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Sarah Michelle Gellar Returns to Fighting Form: “I’ve Earned the Right to Stand Where I Am”

Twenty years after 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' its star is back with more high school horror as she battles to protect her younger 'Wolf Pack' co-stars — and her daughter — from industry abuses: “I hope that I’ve set up a safety net for these actors that I didn’t have.”

Two decades after her character’s retirement, the woman behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer still can’t help but come to the rescue.

Sarah Michelle Gellar arrives early to Blue Ribbon Sushi — she is always early — wearing a camel trench, striped sweater and a welcoming smile. Merely on time, I join her with an iPhone suffering some kind of electronic stroke. The typically reliable recording device, regressed to a glitching black brick, has us briefly considering a change of venue to the Genius Bar before Gellar segues into problem-solving mode. This, as everyone in her orbit insists, is where she most excels. “It’s OK, I’m the IT professional for my entire family,” she explains, reviving the instrument after a few minutes of methodical button-pushing.

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Sarah Michelle Gellar

Despite this act of quiet heroism, Gellar’s presence goes curiously unchecked during our mid-December afternoon at a boutique mall in Los Angeles’ Pacific Palisades neighborhood. Servers at the restaurant don’t fawn. The ladies who lunch keep occupied by their miso soups. Multiple scans of last-minute holiday shoppers reveal nary a turned head, and I’m starting to feel a little insulted on her behalf. But it is no slight, nor is it a coincidence, as she gradually lets on. Here, Gellar is just another local mom — a regular, albeit one whose family vacations with the restaurant’s owner and who hosts the plaza’s Christmas celebration. “I lit that tree a few years back,” she says, eyes on the white fir suffocating in silver and gold. “I swear that it’s the only time my kids ever thought I was cool.”


Gellar tailored this meeting much as she has the past decade of her life. Having stepped away from acting since 2014 to raise a family, she’s entrenched herself in the tonier enclaves of the Westside. There, she’s focused on her two children (Charlotte, 13, and Rocky, 10) and husband of 20 years (fellow turn-of-the-century heartthrob Freddie Prinze Jr.), enjoyed a lucrative detour as an entrepreneur and built a community for herself just adjacent to Hollywood. Her lingering tether to the entertainment industry, save a few cameos, has been the body of work that made her a generational icon, particularly the aforementioned 1997 TV series about an archetypal Valley girl tasked with saving the world on a weekly basis, her calling card with a now complicated legacy. (Yes, we’ll get to that.)

Comfortably predictable days like these, however, are becoming less frequent. Inspired in part by her daughter’s interest in acting, Gellar is pursuing work again in earnest. She follows 2022’s well-received turn in the campy Netflix film Do Revenge with a starring role on the Paramount+ series Wolf Pack, on which she also serves as executive producer. Gellar realizes that the business and audiences have changed during her absence, and, as the 45-year-old is quick to note, so has she.

“There was an issue at work the other day where they kept forgetting to send things for my approval but remembered to send them to a male actor who’s not a producer,” says Gellar, swiping a blushing piece of toro with her chopsticks. ” ‘Oh, just old processes,’ they said, ‘Sorry.’ OK, then let’s make a new process. The old me would have backed down. But if you look how long I’ve been working, I’ve earned the right to stand where I am. I won’t make any more excuses for that.”

Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr. co-starred in a live-action ScoobyDoo and its 2004 sequel after meeting and working together on 1997’s I Know What You Did Last Summer.
Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr. co-starred in a live-action Scooby-Doo and its 2004 sequel after meeting and working together on 1997’s I Know What You Did Last Summer. Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection

Notching her first credit by the age of 5 and landing her best-known role at 17, Gellar forged her career in the hustle. Buffy, which required the actor to handle many of her own stunts while simultaneously delivering a vulnerable performance, was eight years of taxing work. Sought-after for her ability to deliver strength, sensitivity and snark in equal measure, she spent hiatuses filming a string of successful movies, proving her chops in horror (I Know What You Did Last Summer), teen drama (Cruel Intentions) and the occasional comedy (Scooby-Doo). Once Buffy ended its seven-season run in 2003 and Gellar aged into adult roles, she mostly moved on from genre work — appearing in a string of independent drama features and a short-lived TV thriller, Ringer, on The CW. That’s what makes her latest choices such a departure. Gellar is finally playing the hits. Her part in the scheming teen comedy Do Revenge was a nod to her type A Cruel Intentions character, and Wolf Pack, a high school-set horror series where monsters serve as a metaphor for the trials of modern adolescence, is being pitched as a Buffy descendent.

“To come back, to get projects made, you have to pay homage to what you’re known for,” she says. “If I do things that speak to the fan base — which I think these will — and gather some new people along the way, maybe I branch out again. It’s not a next act for me, but it’s certainly a new chapter.”

From her first day on set, Gellar was back in fighting form. “I didn’t understand what we had until we were cutting the first trailer, and I watched a scene of her breaking through a fence with a gun,” says Jeff Davis, Wolf Pack‘s creator and showrunner. “Oh, shit. We didn’t just get Sarah Michelle Gellar, we got the one everybody’s been waiting to see for years: the ass-kicking Sarah Michelle Gellar.”

She’ll gleefully kick ass, though that’s not all Gellar desires from an anticipated comeback. She says she wants to create safer sets than those she experienced growing up and to be valued for the discipline that sometimes got her labeled “difficult” when she was younger.

Such a return comes with expectations. Gellar is aware that there are questions — not just about her ability to lure an audience but about past experiences, as Buffy, like so many cultural products, is reexamined through the lens of recent reckonings. The actor anticipates navigating those conversations in the same manner she does all of her work these days: more emboldened than she was the first time around.

“It’s not about finding my voice,” she says. “It’s about learning how to use it … and using it in the right way.”

Sarah Michelle Gellar in Alberta Ferretti dress and blazer, Zaffori boots, Vhernier ring.
Sarah Michelle Gellar in Alberta Ferretti dress and blazer, Zaffori boots, Vhernier ring. PHOTOGRAPHED BY JONNY MARLOW


Gellar has always seemed preternaturally poised. While her Hollywood contemporaries reveled in the last debauched days of pre-social media nightlife, the laissez-faire 1990s gradually surrendering to the scrutiny of the aughts, Gellar celebrated her 21st birthday at Disneyland instead of a nightclub. Such staid behavior helped her avoid the tabloids and the pitfalls of early fame.

Selma Blair (left) and Gellar after their best kiss win at the 2000 MTV Movie Awards.
Selma Blair (left) and Gellar after their best kiss win at the 2000 MTV Movie Awards.  Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images

“We were young and a lot of us weren’t from L.A., but Sarah provided enough stability that you didn’t want to act reckless,” recalls longtime friend and actor Selma Blair. The two met shortly before their 1998 shoot for Cruel Intentions, a movie that prompted more think-of-the-children media hysterics for its then-unprecedented kiss shared by female co-stars (Gellar and Blair) than for the lingering sex scene between off-camera couple Ryan Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon. “There was nothing prudish about her,” says Blair. “She was still cool. She just managed to walk this line of good judgment. If she had a party at her house, she was actually serving food. You stayed on your best behavior with Sarah.”

Self-possession didn’t always make her friends on set. The only child of a single mom, Rosellen, Gellar arrived in Los Angeles at age 16 with the kind of maturity that comes from growing up in Manhattan and putting in long hours on a soap opera. She logged two years on All My Children, a gig that earned her a Daytime Emmy and a reportedly uneasy relationship with her onscreen mother, Susan Lucci. (The late soap’s de facto star was in the midst of a famous two-decade losing streak at the same awards show when her adolescent colleague took a statuette.) So even though Gellar was the youngest member of the Buffy cast — turning 18 while filming the pilot episode — she came to the job battle-tested.

Seth Green, another Gellar confidant and an early Buffy castmember, recalls his friend taking heat when she tried to use her status as No. 1 on the call sheet to make the days less grueling. “That show was just hard,” says Green. “We were working crazy hours, and a lot of things that got pushed weren’t necessarily safe or under the best conditions. Sarah was always the first one to say, ‘We agreed this was a 13-hour day and it’s hour 15 — we’ve got to wrap,’ or, ‘Hey, this shot doesn’t seem safe,’ when nobody else would stick up for the cast and crew. I saw her get called a bitch, a diva, all these things that she’s not — just because she was taking the mantle of saying and doing the right thing.”

Such vigilance from lead actors is now celebrated, if not expected, on film and TV sets. When Gellar was coming up, it was discouraged. But she stood her ground. “If people think you’re a bitch, it’s almost better,” Gellar observes, unprompted by my subsequent conversation with Green. “There’s less expectation that way.”

Now more serious, she reflects on what that word implied earlier in her career. “There was a time when I had a reputation of being … difficult,” she says, throwing up air quotes. “Anyone that knows me knows it came from the fact that I always put in 100 percent. I never understood people who don’t. I’ve mellowed a bit in [my expectations of others] — I think because I got burned out.”

Gellar has the ability to examine and discuss arcs of her life and career in seconds. The most noticeable difference between the characters she has played and the woman who just spared me a trip to the Apple Store is the staggering speed with which she speaks in real life. This is not the energy of someone who has mellowed. If anything, Gellar seems eager. Hungry. She gets excited when talking about producing Wolf Pack and makes it clear that her negotiated producer credit is not just for profit participation — something she never had on Buffy, the residuals of which she describes as “nothing anybody could live off of” — but to set a tone for the younger principal cast, four newcomers between the ages of 19 and 21.

“I’ve got teenagers running around half-naked,” says Davis. “And while it’s vital to have the intimacy coordinator, it’s so important to have Sarah there because she’s been where they are. She knows this stuff.”

Distributing her phone number to the young co-stars with a promise to discreetly handle any concerns, Gellar tries to make good on her word. She describes one scenario where a crewmember made someone in the cast uncomfortable, offering back rubs. He was gone as soon it was brought to her attention. “I hope that I’ve set up an infrastructure, a safety net for these actors that I didn’t have,” she says. “My generation just didn’t have that.”

Sarah Michelle Gellar in Michael Kors dress, Anabela Chan earrings, Louboutin shoes.
Sarah Michelle Gellar in Michael Kors dress, Anabela Chan earrings, Louboutin shoes. PHOTOGRAPHED BY JONNY MARLOW


Revelations about the absence of safety nets on Buffy the Vampire Slayer have put the show in a kind of cultural purgatory. A once-unimpeachable object of devotion, a watershed in the history of serialized TV so influential that it inspired a niche discipline in academia to dissect its sprawling themes, the series is being reconsidered since creator Joss Whedon faced a rolling tide of allegations of abusive behavior from past collaborators.

For Buffy, specifically, the shoe dropped in early 2021. Charisma Carpenter, an actress originally considered for Gellar’s role before being cast in a supporting part on the series and the spinoff Angel, called the showrunner “casually cruel” in a scathing Twitter missive that described hostile sets. Co-star Amber Benson responded, calling the production a “toxic” environment. The most damning claim came from actress Michelle Trachtenberg, under 18 throughout her three seasons on the series, who alleged that there was an unwritten rule that Whedon was “not allowed” to be alone with her. (Whedon has denied such claims, though he did subsequently tell New York magazine that he was “not mannerly” toward Carpenter.) Gellar issued a statement in support of the women at the time. Never making any claims of her own, she chose her words carefully. “While I am proud to have my name associated with Buffy Summers,” she wrote, “I don’t want to be forever associated with the name Joss Whedon.”

She’s otherwise avoided the subject — save one reference to an “extremely toxic male set,” widely interpreted by the internet as a reference to Whedon, during a recent panel discussion. “I’ve come to a good place with it, where it’s easier to talk about,” says Gellar, not once uttering her former boss’ name in my company. “I’ll never tell my full story because I don’t get anything out of it. I’ve said all I’m going to say because nobody wins. Everybody loses.”

Her husband paints a more colorful picture. “She had to deal with a lot of bullshit on that show for all seven years it was on,” says Prinze. “The stuff they pressed upon her, without any credit or real salary, while she was often the only one doing 15-hour days … yet she was still able to get the message of that character out every single week and do it with pride and do it professionally.”

Gellar in season three of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Says her husband, Freddie Prinze Jr.: “She had to deal with a lot of bullshit on that show for all seven years it was on.”
Gellar in season three of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Says her husband, Freddie Prinze Jr.: “She had to deal with a lot of bullshit on that show for all seven years it was on.” Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved / Courtesy Everett Collection

Adds actor Emma Caulfield, Gellar’s friend who played a recurring role on Buffy for two seasons before being hired as a series regular for the final three: “It was obvious that Sarah lacked the support to be the leader she needed and wanted to be. There was a tremendous amount of resentment and animosity [toward her] from a certain someone — and I suppose now we can all guess who.”

There’s the rub for Buffy and a lot of collaborative art. Sometimes it only takes one discredited participant for a TV show, the product of hundreds of individuals’ efforts, to wind up in the penalty box. The lasting impact of being associated with a problematic creator, at least in this instance, likely won’t reveal itself for years. Gellar remains optimistic. “I’m not the only person facing this, and I hope the legacy hasn’t changed,” she says, now in a measured tone. “I hope that it gives the success back to the people that put in all of the work. I will always be proud of Buffy. I will always be proud of what my castmates did, what I did. Was it an ideal working situation? Absolutely not. But it’s OK to love Buffy for what we created because I think it’s pretty spectacular.”

Still, Gellar does have opinions. During the first year of the pandemic, she decided that her children were old (and interested) enough to watch the series. Her curation of their rewatch reveals some of her more complicated feelings about Buffy. “We watched seasons one through five,” says Gellar, referencing the episodes that originally aired on The WB — before studio 20th Century Fox, battling with the late network over licensing fees, sold it to a higher bidder (the now-also-defunct UPN) for another two seasons. “We skipped around a lot on those last two,” she adds, alluding to a controversial storyline in which her optimistic heroine suffered a season-long depression and took comfort in hate sex with a vampire who ultimately attempted to rape her when she broke things off. “I have trouble with six. It wasn’t appropriate for them at the time, and I just don’t want to rewatch it.”

For those Buffy viewers still eager to debate Gellar’s onscreen couplings: daughter Charlotte preferred David Boreanaz’s broody Angel, while son Rocky gravitated toward the more villainous Spike, played by James Marsters.

Sarah Michelle Gellar


Gellar’s rationale for taking an extended break from the often-demoralizing entertainment industry doesn’t require much interrogation. Strolling the placid shopping center and sipping iced coffee in genteel anonymity, she exudes a kind of contentment that plenty of actors, producers, agents and executives do not. We pass by her car, a Tesla SUV she parallel parked — Gellar has no patience for valet — and which she disarmingly declares “a lemon.” She laments the purchase, rolls her eyes at the mention of Elon Musk and announces her intent to unload it and go back to driving a Prius.

Gellar and daughter Charlotte made a rare public appearance at the Do Revenge premiere.
Gellar and daughter Charlotte made a rare public appearance at the Do Revenge premiere. Phillip Faraone/Getty Images

The entire Prinze family — Gellar still goes by her maiden name professionally but legally took her husband’s in 2007 to commemorate their fifth wedding anniversary — would be a tight squeeze in a Prius. They live a relatively quiet life a few miles east of here. They like to stay home with their three dogs, rarely dining out for anything but sushi. Prinze, an avid home cook, regularly whips up elaborate meals like coq au vin on weeknights. Many in their group of friends work in other fields. Charlotte and Rocky don’t appear on their parents’ Instagram feeds, nor are they allowed to have social media accounts of their own. Still, despite these guardrails, Charlotte has declared her intentions to join the family business.

“Does it scare the shit out of me?” Gellar asks, beating me to a question that she doesn’t really answer. “Well, we have rules in place. She can’t be in front of a camera until she graduates high school. She says to me, ‘That’s unfair. You were a child actor.’ Yes, I was. But I was not the child of two famous parents.”

Both out of solidarity with Charlotte and to satisfy an itch that never went away, Gellar and Prinze, prom queen and king of millennium-era pop culture, decided to put themselves back out there. “From my vantage point, Sarah always had the hunger to go back to acting,” says Prinze, who starred in Netflix’s December rom-com Christmas With You. “I could tell from the way she watches TV, analyzing it, and how she talks about movies on the drive home [from the theater]. Once our daughter started taking it seriously, both of us just instinctually wanted to show her the way we think it should be done.”

Gellar (second from left) with her Foodstirs partners, ringing the closing bell at Nasdaq in 2017.
Gellar (second from left) with her Foodstirs partners, ringing
the closing bell at Nasdaq in 2017.
Trisha Leeper/Getty Images

Gellar happened to have more time on her hands. Foodstirs, the cooking and lifestyle company she co-founded in 2015, was selling organic baking kits in more than 7,500 U.S. stores within two years and continued to do so until its supplier was hobbled by the pandemic. By 2022, she’d sold off her remaining stake in the company. Then it wasn’t so much about making the rounds as letting the industry know she was again seeking roles. Since her last major Hollywood job, co-headlining the one-season CBS comedy The Crazy Ones with the late Robin Williams during the early 2010s, Gellar has remained atop casting wish lists for broadcast comedies and streaming dramas. So when her team got the green light — she’s had the same manager since she was 12 and the same agent and publicist since she was 18 — scripts followed.

“They say you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,” says Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, the 34-year-old filmmaker who sent her Do Revenge script Gellar’s way, unsolicited, in hopes of crafting a small part for the actor whose performances she grew up adoring. “They also say don’t meet your heroes, which, for the most part, I’ve found to be true. Sarah blows that away. She was a collaborator, she brought excitement to the set and I think her involvement fundamentally changed what the movie means to me.”

Gellar’s participation in Wolf Pack was the result of a similar shot in the dark. Paramount executives suggested her for the series, but showrunner Davis, who credits Buffy as a major influence, assumed they had no chance. His instincts weren’t entirely misguided. “I wasn’t even going to read the script,” says Gellar. “I liked Jeff’s work, but I wasn’t going to do a werewolf show. But they convinced me to give it a look, and I loved what he was doing in the pilot. It reminds me of Buffy, not the show itself, but the way it addresses the horrors we’re facing today: anxiety, the stress of daily life, feeling isolated.”

Gellar in the new series Wolf Pack, pitched as a descendant of Buffy. “To come back, to get projects made, you have to pay homage to what you’re known for,” she says.
Gellar in the new series Wolf Pack, pitched as a descendant of Buffy. “To come back, to get projects made, you have to pay homage to what you’re known for,” she says. Curtis Bonds Baker/Paramount+

Charlotte joined her mother on both shoots, and Gellar’s collaborators tried to persuade her to give her daughter at least a walk-on cameo. Skirting the current “nepo baby” discourse, for at least a couple more years, she wouldn’t budge. “I’ll never stop her from being on a set,” says Gellar, who’s since sought counsel from Do Revenge co-star Maya Hawke (daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke) on how to parent a Hollywood kid. “But she’s just not going on camera while she’s living under our roof. There’ll be different expectations for her, so she needs to learn everything there is first.”


She may be returning to an uneasy marketplace, the measure for success constantly shifting and the record-breaking volume of original TV series poised to shrink, but Gellar brings with her a potential reach that is not lost on Hollywood brass. The wealthy and aloof of the Palisades can play it cool as much they like, but Gellar is still regularly stopped by strangers — the most exciting, for her, being the ones born after Buffy went off the air. “Kids come up to me in this day and age and say, ‘That show means something to me,’ ” she says. “That’s crazy. Who has that?”

Adds Blair: “She created a career foundation that’s so strong. Buffy‘s pretty iconic, and so is Sarah. I’m just excited for her right now because I think the world is excited to see more of her.”

Gellar on set with Do Revenge filmmaker Jennifer Kaytin Robinson.
Gellar on set with Do Revenge filmmaker Jennifer Kaytin Robinson. Kim Simms/Netflix

Such excitement is evidenced by how her new partners choose to publicize her participation. Gellar’s addition to Wolf Pack was announced with a surprise appearance at Comic-Con, generating more headlines than any other news coming out of the event. Robinson asked that Netflix keep the actor’s involvement in Do Revenge under wraps until the day before the film dropped on the streamer. “I wanted to make a Marvel-like character reveal trailer for her to release,” says Robinson, whose film hit No. 1 on the streamer’s global Top 10 chart. “Because, for me, that’s how big of a deal this was. And this is her narrative. I wanted her to be in charge of it.”

Gellar has a lot of ideas for the next few years. She plans to shop a film project to streamers. There’s a book she’s been trying to option for a while. She’s even developing another idea with Davis. But she insists she’s in no rush. Besides, she’s almost due to pick up Charlotte from school — in her “lemon” of a Tesla. (She’ll get there early.)

“I’m not chasing anything anymore, and that makes this so much more fun,” says Gellar. “I grew up wanting to be a working actor in New York City — a guest spot on Law & Order was the pinnacle of success to me. Now I’ve played more than one character that people dress up as every Halloween. Everything else is gravy.”

Sarah Michelle Gellar

This story first appeared in the Jan. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.