Sarah Michelle Gellar: An Inside Look At The Life And Career Of The Buffy Star

Best known for depicting the titular character of the TV series, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," Sarah Michelle Gellar charmed fans worldwide by killing vampires on a weekly basis. However, the actor was popular in all forms of entertainment, like her cameo in the "Sour Girl" music video by Stone Temple Pilots. On the big screen, she starred in the 1997 mystery slasher, "I Know What You Did Last Summer" and the 1999 teen film, "Cruel Intentions." Following into the next decade, she played Daphne in two live-action "Scooby-Doo" films alongside her future husband, Freddie Prinze Jr. While it seemed to some that Gellar dropped out of Hollywood after the early aughts, the actor stayed busy behind the scenes with her family and a few entrepreneurial pursuits. Fans of the Netflix animated series "Masters of the Universe: Revelation" will also recognize Gellar as the voice of superheroine Teela. 

Knowing a thing or two about supernatural TV series, Gellar then joined the 2023 Paramount+ "Teen Wolf" spinoff series, "Wolf Pack" as both an executive producer and actor. "I think for me, I've accomplished so much in my career, more than I've ever thought I would," Gellar told Forbes. While she could have easily stepped away from fame, the actor said she felt no pressure on finding projects and was focused on picking work that she found enjoyable, stating, "I like telling stories and I want to tell fun stories." Sarah Michelle Gellar's life and career certainly tells plenty of interesting stories.

How Sarah Michelle Gellar started acting

As a kid, Sarah Michelle Gellar remembers being mostly well-behaved. "I was much more a rule follower but I did come home a few times past curfew," she admitted to E! News.  She was only 4 years old when a talent agent spotted the young girl and Gellar landed a job in the 1983 TV movie "Invasion of Privacy." 

The burgeoning star also appeared in advertisements, including a Burger King commercial in which a young Gellar smack-talks the competition. "McDonald's were so outraged, they sued Burger King and named me in the lawsuit. I wasn't allowed to eat there," Gellar told the Sunday Express (via HuffPost). Knowing little about the legality of it all, she recalled wondering why she couldn't attend all of her friends' Mcdonalds' birthday parties. Amazingly, Gellar nearly ended up on Broadway when she was a kid and was set to appear in "Jake's Women." Sadly, the Neil Simon play never made it to the stage.

Having attended Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School, Gellar excelled as a straight-A student. "I loved anything having to do with reading. I still do. So, definitely English," she told E! News about her favorite subject. But as a teenager, Gellar particularly loved movies. Speaking to Movieline, she revealed that her favorite was the 1988 film, "Heathers" starring Winona Ryder. "I was 13 when that came out. I was an esoteric child — I loved everything from 'The Princess Bride' to 'Dangerous Liaisons,'" she recalled.

She had a complicated relationship with her parents

Sarah Michelle Gellar is the daughter of Arthur Gellar and her mom, Rosellen Greenfield. Sarah's parents divorced when she was 8 years old and following the split, she lived with her mom, according to E! News. "Everything I am is because of my mom," she gushed in an interview with Dennis Hensley. The young girl lived in an apartment with Greenfield on the Upper East Side in Manhattan, where her mom, who was a teacher, would take Sarah to school as well as auditions around town as she pursued acting. "She's so cute too," she said about her mom. "She still cuts out little articles from like local papers and brings them to me."

As for her relationship with Arthur, the two were not close at all, once bluntly telling TV Guide (via E! News), "Just because you donate sperm does not make you a father. I don't have a father. I would never give him the credit to acknowledge him as my father" Speaking to Movieline, she elaborated, "He's not a part of my life," and explained that she didn't feel compelled to delve any deeper than necessary into her personal life during interviews. "My mom always told me I'm a person first and an actor second," she noted. Sarah and Arthur had been long estranged before he died in 2001, per ABC News.

Her early acting years were tough

For high school, Sarah Michelle Gellar first went to the LaGuardia public school of performing arts. "I hated that school. I got beat up pretty much every day," she told Dennis Hensley. She had a better experience at the Professional Children's School before pursuing acting roles. However, Gellar admitted it was a difficult journey. "Growing up in New York, I had a little bit of street sense going into it, which is helpful. But no, it was not easy," she told The New York Times. At 15, she landed the role of Sydney Rutledge on the teen soap opera, "Swans Crossing," before joining the cast of the ABC soap opera, "All My Children." For the dramatic role, Gellar won the award for Outstanding Younger Actress at the 1995 Daytime Emmy Awards.

Looking back on her soap opera work before becoming a vampire slayer, Gellar said the experience helped to develop her acting skills. "I made incredible friends at that time and I learned incredible work habits, and soap operas are an intense amount of work, and I'm incredibly grateful for that time and the people that I met," she told TV Insider. However, despite her early success, Gellar alluded to having endured some darker challenges. "I've had my fair share of experiences," she told The New York Times. "... But in this world where people get torn apart, and victim blaming and shaming, I just keep my stories in here."

Buffy completely changed her career

When she was breaking into the entertainment industry, Sarah Michelle Gellar remembered the lack of diversity in characters. "There weren't great female roles when I came up. It was the girlfriend role, the wife role," she told The New York Times. "That's why Buffy was so spectacular because she really had something to do." Thanks to Gellar's Emmy-winning performance on "All My Children," she earned an audition to star in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," per Movieline. Yet, the lead role almost went to Charisma Carpenter, who originally auditioned for the title character — and wound up landing the role of Cordelia Chase. Meanwhile, Gellar originally auditioned for the role of Cordelia but was cast as Buffy. For the men's characters, Nathan Fillion originally auditioned for the role of Angel and Ryan Reynolds turned down the role of Xander, according to E! News.

While working on the series, Gellar said she was grateful for playing the character and believed it was rare to enjoy the work so much. "I get excited. There's nothing like arriving on the first day on a new set, or even that first day back on the set on Buffy after a break," she told Cinema. As for her favorite episodes, Gellar said she loved the prom episode, as well as "Becoming: Part 2," in which Buffy had to kill her boyfriend, Angel. "Because she had to save the world by sacrificing the man she loved," Gellar noted to Movieline.

Why Sarah Michelle Gellar walked away from Hollywood

After concluding "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" in 2003, Sarah Michelle Gellar's career continued with projects like the J-horror remake, "The Grudge," and its 2006 sequel. In 2013, she joined the cast of the TV sitcom, "The Crazy Ones" as the on-screen daughter of Robin Williams. "I think a lot of people see Robin Williams and they think it's going to be a Robin Williams shtick. But I think it truly is an ensemble," Gellar told CBS. "... This is the best job I've ever had to give me the opportunity to be creative and to show my children good work ethic," the actor added. Gellar was also optimistic that the show would really hit its groove in the second season, which she said was the case while working on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." 

Sadly, in the Summer of 2014, Williams died by suicide. The tragic news caused Gellar to re-evaluate her career path. "I've been working my entire life ... there was just so much going on in my life and I just said, 'I need to take a break,'" she told People. Gellar explained that she had developed a connection with Williams on the set of the show and following his death, she focused on raising her children. Looking back, the actor said it was the right decision to pause her acting career. "I needed that break to be the parent that I wanted to be," Gellar explained.

She absolutely loves to cook

In 2015, Sarah Michelle Gellar co-founded the company, Foodstirs, which sells baking mixes and kits to create fun-themed foods. The actor and her friend, Galit Laibow, wanted to bake with their daughters but were disappointed with the ingredients in existing baking kits. "I couldn't even pronounce half the ingredients in these mixes. So, we did some research and made our own from scratch," Gellar told People

She and her co-founders also wanted to make the end results picture-friendly, like many projects seen on Pinterest, for example. "Our whole idea is to bridge the gap between inspiration and execution," Gellar said about her brand. According to the actor, she also had little fear of branching out beyond entertainment. "I don't look at failure in the same way that other people look at it. I like to think of it as exercise. Failure is just the first attempt in learning," she told Entrepreneur.

By launching the company, Gellar admitted she learned more than expected. "It's definitely been eye-opening. I think so much about the younger generation and helping them understand where food comes [from]," she told The Hollywood Reporter. In fact, Gellar explained that she loves to go with her children and husband to farmer's markets on weekends and explain about the origins of the various items, she told Forbes. Showing her skills in the kitchen, Gellar then released a cookbook in 2017, following in the footsteps of her husband, Freddie Prinze Jr.'s cookbook the previous year.

The Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr. meet cute

Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr. first met on the set of the 1997 film, "I Know What You Did Last Summer." Yet, it wasn't exactly love at first sight, with Prinze Jr. telling People, "[We] really dig each other ... Then one day I gave her a ride to the gym. We talked on the way up, and she was a cool chick," he recalled.

Gellar similarly remembers a slow development with her husband at the time of filming the teen slasher, telling Movieline, "We were just friends then. We had nothing in common other than just hanging out and having fun." Additionally, the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" star recalled that Prinze Jr. was already in a relationship at the time. She explained that after filming their first flick together, Prinze Jr. was becoming a big movie star as the lead in films like "She's All That" and "Head Over Heels." He then separated from his girlfriend, leaving the door open for Gellar. "I called him and said I heard he was back and if he wanted to go for sushi to give me a call," she revealed.

During Gellar's 24th birthday celebration in 2001, she and Prinze Jr. announced their engagement. Following the news, Howard Stern bet Prinze Jr. $1 million that he and Gellar would get divorced. The shock jock may be regretting that choice as the couple celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2022, per Page Six.

She stood with her co-stars against Joss Whedon

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" series creator, Joss Whedon was adored by fans for much of his career, especially for his role in developing strong female characters on screen. That is, until his downfall in Hollywood, according to Vulture. In 2021, Charisma Carpenter, who worked with Whedon both on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and its spinoff, "Angel," posted a detailed note on Twitter about the director, claiming Whedon traumatized her in a variety of ways. "Joss has a history of being casually cruel," Carpenter wrote. The star claimed Whedon was difficult and abusive to work with, including calling her fat when she was four months pregnant. 

In response to the accusations, Gellar showed her support in a statement she posted on Instagram. "While I am proud to have my name associated with Buffy Summers, I don't want to be forever associated with the name Joss Whedon," she wrote. The actor concluded in the statement, "I stand with all survivors of abuse and I am proud of them for speaking out."

Following the post, Michelle Trachtenberg, who played Dawn in "Buffy," also accused Whedon of misconduct with an Instagram post. She explained that she joined the show as a teenager and considered some of Whedon's behavior as inappropriate. "There was a rule saying he's not allowed in a room alone with Michelle again," Trachtenberg posted on Instagram. A source suggested to Vulture that the rule was implemented following a purported exchange between Whedon and Trachtenberg which left the then-16-year-old shaken. 

Quarantine gifted her some much-needed family time

As the COVID-19 pandemic altered most of the world's plans, Sarah Michelle Gellar too had to adapt. Fortunately for the actor, she found positives from being forced to quarantine. "I've learned that I needed to slow down ... I always needed to be busy doing this or doing that," Gellar revealed to The Hollywood Reporter about the pandemic. While she said the additional time allowed her to indulge her great passion for reading, Gellar admitted that the most precious gift was getting to enjoy more time with her husband and children. "I'll never get this family time back. I got an extra year, really, with both of my kids," she added. 

In addition, Gellar developed a new appreciation for certain pals while other friendships fizzled out under the demands of the pandemic. On top of spending more time with her children, Gellar also developed a new hobby with her husband, Freddie Prinze Jr. Per Forbes, the two started gardening together at home, which she admitted wasn't possible with her packed schedule before. The star also gifted Prinze Jr. an outdoor oven to make homemade pizzas using fresh produce from their backyard garden.

Gellar was especially conscious of her health because she was diagnosed with asthma at a young age. In fact, Prinze Jr. and both of her children also suffer from the respiratory condition, making family care and self-care against COVID-19 a particular priority, as Gellar told Health.

Sarah Michelle Gellar loves being a mom

In 2009, Sarah Michelle Gellar gave birth to her first child with Freddie Prinze Jr., a baby girl named Charlotte Prinze. A few years later, the parents welcomed their son, RockyGellar and Prinze decided to keep their children shielded from paparazzi, even blocking their faces in social media posts.

For Gellar, one of the highlights of being a mom is learning from her children. "I think the best part for me [is] getting to experience the world through their eyes," she told Life & Style. "We took them to see their first Cirque du Soleil ... and getting to experience the magic for the first time of watching them dive into the pool and see their faces and watching all of it — that was pretty spectacular." 

However, being a famous mom comes with some compromises, especially as Gellar continued to work in entertainment. The star told Us Weekly that while she sometimes feels guilty about being away from her family for work, she at least feels proud to be setting a good example for her kids. "I'm also showing my children that you can be a good parent and also chase your dreams and that they should do the same," she explained. Though Gellar was fully committed to her motherly duties, she admitted that she also wanted to avoid certain stereotypes. "I also swore that I would never be the type of mom to lick my fingers and wipe food off their faces," she told Yahoo! News.

The charitable side of Sarah Michelle Gellar

In contrast to her vampire butt-kicking attitude in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," Sarah Michelle Gellar is incredibly kind with her time and charity in real life. "I joke that I work as an actor to support my philanthropy habit because I'm not rich enough to have my own foundation," she told The Hollywood Reporter. For example, in 2021, she partnered with the car company, Subaru, to provide 100 million meals to the Feeding America organization. "Food is something that's really always been a passion of mine. Even before I had kids, I worked with so many great foundations in terms of getting meal programs into schools," she explained. As a mom, Gellar felt empathetic about helping families that needed assistance. "Food is what sustains life and no child should ever have to worry about that," she said.

In 2015, Gellar and her children attended a charity party at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA, to help raise awareness of and funds for the facility with the sold-out event raising an impressive $1 million, per Variety. More than getting dressed up to attend fundraising events, Gellar is also unafraid to get her hands dirty to help others. For example, she's built houses for Habitat for Humanity and delivered meals for Project Angel Food. The actor told Hello! that she's instilling this same generosity in her family, assuring her kids that the most important thing isn't that they're strong or smart. "I care that they're kind." she insisted. 

Fame didn't really change her

While some hopeful actors dream of landing iconic roles early on a career, Sarah Michelle Gellar admitted this reality came with setbacks. Just a teenager when she first started out in the notoriously difficult industry, Gellar told  The New York Times, "I wouldn't want to be 17 again for anything." It didn't help that she was growing up in front of audiences. "We all have awkward phases both physically and emotionally. Growing up is tough," she mused to E! News. Still, she admitted it could have been worse in the modern era, suggesting she was grateful that camera phones didn't exist in her youth. 

In a 1997 interview with People, the star explained that — bloodsuckers aside — the angst experienced by the adolescent characters on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was similar to that of her own, and many other young women. "My junior high experience was Buffy ... I felt different and awkward," she said. It wasn't long until Gellar became a celebrity, though she admitted the fame didn't feel much different. The biggest life shift? A maid now visited her home every fortnight to keep her digs sparkling clean. According to Gellar, her newfound sense of celebrity from soap star to "Buffy" idol also changed one other major aspect of her life. "I get fewer prison letters than I did when I was on ['All My Children']," she quipped to People.

Sarah Michelle Gellar still slays with her looks

As a popular '90s celebrity, Sarah Michelle Gellar may have once rocked some spectacularly dated clothing from the era. Yet, like so many trends, the styles were cyclical. Not that Gellar necessarily agrees. "I think the question should be what style should not come back since I think it's all coming back at the moment," she told E! News. "My daughter looks like me in the '90s, complete with chokers — which never look good on anyone since it chops off your neck." Still, Gellar could honestly look good in any era — as capably proven by her modeling stint in an '80s-themed campaign for the activewear brand, Wear It To My Heart. On Instagram, she posted herself posing in the retro gear, along with the caption, "Walkman's, side pony, gummy bracelets oh my." 

In 2018, she posted a series of photos of herself in lingerie on Instagram in celebration of Thanksgiving, with the caption, "I'm just going to pin these up all over my house as a reminder not to overeat on Thursday." After some commenters accused her of fat shaming, Gellar apologized, responding (via Page Six), "That could not be further from my intentions."

Beyond simply modeling outfits, Gellar has also created a kid's clothing line called Crazy 8. Speaking to E! News, she said the intention was to create trendy yet affordable pieces, selling for under $20.

There was drama on the Buffy set

In "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," Buffy and her Sunnydale friends would often team together to conquer whatever villain showed up in town. Yet, on set, it reportedly wasn't always so friendly between the co-stars. "We were young, we had ups and downs. Everybody had arguments," Sarah Michelle Gellar told author, Evan Ross Katz for his book, "Into Every Generation a Slayer Is Born: How Buffy Staked Our Hearts," (via Us Weekly). 

For example, she referenced working with her on-screen lover Angel, played by David Boreanaz, stating, "There were times where David could be a handful. He never really was to me, but I'm sure [he was]," Gellar recalled. She also fessed up to having experienced difficult moments with Alyson Hannigan, who played her best friend, Willow. However, Gellar admitted that she herself was likely less than pleasant to work with at times too, stating, "There are times where I wish I could have done things differently." She also noted that the long working hours, average young age of the cast, and toxic environment on set may have also had an impact, adding, "The world we were in was pitting us against each other."

A decade after the show went off the air, Gellar appeared to be extremely friendly with Hannigan, even posting a Twitter selfie with her former on-screen bestie in 2015. 

How Sarah Michelle Gellar empowered women

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was, at its heart, the story of a powerful young woman going up against anything thrown her way — and it's long been revered as revolutionary. After the series ended, many scholars researched the show and some universities even offered courses to discuss the show's important themes and messages, many surrounding Sarah Michelle Gellar's title character. "The show is metaphors. Some people get them, and some don't," she told Movieline. The actor added that the character of Buffy Summers was indicative of a cultural shift. "Men are turned on by a powerful woman, especially a physically powerful woman," she noted. "I'm a little person, and to see this five-foot-two, 100-pound blonde girl kicking ass is exciting." 

Still, the show was also much more than eye candy for men, providing countless women with an inspiring female lead that they could both look up to and relate to. In 2018, The Atlantic even called Buffy a third-wave feminist icon. As for Gellar's thoughts as the title character? "I don't call myself a feminist because feminism has a negative connotation," she once told Cinema. "But feminism is not just about not being weak. It's about being able to take care of yourself," she added. While she didn't identify as a feminist, she admitted to having the same personality traits as Buffy. "Do I consider myself a strong female individual? Uh-huh. Can I take care of myself? Yes," Gellar added.