Michelle Trachtenberg's Stunning Transformation

Michelle Trachtenberg has been a fixture on television screens for decades, an achievement made all the more impressive by her youth (she celebrated her 38th birthday in October 2023). That, as her fans know, is because she was a successful child actor who began her professional career as a toddler, appearing in newspaper ads as an infant before segueing into acting in television commercials.

Trachtenberg was still a few years away from adolescence when she started to be cast in television shows, which led to movies — and before long, she was one of the most successful child actors of her generation. However, even the most popular child stars have struggled with transitioning to adult roles, often falling victim to the temptations offered by the dark underbelly of Hollywood. Trachtenberg, however, navigated that transformation with aplomb. In fact, viewers literally watched her grow up before their very eyes, from teenager to full-grown adult. As for those aforementioned temptations, that's never really been an issue for her. As she explained in a 2004 interview with Entertainment Weekly, "I don't drink, I don't do drugs, so I have fun in other ways."

It's true that Trachtenberg's career, like that of many actors, has seen its ups, downs, twists, and turns, yet she remains very much in the public eye. To find out more about this talented Hollywood veteran, read on to experience Michelle Trachtenberg's stunning transformation.

Michelle Trachtenberg started acting at age 3

Michelle Trachtenberg began acting professionally at an age when most kids are still learning to tie their shoes. "My first commercial was [a] Wisk detergent commercial," the young actor recalled during an appearance on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." "I think I was like 3 or 4." As she told the Orange County Register, the impetus to begin acting at such a young age came entirely from her. "I saw a friend of mine in a commercial,” she recalled, "and walked over to my mom and said, 'Mommy, I want to be on TV.'"

She clearly had a knack for it, even at that age. That Wisk spot, in fact, was the first of more than 100 commercials to feature the talented youngster, including TV spots for such companies as Kraft, Fuji, Panasonic, Hoover, and Burger King.  From there, she transitioned from commercials to guest-starring in TV shows. Early roles included a 1991 episode of "Law & Order," a 1993 guest spot in "Clarissa Explains It All," and playing an autistic child in the soap opera "All My Children." "That is an especially challenging role because I can't talk much,” she told the Register, joking about the fact that in real life she loves to talk.

In 1994, she landed a pivotal part, her first recurring role, when she was cast as Nona Mecklenberg in the Nickelodeon comedy "The Adventures of Pete & Pete." That company relationship led to her first movie role.

Michelle was 10 when she starred in Harriet the Spy

Michelle Trachtenberg was part of the Nickelodeon family when the kid-themed TV network began making movies, its first being an adaptation of the beloved children's book "Harriet the Spy." Trachtenberg was just 9 when she was cast in the title role – her first starring role in a movie — with comedian and talk show host Rosie O'Donnell playing her character's nanny, Ole Golly. "She is simply a great actress,” Debby Beece, president of Nickelodeon Movies, told the Orange County Register. "We looked at 350 girls, but there was no question in our minds that Michelle was the right girl for the job." It didn't hurt that Trachtenberg was already a fan of the book series. "I read those books when I was still in the fourth grade, which was long before I was asked to be in this movie," she revealed — as a fifth-grader. 

While the film itself got mixed reviews, Trachtenberg's performance was widely praised. "Watching Michelle Trachtenberg's pale, thin, quivering, intense performance, we are transported to the sixth grade," declared the Austin Chronicle, while The Washington Post dubbed Trachtenberg "a cute little spark."

Years later, an adult Trachtenberg looked back at that defining role and how much she learned from it. "I turned 10 years old on the first day of principal photography of 'Harriet the Spy.' Rosie was my biggest supporter," she said in an interview with ETOnline. "There was a lot required of me. I'm extremely grateful for the experience."

She joined Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a teenager

After making a few more movies — including "Meego" and "Inspector Gadget" — Michelle Trachtenberg joined the cast of the TV hit "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Just 14 when she was cast as Dawn Summers — supernatural little sister of the titular slayer, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar — Trachtenberg remained a member of the show's Scooby Gang until 2003, when the show ended its run.

Trachtenberg was younger than her co-stars, which led to a bit of a divide at times. For example, when a break in production allowed the other actors to head to their trailers and chill, the teenaged Trachtenberg used the downtime to catch up on schoolwork. "Every time that you guys don't see me, I'm running up to school to finish tests, I'm doing all the homework, I'm doing everything my friends do in class," she explained in an interview with BBC.

Meanwhile, the show's viewers watched her grow up on the show, with her adolescence documented in "Buffy." Reuniting with the series' cast during a 2008 panel at the Paley Center for Media, Trachtenberg reflected on what it was like to be part of such a culturally-relevant TV series during such a pivotal part of her own life. "I learned a lot from 14 to 17 on the show, and that was the best high school experience and life experience I could ever ask for," Trachtenberg declared.

She hosted Truth or Scare for Discovery

Not only did Michelle Trachtenberg have to contend with science tests and algebra homework during the years she starred on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," she also had a whole other television show to fit into her schedule. In 2001, not long after she joined "Buffy," she was hired to host "Truth or Scare" for the Discovery Kids channel, a documentary-style series that examined supernatural legends to explore the truth behind them. As host, Trachtenberg brought her "Buffy" horror cred to the table while introducing segments about such iconic ghouls as Dracula. "Evil comes in many forms," she said in the episode about the legendary vampire. "But there's never been a monster more terrifying than the count from Transylvania."

The series ran until 2003, tackling everything from Bigfoot, to the Loch Ness Monster, to the Bermuda Triangle, to the alleged extraterrestrial experimentation taking place at Area 51. For her work in the final season, Trachtenberg was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for outstanding performer in a children's series. She didn't win, and as of 2024, it remains her sole Emmy nomination.

She was in high demand after Buffy ended

By the time "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" came to a conclusion in 2003, the show's success had helped make Michelle Trachtenberg a hot property in Hollywood. She immediately jumped to another project, the raucous teen comedy "EuroTrip." That movie featured Trachtenberg doing something she'd never done before: She stripped down to a blue bikini. "It was a little stressful," she admitted to Entertainment Weekly. "It was the first time that I've ever taken off that much clothing — onscreen, I mean."

She went on to star in several more movies, including "Mysterious Skin" in 2004, and that same year she played a spoiled pop star in the HBO drama "Six Feet Under." In 2005, she portrayed an aspiring figure skater in the film "Ice Princess." She returned to series television in 2006 when she guest-starred in the medical drama "House," playing a patient who mysteriously goes into anaphylactic shock six months after receiving a heart transplant. 

During an appearance on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," Trachtenberg revealed that "House" was her favorite TV show, and she begged the executive producer to cast her in a role. She also had a specific request involving the show's star. "My one thing is I really need a love scene with Hugh Laurie," she said. While that never materialized, she did reveal the puzzling medical ailment discovered by the series' titular medical sleuth. "I had a tick up my special area," she explained.

She joined the cast of Gossip Girl

While Dawn Summers is the role most associated with Michelle Trachtenberg, it's arguable that a close second has to be villainous Georgina Sparks from "Gossip Girl." Trachtenberg first appeared on the show during its first season in 2008, with Reuters reporting she'd signed on for a multi-episode story arc as a fresh-from-rehab rival to Serena van der Woodsen (played by the future Mrs. Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively).

The character was well received by the show's viewers, and Georgina returned the following year for more episodes. She wound up recurring throughout the series, appearing in every one of the show's six seasons, for a total of 28 episodes. As E! News reported, while producers would have loved to bring Trachtenberg aboard as a series regular, in 2009 she was contractually obligated to "Mercy," an NBC medical drama in which she starred as a nurse. The show was cancelled after just one season.

As fans will recall, Trachtenberg dug into her devious "Gossip Girl" role with gleeful gusto, even though Georgina was so far removed from her genuine personality. "It's actually kind of easy because the words that they write are so fantastic," she explained in an interview with Seventeen. "It's kind of easy to be evil when you're saying evil things. It's definitely a lot more fun than playing the good girl. I love the reaction you get. I never understood why some actors don't want to play villains or evil characters."

Further work in film and television throughout the 2010s

After "Gossip Girl" ended in 2012, Michelle Trachtenberg's acting career barreled on, full steam ahead. In 2011, even before the series' conclusion, she booked a multi-episode recurring role in the dramedy "Weeds," which starred Mary-Louise Parker as a suburban soccer mom whose cash-strapped financial situation propelled her to become a marijuana dealer. In subsequent years, she guest-starred on several TV dramas, including "Criminal Minds," "NCIS: Los Angeles," and "Sleepy Hollow."

In 2013, she appeared in the National Geographic Channel movie "Killing Kennedy," based on the book of the same name by disgraced former Fox News anchor Bill O'Reilly. For Trachtenberg, portraying Marina Oswald, Russian-born wife of presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, was among the most challenging roles that she'd ever taken on. One big reason for that, she told Fox News, was because her character spoke no English. "Before I'd signed on to it, [the script] was predominantly all in Russian," Trachtenberg said.

What she brought to the table, however, was that she could actually speak Russian — her mother was born there before immigrating to the U.S., and she'd learned the language when she was still a child. "And I think Nat Geo was actually like, 'There is no way! Michelle Trachtenberg speaks Russian?!'" she explained in an interview with Collider. "I basically said, 'Okay, you don't know this about me, so let me know it to you.' I proved it and earned the job."

Michelle branched out into voice acting for animation

In addition to appearing onscreen in film and television, Michelle Trachtenberg has also carved out a sideline career as a voice actor in various animated projects. The first of these was the 2008 animated fantasy film "Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight," with Trachtenberg among a voice cast that also included Kiefer Sutherland and Lucy Lawless. The following year, she voiced Valkyrie in the Marvel series "The Super Hero Squad Show," and later played a woman working in a bar where DC Comics character Jonah Hex wet his whistle.

Trachtenberg has also voiced several characters in "Robot Chicken," the bonkers series created by former "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" castmate Seth Green. Among her work in "Robot Chicken" was reprising her most famous childhood role in a "Harriet the Spy" spoof. She also voiced the recurring character of an anthropomorphic Gummy Bear, with Trachtenberg unleashing her iconic "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" scream when the character becomes caught in a bear trap. In addition, she guest-starred in the animated series "SuperMansion." 

In 2018, Trachtenberg starred in the animated comedy "Human Kind Of," playing a teenager who discovers that her estranged father was an alien, and she herself is half extraterrestrial. 

She began dating her agent

In 2020, Us Weekly reported that Michelle Trachtenberg had a new man in her life: Jay Cohen, her talent agent. According to the outlet, "multiple sources" confirmed that the two were a couple, and at that point had been dating for well over a year. Cohen is a partner in the Gersh Agency, the talent agency Trachtenberg signed onto in 2014, so she had presumably known Cohen for some time before they got together. 

Since that report, both Trachtenberg and Cohen have occasionally featured each other on their respective social media. For example, in 2023 Trachtenberg shared a photo of herself via Instagram in which she posed in front of a painting. "About last night... standing in front of my beautiful custom painted art piece, a birthday gift from my love @jaymcohen," she wrote. The following year, she paid tribute to her sweetie on the occasion of his birthday, sharing a photo of the two of them costumed for Halloween. "Happy Birthday to the man who puts up with me," she wrote. Cohen has also included Trachtenberg in his Instagram missives, including a photo he posted of him and Trachtenberg celebrating Valentine's Day. "My valentine," he wrote in the caption. Previously, in a 2021 Instagram post, he displayed a selfie of himself and Trachtenberg, along with the caption, "#fireworks are every day with this one." 

Michelle Trachtenberg hinted at Joss Whedon's bad behavior: 'We know what he did'

Controversy began to surround "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" creator Joss Whedon in 2017 when his ex-wife, Kai Cole, wrote a guest piece for TheWrap, accusing him of being a "hypocrite" and claiming he'd had a "secret affair" on the "Buffy" set. Then, in 2020, actor Ray Fisher accused Whedon of treating him abusively while filming "Justice League," which spurred "Buffy" alum Charisma Carpenter to tweet a lengthy statement alleging a pattern of abuse while she was on the show. Her former co-star, Amber Benson, responded to the tweet, confirming the "toxic environment" Whedon had created on set, as did Sarah Michelle Gellar and Eliza Dushku, with the former taking to Instagram to write, "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."

That same day, Michelle Trachtenberg responded to Gellar's post, thanking Gellar for coming forward with her statement, and including some shocking allegations of her own. "Because. This must. Be known. As a teenager. With his not appropriate behavior....very. Not. Appropriate," Trachtenberg wrote on Instagram. "So now. People know. What Joss. Did. The last. Comment I will make on this. Was. There was a rule. Saying. He's not allowed in a room alone with Michelle again." As People reported, Trachtenberg also reposted Gellar's statement on Instagram Stories, writing, "We know what he did. Behind. The. Scenes."

She revived her Gossip Girl character in the edgy reboot

In 2021, beloved teen drama "Gossip Girl" got the reboot treatment, with a new group of actors cast as young, wealthy New Yorkers. A press release announcing that the series had been renewed for a second season revealed that Michelle Trachtenberg would be appearing as a guest star. When the new season arrived in late 2022, she revived Georgina Sparks in a two-episode story arc involving her character's son, Milo, who'd been introduced the previous season. 

"We thought of someone we could bring in who wouldn't overtake the story," showrunner Joshua Safran told TVLine, revealing that Georgina was still obsessed with Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester). "Of all these people she's around in her life, her target is still Blair. She has to see Blair's face every day to energize her. Or to be inspired to do evil."

Interviewed by Deadline, Safron revealed that Trachtenberg was game to return to the show from the start. "Michelle actually started DMing about it during the Season 1 writers' room," he recalled. "She was like, 'I want to come back.'"

She clapped back at fans' concerns about her appearance

Like so many actors in Hollywood, Michelle Trachtenberg has been an active user of social media. And like an unfortunately significant number of those celebrities, she's found herself the target of online bullying and rude comments about her physical appearance. That was the case in January 2024, when Trachtenberg posted a photo on Instagram, a selfie of herself and a friend. That post was met with a barrage of comments from her followers, some of whom shared their concern for her health, others insisting she'd had some sort of cosmetic procedure done. "Yellow eyes or jaundice, and falling hair (like that spot in the middle = cirrhosis," read one comment, while another suggested that she be tested for an autoimmune disorder, offering, "Yellowing eyes, hair loss, and sunken features aren't normal for a 38 yo."

Trachtenberg was not having it. In a followup post, she served up a solo selfie — and a scathing response to those who criticized her looks. "I've received several comments recently about my appearance," she wrote in the caption. "I have never had plastic surgery I am happy and healthy. Check yourself haters."

She then posted another selfie, and another message for those haters. "Fun fact," she wrote. "This is my face. Not malnutrition no problems. Why do you have you hate? Get a calendar."