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.”
In the opening of the series, Sydney and agency colleague Andrew (Hamish Linklater) are in the midst of a scene that Gellar didn’t have to think too hard about: They’re coaching a string of pint-size actors as they audition for a commercial—a process she went through as a child. But it’s only since becoming a mother, she says, that she has felt fully confident exploring a father-daughter dynamic in front of the cameras. “I didn’t really have a relationship with my father when I was growing up,” says Gellar, whose parents divorced before she was 10 and who was raised on New York’s Upper East Side by her mother, Rosellen, a nursery school teacher. (Sarah was still estranged from her father, Arthur Gellar, a garment worker, at the time of his death in 2001.) “But now I can base my role on seeing my husband and daughter together. I understand that bond. I see the pride when he looks at her and the love she has when she looks at him.”
Linklater, who plays the agency’s art director, says Williams and Gellar fall easily into their roles: “They have a similar sense of humor. She speaks incredibly rapidly, and so does he. You imagine the two of them around the breakfast table as father and daughter and no one getting a word in edgewise.”
Part of the appeal of The Crazy Ones for Gellar was that she could remind the public that she’s not a comedy newbie; not only did she deliver those wry Buffy lines, but she has also hosted Saturday Night Live three times. She’s always been great at squeezing laughs out of an ordinary moment. Today, for example, when the restaurant music suddenly gets very loud, she calls out to a bespectacled man in a pinstripe suit, “Do you think you can lower that a bit?” He obediently trots over to the sound system, and Gellar says, deadpan, “I really hope he works here.”
But The Crazy Ones also appealed to her because taking a job for the first time since giving birth to Rocky didn’t mean she had to sacrifice parenting. “In the pilot, I’m in every scene but one,” she says, “yet I was either with my kids in the morning or there to put them to bed every night we shot.” Intent on raising their children themselves, Gellar and Prinze try not to be employed at the same time—though occasionally they make exceptions, as they did for Prinze’s recent multi-episode arc as a CIA agent on the Fox series Bones. (The idea was broached by Bones star Boreanaz during their chance Newport Beach meeting.)
Prinze was a teen heartthrob when the two met in 1997 on the set of the horror film I Know What You Did Last Summer, and they started out as just pals. It wasn’t until three years later, says Gellar, that things got romantic: “We hadn’t seen each other in a while, and we were catching up over dinner and it just felt different.” In 2002 they were married in a small nondenominational ceremony at a luxury resort in Jalisco, Mexico. Perhaps because they were raised in -single-parent households—Prinze was 10 months old when his famous father, who starred in the sitcom Chico and the Man, died, an apparent suicide—they both seem clear-eyed about marriage. “We work at it,” says Gellar, emphasizing the importance of having “a separate life. I always say I’m Sarah Michelle Gellar when I work and I’m Sarah Prinze in the other life.” Though the Prinzes’ union has “had its ups and downs,” she says, it remains strong: “I don’t know if there’s a secret—if I had a secret, I’d write a book and retire. But we talk. We check in.”
As evidence, she proffers her iPhone to display a photo she sent Prinze from the More shoot in which she stands dressed in Eres tap pants, black bra, gauzy Dsquared2 white blouse and Jimmy Choo spike heels. “He sent this back to me,” says Gellar, laughing at Prinze’s response to her sexy text: a cute snapshot he’d just taken of daughter Charlotte standing on a red restaurant banquette doing her best four-year-old riff on Mom’s kittenish pose.
When Gellar was six months pregnant with Charlotte, she spoke to a friend about joining a mommy support group. She thought she was just prepping for parenthood, but as it turned out, she learned a great deal more. “It’s very hard to go into situations where people know a lot about you and you don’t know anything about them,” says Gellar, who instantly clicked with the other women, all first-time mothers. “This is the first group I could join where I felt like I was on the same playing field. When we talked about sleeping or feeding or any of those things, my situation was no different from theirs. It was very freeing for me.”
Four years later, Gellar and the group are still tight, meeting for dinner once a month. “It starts out quiet and gets loud,” says one of the gang, talent manager Lainie Sorkin Becky. She and Gellar bonded during 3 a.m. gab-by-text fests while they were pumping milk, laughing ruefully about what it’s like for two perfectionists to confront howling infants, dirty diapers and toy-strewn living rooms. “The type A mothers have the steepest learning curve,” says Becky, adding that Gellar is the group’s nurturing, energetic ringleader, organizing museum outings and scheduling swim lessons in her backyard pool.
Like all other conscientious celebrity mothers, Gellar worries about her children growing up in an environment where strangers sometimes intrude on their privacy. “I just want them to be happy, to enjoy life, to be good people,” she says. Charlotte and Rocky have never seen any of their parents’ film and TV work, not even the kiddie favorite in which the couple costarred, Scooby-Doo. They have been on set and watched Gellar getting her hair and makeup done, but even so, she says, “Charlotte doesn’t know what I do for a living.”
Post-Buffy, Gellar’s career has included a kaleidoscope of projects, successful and not. She filmed a pilot for HBO that never went to series and has appeared in more than eight movies, including the hit remake of a Japanese horror film, The Grudge, which spawned a sequel, and Southland Tales, an indie famously booed at Cannes, although a New York Times review praised Gellar for giving her role “dignity and melancholic soul.” In 2011 she was executive producer of the CW series Ringer, in which she played identical twins; it was canceled after one season.
Recently, Gellar caused a stir in the press by suggesting that she and Whedon would be interested in making a Buffy movie. But the truth is, she doesn’t seem nostalgic for that lost, magical time. Asked if she dreams of Buffy at night, she answers at once: “No. I’m the parent of two. I sleep hard and fast.”
More questions for Sarah Michelle Gellar
My number-one rule when striving to achieve MORE is . . .
To just have fun. I’ve already accomplished more than I ever thought I would. Everything else feels like gravy.
I wish I had MORE time for. . .
Me time. If I have extra time, I want to be with my kids. I still have that mom guilt. I haven’t had a facial since my first child was born.
What do you appreciate MOREas you age?
How good my life is. I focus less on the bad.
MORE women should. . .
Go on female dates—girl dates with your friends to recharge.
What’s MORE terrifying than failure?
We look at failure as a bad thing, but if failure is a learning experience, then it makes you a better person. Don’t be so afraid of that word. Instead of “That failed,” how about “That didn’t work”?
MORE women seek to age gracefully. What’s your advice?
I’m trying to take care of myself. It’s funny: I just discovered Oil of Olay, and I was like, Oh, wow. That’s why it’s been around all these years. It’s awesome!
Describe a moment from your past that you wish you could do one MORE time.
Sometimes at night when I can’t sleep, I think about giving birth to my children. I like reliving that moment when they hand you your baby.
Margy Rochlin profiled Angie Harmon in the September issue of More.
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