In 1997, Sarah Michelle Gellar was an ambitious, superorganized actress fresh out of her teens. She could pull a pager, a flip phone and a personal digital assistant from her purse and multitask her way through lunch, simultaneously eating, fielding interview questions and keeping her career on track. “A 40-year-old in a 17-year-old’s body” is how one of her friends described her back then.
More than a decade and a half later, Gellar, 36, finds herself at a different stage of life. She’s been married for 11 years to film and television actor Freddie Prinze Jr. (She’s All That; 24), with whom she has two kids—Charlotte, four, and Rocky, one—and the passage of time has loosened her up. “I’m getting younger, actually,” says Gellar, sitting in an L.A. restaurant dressed in ripped gray jeans, a Rebecca Taylor knit blouse and sparkly Chanel flats. “I think I’m goofier now.” She points to that morning, when a bomb scare in the building across the street prompted an evacuation that interrupted the More photo shoot. Upon hearing the news, the Gellar of yesteryear would probably have placed a follow-up call to 911, quickly sketched out an escape route on the back of a napkin, then led everyone to safety. The new SMG? She decided it was cocktail time. “I was like, ‘Let’s go have Bloody Marys!’ I would never have said that—even when I was 22!”
She has a good explanation for her premature maturity. “I had a big load on my shoulders,” says Gellar, who made her acting debut at age four in a TV movie, An Invasion of Privacy, and hasn’t stopped working since. By the mid-’90s, she’d won a Daytime Emmy for her role on the soap All My Children. Then, at age 18, she landed the part that would make her an international star: the demon-battling high school student on Joss Whedon’s TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Recently ranked number eight on Entertainment Weekly’s list of the 100 Greatest TV Shows Ever, Buffy was both a dream job and a punishing gig for Gellar. The show demanded constant night shoots—you don’t slaughter the undead in the light of day—as well as chunks of time devoted to memorizing smart, slang-filled dialogue. “It was a cultural phenomenon, but the hours were insane,” she says. “I could barely make it home to bed.” When cast and crew were pushed to their limit, she functioned as their protector. “Sarah, because she was the star, was one of the few people who could actually stand up for everyone else,” says longtime pal and Buffy costar Seth Green.
When Gellar bumped into her Buffy love interest, David Boreanaz, while both were vacationing in Newport Beach, California, it didn’t surprise him that one of the first things she mentioned about her new CBS show, The Crazy Ones, was how happy she was with the easier shooting schedule. He says one thing about Gellar that hasn’t changed since their Buffy days is her vivacity: “She doesn’t stop talking. She’s just like that. She’ll just go on and on about anything.”
The star’s love of conversation should serve her well on The Crazy Ones. Created by David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, Chicago Hope, The Practice), it’s a workplace comedy about Sydney Roberts (Gellar), co-owner of the Chicago-based Roberts & Roberts advertising agency, which she runs with her successful but eccentric dad, Simon, played by world-class chatterbox and comedy legend Robin Williams. “Blown away by her talent” is how Williams put it when asked what working with Gellar was like. “I’m excited for people to see just how funny she is.”