did wonders for my hair. [laughs] I don’t think I used a hairdryer—let alone a curling iron—for two months or longer. There were a couple of moments, where I did break out the curling iron, but just leaving my hair alone whenever I can is the best medicine for it.

After that, it’s mostly Kérastase. There are a couple of products that I swear by for my hair and that, and Olaplex, are some of them. I use all of their things: the shampoo, the conditioner, that mask treatment thing that you can leave on forever. It’s really a lovely product that helps strengthen my hair. Just leave it in and leave it alone.”

You turned 50 this past year. Is it something you think about?

“In my mind, pre-pandemic, I was planning a very large party with everyone I love and someone phenomenal playing live music.

Then, of course, that did not happen. I told my husband that he has the following year to deliver on this party, so he’s not off the hook yet…

After that, I don’t think about it all that much. That might sound like I’m lying, but I really don’t think that much about age. I really don’t! Maybe that’s because my mom thinks about it a lot. [laughs] She still likes to pretend she’s 36. There’s some magical in that number for her.

I haven’t quite figured out what that is…I don’t know why, maybe it’s because I’m an Aquarian, I don’t think about age. I feel like it’s somewhat irrelevant, except in terms of life experience. I look at it like, “In that regard, I’m thrilled because I’ve got 50 years on this planet.”

If I could give my younger self something, it would be the confidence that I have now. I feel so at home and at ease and happy in my own skin, I would love to have felt that way when I was younger.”

Storm Santos

Do you give any beauty advice to your daughter? Would you allow her to get into showbiz?

“In terms of beauty advice to her, I have to pay her to comb her hair. She is so far from being concerned about her appearance that it’s…truly, getting her to brush her hair is an enormous task.

In terms of show business, I don’t think she would want that. I’ve been asked this before and I always change my answer as she gets older. But I don’t think that the business in any place for a kid.

She loves to play the guitar, she’s starting to really like singing, but I don’t think that that should necessarily translate into her auditioning for a singing show. I think being a kid is really important. I think learning and exploring things that you love without having anything attached to them that have to do with attention or success at this age is really important. She’s just discovering who she is and what she’s interested in, so I wouldn’t want her to put any pressure on herself to succeed in some way. I hope she takes the joy in actually doing the things she takes joy in doing.”

Besides the book, what are you excited about this summer?

“The film version of the book is in development right now; I’m really hopeful that the funding will come through this summer and then, maybe, we’ll be shooting in the fall, which would be amazing.

Aside from the book coming out, I’m excited about taking a trip to Jumby Bay, which is a tiny island off of Antigua. We take this annual trip with very dear friends at one of the family’s family homes. It’s been postponed twice because of the pandemic. Now we’re finally all vaccinated, and we’re able to go in August. I’m really looking forward to that, and not only being there because it’s beautiful, and idyllic, and so peaceful, but just because we’ll be getting to spend time with these people that we love, that we really have not been able to see because of everything…everybody is excited; the grownups, the kids. It’s going to be really great.”

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