CWhen Sarah Michelle Gellar was offered the script for a new teen supernatural drama, her first instinct was to let the dead die. "I was like, 'I'm not reading it,'" she says firmly. "Werewolves? No thanks - been there, done.
After all, 20 years after Gellar threw his pickaxe and scythe, audiences are still obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The TV show, which ran for seven seasons from 1997 to 2003, was a hitan academic discipline, with journals, conferences, and scientists known as "Buffyologists". The #buffy hashtag now has nearly 400 million views on TikTok as younger generations connect with "the chosen one," Buffy Summers. The other characters - father figure Rupert Giles, Willow the lesbian witch, platonic best friend Xander - also left huge footprints.
The show's enduring appeal seems "incredible," says Gellar. "As an actor, you're hoping to do something that's self-sustaining, that people still see and still care about."
But while Buffy's following has grown since the finale, Gellar herself has chosen to avoid the limelight since a string of high-profile roles (I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream 2, Cruel Intentions, Scooby-Doo, The Grudge). . the millennium.
For most of the past decade, she's been on a career break, prioritizing family life with her husband of 20 years (and '00s co-star) Freddie Prinze Jr. and their children, Charlotte and Rocky (born 2009 and 2012). ). On Instagram, she presents herself to her 4 million followers as a couch potato and hands-on mom.
Now, however, Gellar is getting back to work. Last year she had a small but well-received role in the Netflix teen comedy Do Revenge, her first film role since 2009 and a tribute to her role in 1999's Cruel Intentions; today she can be seen in the new series Paramount + Wolf Pack and plays an arson investigator on the trail of supernatural forces.
Looks like she's coming back, I ask her. "Yes," she says, her face brightening. "It's such an interesting time for me."
This morning in Los Angeles, 45-year-old Gellar is hiding in her home office to escape the school chaos. Behind her are shelves with an MTV People's Choice Award, an autographed copy of the show for Hamilton, and many books—including first editions—that she collects.
She had just started thinking about going back to work when the pandemic struck. Since then, she says, "you've been waiting for the right thing". Alongside director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, Gellar crafted her role in Do Revenge as "a first step back — to make sure this is really what I want and that my family can handle it." Charlotte accompanied the shooting, helped and learned behind the scenes.
Her role was well received and reminded Gellar of how much she loved acting. "The next step was to do something in a different genre that I loved so much," she says: Teenagers fight bloodthirsty creatures.
What drew her to The Wolf Pack was that Teen Wolf (and Criminal Minds) creator Jeff Davis wrote the script, she says. "Jeff wasn't just looking for 'SMG' to be part of a werewolf show," she says. "He wanted to modernize the story and address what we're all facing right now."
In addition to the werewolves, the series' teenage characters struggle with social media, fear, and the threat of the California wildfires: issues that hit Gellar (the latter literally - in the 2019 wildfire from which she and her family were evacuated) near home a week at your home).
"Buffy dealt with the horrors of puberty," she says. "Our monsters, the scary part, is the manifestation of the mental health crisis we're facing, the isolation and, on a smaller scale, what we're doing to our planet."
That ambition and complexity ensured Buffy's staying power, Gellar believes. In addition to its formal experimentation (there was one episode with song and dance and another without dialogue), the show was known for its feminist slant and thoughtful take on themes of sexuality and grief.
"A lot of the demons are a bit cheesy now because the graphics are so advanced - but that doesn't change how you feel through the story."
For all its similarities to Buffy, Wolf Pack has one key difference: This time around, Gellar is in an influential position, both as executive producer and leading man.
The title may be almost nonsensical, a way of sweetening the deal for a star, but Gellar says he told Davis, "I've been doing this for 40 years. I have a lot of experience and can contribute a lot. If you're just looking for an actor who just wants to earn credit, I'm not your person. I bring ideas and talk about them.”
Born and raised in New York City, the only child of a kindergarten teacher and a seamstress, Gellar has been acting since she was five years old when an agent spotted her at a restaurant. In 1981, she made her small screen debut — in a Burger King ad criticizing McDonald's, which led to a lifetime ban. She laughs when I ask if the ban is still in effect: "Honestly, I wouldn't know."
When Gellar was seven years old, his parents divorced. (She later became estranged from her father and remained so until his death in 2001.) Raised by her mother in Manhattan, she attended a private school on a partial scholarship for a time, where she was bullied for her lesser privilege. A self-proclaimed "nerd," she continued to get good grades even as acting took over her life.
She moved to the West Coast at age 16, weeks after graduating from a New York City high school for child actors. At 17, she shot Buffy's pilot. "I was young," she says. "I remember in the first season people would go to a bar after work, and I was years away from going to a bar — which also helped me just focus on the amount of work."
Gellar has always spoken about the pressure he was under to lead the series, working without outside life all week. Today she shrugs. "Twenty-two episodes sells out for everyone, not just the writers ... Now we live in a world where television can go eight to 10 episodes and not kill you."
Buffy's success was also a double-edged sword, forcing Gellar to turn down roles in some of the films that defined the 2000s: Fight Club, American Beauty, The Wedding Planner, Gangs of New York. She says she's not worried about what could have been: "I've done a great TV show, too." Nor does she resent her lost childhood. "My mom was a single mom working just above the poverty line, and I've traveled the world to see and do things I never should have done." Plus, she adds, she's natural a hard worker. "I love what I do - namely work, work, work."
You can still burn, I say. "And I did."
The turning point happened in 2014on the death of robin williams, Gellar's co-star on the sitcom The Crazy Ones. It was William's first regular TV role since Mork & Mindy; Gellar, a fan, lobbied for playing his daughter on screen. Reviews praised the chemistry and warmth of the leads.
"Losing Robin was a fresh start for me: 'Everything goes by so quickly and I miss it,'" says Gellar. "When I was shooting the pilot for The Crazy Ones, my son was two months old - it was on non-stop and I had to be home for a while."
She knew taking a break was risky: "Your work might not always be there. You can be outdone by other people; Interests change.” But she had already begun to feel in limbo. "If you're in this business in your thirties and you look young like me, you don't get the roles of a wife or a mother because you don't look old enough - but you're too old for the role. naive. It's a strange position to be in.”
Superhero films also devoured those disorderly but largely convincing roles in which Gellar excelled. "It's a genre where women can really be successful and hold an audience," she says. "Every time a Marvel movie tries to cast a female cast, it just falls apart... Sadly, viewers didn't buy it. There's still that 'male superhero' mentality, that very backward mindset."
Not only was the audience misogynistic, but so was the set. In recent years, Buffy The Vampire Slayer has sparked controversy, with showrunner Joss Whedon being accused of misogynistic behavior behind the scenes.
Ever since actors Ray Fisher and Gal Gadot opened up about their negative experiences with Whedon during production of the DC film Justice League in 2021, some of Gellar's co-stars have shared their stories. Charisma Carpenter, who played Cordelia Chase in Buffy, claimed that Whedon bullied her during her pregnancy, and Michelle Trachtenberg, who played Buffy's younger sister as a teenager, claimed there was an unwritten rule that Whedon must not be left alone with her.
Whedon denies all wrongdoing: "I think I'm one of the coolest showrunners"he said last year.
Gellar's response was limited to a February 2021 Instagram post expressing support for "abuse survivors":"While I'm proud to have my name associated with Buffy Summers, I don't want to be associated with the name Joss Whedon forever."
Today, Gellar refuses to say more. “I will never go into details because it doesn't help, it doesn't solve anything... My heart beats for people who are willing to share their truths, their stories and their experiences. I only know that for me to make things new, nothing can be gained from this experience. What I gain is making sure there are better experiences for the next generation.”
There have already been positive changes in the industry, says Gellar. "Not a day goes by that you don't reach into a trade publication and hear about a showrunner being fired for inappropriate behavior. When I was growing up, people on sets were screaming: actors, directors, everyone. That doesn't happen anymore. If someone comes out on set screaming, it's like "Peace!" No one needs to be treated like that – we found that.'”
From her position of power on the Wolf Pack set, Gellar was able to "build an infrastructure for the younger cast," she says. "Something I'm pretty sure I haven't had in any of my jobs."
What would Gellar have benefited from as a young star?
"Someone who was there to listen. There are things in business now - there was no intimacy coordinator when I was there - but you don't know that person either. It's a lot easier for the cast to come to me if a crew member is making them uncomfortable or if someone doesn't like their hair, makeup or wardrobe."
Still, Gellar admits, "I'm still not taken seriously by the men on set. Sometimes I still feel the need to read my resume, like, 'How many of these shows have you done? How many experiences have you had at 2am with 250 extras, a late take, a stunt - all those things? Not only did I produce it, I was there too. Listen to me, because I know where I come from.'
"I can talk like that now when I think I probably couldn't 10 years ago." Gellar adds with a smile, "If there's one thing kids teach, it's patience."
Right now, her goal is to do, act, and produce a select few projects a year — so when her kids leave home for college, "I feel like that's full throttle. I love what I do and I really love it in a different and much happier way.”
Gellar points out that growing up, her dream was to be a professional actress. "I didn't dream of such a success, so I'm now in the fun phase where everything fits. I've been on all the magazine covers, I've won awards, all that stuff — I just wanna have fun."
She sees a limit to her return. Fans have long been calling for a Buffy revival, at least forExorcise Whedon's spirit. But while Gellar agrees that "there are more stories to tell," she wouldn't want to be a part of it. “I am very satisfied with what I have achieved. Even if I did a cameo, it would only be compared. They want to give someone the ability to create from scratch.”
Now, Gellar says, Buffy belongs to her fans. She's hesitant to share her thoughts on where the character went after season seven. But she's happy with how the "Chosen One" has finally been able to share his burden with a host of new Slayers. "I love the ending. I love the fact that the whole idea was that any girl who wants power can have power. Isn't that the last lesson?"
Wolf Pack is on Paramount+