February 24, 2012

Leaning against the hood of a parked 1963 Camaro in front of a bedraggled motel on Sunset Boulevard, Sarah Michelle Gellar shakes the can of beer she’s been holding, releasing an explosive spray of suds that form foamy puddles on the sidewalk beneath her high-rise heels. She giggles, obviously enjoying her brief moment of rebellion, even if it is for the sake of the accompanying photos. All legs in a short skirt, she mock-defiantly purses her glossy lips, channeling Alabama Whitman, the feisty call girl brought to life by Patricia Arquette in the 1993 crime caper, True Romance. Off camera, the 34-year-old actor no longer indulges in such childish defiance; her alcohol consumption rarely exceeds a recreational glass of wine.

A few hours later, Gellar, who currently stars as a drug addicted ex-stripper hiding from the mob (by impersonating her twin sister) on the CW’s hit series Ringer, has changed back into her everyday clothes: jeans and an AlexanderMcQueen silk scarf. “What did you do to yourself?” she asks, the register of her voice rising to a maternal squeal as she gestures toward a nasty red wound on my forearm. Before going into the embarrassing details—which, among other things, involve at least one vodka drink too many—I cover the burn with my good arm, as if to shield the sore from her inevitable judgment.

After all, Gellar, who bagged a Daytime Emmy for her starring role on All My Children before she could legally enter a dance club, has always had her shit together. She’s never been photographed, legs akimbo, getting out of a limo, and she’s never stumbled out of the Chateau Marmont and into the driver’s seat. There are even websites that host heated debates over whether or not she’s ever taken a drag from a cigarette. “Do you believe everything you read?” she asks at the mention of her assumed purity, her maternal tone giving way to incredulity.“I’ve definitely smoked cigarettes, and I’ve partied plenty.I just got it out of my system early. I was lucky enough to have had my experiences when I was younger—and out of the public eye.”
Since giving birth to Charlotte, the little girl she and her husband, actor Freddie Prinze Jr., welcomed into the world two years ago, it’s unlikely, barring any burlesque midlife crises, that we’ll ever know the extent of her wilder side.“People always want the story, like, ‘What’s the one thing about you that no one knows?’ Or, ‘What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?’” She shakes her head, laughing. “When I was younger, I was very careful not to… ”

Get out of control?
“Not even. I just didn’t want to be seen with a drink in my hand. People looked up to Buffy, and she was a character that girls respected.”

Respect doesn’t even begin to describe the intense adoration that Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s devoted legions bestowed upon its star during the series’ six-year run. It’s hard to imagine how Gellar must have felt when, at the age of 19, she became one of the most beloved and enduring characters in the history of television. Young fans across the world looked up to Buffy, a high school cheerleader with the power to eviscerate all manner of vampires, demons, and undead annoyances. In the show’s wake, she left behind a trail of cultural analysis, from roughly a dozen academic books written by Buffyologists to entire college courses devoted to studying the show, which progressed feminist ideals, putting its bubblegum spin on philosophy, psychology, and theology. Buffy—and, by extension, Gellar—was held up as an exemplary post-feminist archetype alongside Carrie Bradshaw, Ally McBeal, and Bridget Jones. She was, according to cultural analyst and Buffy enthusiast Lorna Jowett, “Barbie with a kung-fu grip.”
Not surprisingly, by the time the series concluded in 2003, Gellar was itching to explore a new world of characters. “Back then, if you’d called me Buffy I would probably have been really annoyed,” she says. “Now, of course, I get it and I’m appreciative of it. But that’s something that comes with maturity, which most people don’t have when they’re 24 years old.” Footloose and Buffy-free, Gellar shifted wholeheartedly into film, a seamless transition given that her resume at that point already boasted memorable screen time in smart slasher films like Scream 2 and I Know What You Did Last Summer, and more surprising fare like Cruel Intentions, a fantastically sleazy take on the classic 1782 novel, Dangerous Liaisons.

Although she and her costar Selma Blair shared a steamy kiss in that film, it was Prinze Jr., with whom she worked on the set of I Know What You Did Last Summer, who preoccupied her time off-camera. The couple exchanged vows in a small ceremony in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in 2002. That same year, she and Prinze Jr. appeared together in the first installment of the Scooby-Doo film franchise. “I called myself the Child Bride the other day,” she says, reflecting on the fact that she’s been married nearly 10 years, a lifetime by Hollywood standards. “But I felt like I was such an adult. In your early 20s, you know everything. No one can tell you anything. Then you turn 30 and think, I didn’t know anything. How did I fool everybody?”

In 2009, after working on a string of big-screen misfires (Southland Tales, TMNT) and straight-to-video releases, Gellar started a two-year hiatus to focus on raising her newborn daughter. It was the longest break from acting she’d taken since she started popping up in Burger King commercials at the age of 4. “For me, having a child was that clichéd, life-altering experience where everything took on a different meaning. Things that had once been priorities had no meaning to me anymore, and things that I’d never thought about suddenly became things that were on my mind. If I’d known how happy having a child would make me, I probably would have had one a long time ago.”

Despite being entirely engrossed in her daughter, Gellar insists that her work hasn’t suffered—instead, it’s Words With Friends that could use her undivided attention. “I love that one,” she says of the mobile word game. “But I’ve been with Charlotte since last Thursday, and so I haven’t returned a single word.”

Something of an app connoisseur, Gellar also swears by Sigalert, an online traffic report that offers real-time updates on traffic jams and road closures, an asset in Los Angeles,where everything’s only a drive away. “It’s changed my life,”she says, to which I respond by telling her about iPeriod, an app that monitors a woman’s cycle. Gellar’s eyes widen,and she lunges for her phone to download it. “You have just changed my life,” she says without a trace of sarcasm. “I’ll think of you every time I menstruate.”

Styling by Annie Ladino.

Get Obsessed. This and more in the Obsessed issue, out now!

Photography by Finlay Mackay

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