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Sarah Michelle Gellar

Sarah Michelle Gellar - Buffy ? Well, she slays me - Timesonline.co.uk Interview

By Hugo Rifkind

Friday 5 November 2004, by Webmaster

Sarah Michelle Gellar is unsettling with talk of the Buffy bra-strap drinking game

“I HAD a bunch of covers in the States all one week,” says Sarah Michelle Gellar, matter-of-factly. “Somebody said to me: ‘How do you go to the grocery store?’ But I’m the girl who hasn’t washed her hair, and is wearing jeans and a T-shirt. I don’t look like I do in the magazines in the supermarket. That’s not me at all.”

Obviously, this is all very humble and refreshing and down-to-earth. But, to be honest, it’s sheer nonsense.

Gellar looks exactly as she does in the magazines in the supermarket. She’s in heels, some tight brown trousers and a floaty poncho-ish thing that I can’t even name. She is a very beautiful woman. She must know this, and she’s pretending she doesn’t. It’s disarming, and it’s sneaky. The thing is, actors are paid to tell lies and pretend it’s the truth.

Gellar spent seven seasons pretending that she was an angst-wracked vampire slayer, who was pretending to be a normal schoolgirl.

Right now, she’s either being extremely friendly, chatty and forthcoming, or she is pretending that she is. I can’t figure out which.

She’s here to promote her new movie, The Grudge. It’s a remake of the Japanese horror film, Ju-on. Unusually for such a genre, it has the same Japanese director (Takashi Shimizu), a Japanese crew, and is set in Japan. It opened at the top of the US box office, taking $40 million (£22 million) on its first weekend.

I saw a screening two days ago. “What did you think?” asks the star. The way her eyes twinkle, the way she cocks her shiny blonde head, I very nearly believe that she cares.

Terrifying, I tell her, quite honestly. Properly, butt-clenchingly horrible. I’m not great at horror films, but knowing she was in it, I wasn’t too worried. Along with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gellar has been in Scream 2, I Know What You Did Last Summer and both Scooby-Doo movies. I was expecting some kind of horror-lite. I was badly mistaken.

The Grudge is an Omen, a Carrie, an Exorcist. The Japanese setting gives it an atmosphere of unsettled alienation throughout, to which the frequent use of subtitles only adds. It might not be the most original horror in the world but Gellar’s performance is polished and restrained and, notably, joke-free. Some fans are going to be in for quite a shock.

“It’s not Buffy,” agrees Gellar. “To leave that show was a huge step. I had everything there.”

So why leave? A desire to do other things? The fear of being irrevocably typecast?

She snorts. Albeit, not unattractively. “If I got typecast for the rest of my life as a strong heroine . . . well, there could be worse things in life to be typecast as. But as an actor, you need new challenges, because otherwise it can get old for you. And if it gets old to me, it’s got to be old to an audience.”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer had a good run. It began in 1997 and kept on stabbing, thumping and generally high-kicking demon butt until 2003. It was funny, sassy and just a little bit sexy. Most of all, it was a witty parody on the endless Beverly Hills 90210 US high school clones. “It’s the metaphor version,” is how Gellar puts it. “High school is demonic and horrible, and we just brought that to life.”

Gellar branched out into movies increasingly towards the end, but the critics were rarely kind. “I don’t make movies for reviewers,” retorts Gellar. “I make them for fans.”

“ My feedback comes from, like, I was in New York City last weekend, and I could hear people talking about the movie, not realising that I was two feet behind them.”

It surprises me, I remark, that she could be two feet behind anybody without them realising. Didn’t GQ readers vote her as their sexiest woman a few years ago?

Gellar corrects me. Actually, it was FHM who voted her sexiest woman. In 1999. “But you know what?” she adds. “That doesn’t even seem like me. It’s the same as the magazine covers. It’s not like I introduce myself with ‘Hi! I’m Sarah! I’m FHM’s sexiest’!” She pauses. “It would be funny if I did, though, wouldn’t it?”

Rather weakly, I agree. Gellar leant forward rather close to say that last bit, and adopted a husky voice. I’m feeling a little unsettled.

While many in this country see her only as Buffy, she has been performing since being “discovered” in a restaurant at the age of four. Gellar is now 27. If her career is about to go supernova - and on the back of The Grudge it may - then it is not before time. But did the incredible success of Buffy come as a shock? Despite being ostensibly aimed at teenagers, the relentless physicality of the show - along with that schoolgirl edge - meant that Buffy was adopted as a lust figure by older, male viewers.

When I was a student, I tell her, there used to be a drinking game . . .

“The Buffy drinking game,” says Gellar, and claps, delightedly. “Like, every time you saw Buff’s bra strap, you had to drink?”

Er, yes, I admit.

“That was so cool,” she crows. This is what makes interviewing Sarah Michelle Gellar difficult. Every answer seems prepared. You throw a pervy bra-strap question in her direction, expecting some kind of sob story about sexual objects and personal growth, and instead you get bright-eyed, impersonal enthusiasm.

She will talk movies, she will talk industry, but she will not talk Sarah Michelle Gellar. Take politics. Elections, I say. Are you going to be home in time to vote?

“I voted by post,” she says.

Can I ask who for?

She sighs. “It’s really hard when you are an actor, because people listen to you because you are an actor - not because you are qualified to speak about anything in particular.

“It worries me that people will pick a political candidate - or even a proposition - based on their like or dislike of an actor. People need to vote in an educated manner, not because your favourite movie star says so.

“So, I will not speak about candidates or issues. Aside from saying I am pro stem-cell research.”

Wow. Considered opinion. It takes a moment to spot that not only has she not answered my question (although I’m thinking John Kerry), but she’s also managed cunningly to circumvent any possibility of me asking it again and getting a clearer answer.

On the subject of family, she is even less forthcoming. Since 2002, Gellar has been married to the actor Freddie Prinze Jr.

Despite having appeared alongside Gellar on-screen five times, most notably in I Know What You Did Last Summer and both Scooby-Doo movies, he is not as well known as her in Britain. In the US, however, they are one of the most famous couples. Is there any competition?

“Oh we compete for the same roles often,” she deadpans. “I think if I were married to a woman, that might be more of a problem, don’t you?”

Answer the question, Sarah.

“It goes in waves,” she concedes. “When we started dating he was much more famous than I was. If you take that stuff seriously, and that’s who you are, then, yeah, it’s a problem. But I work during work hours, and at home it’s different.”

How did they meet? “On a film.” Yes, I know that. But how did they become a couple? “We met on a film. We lost touch. We reconnected five years later.” That’s it.

I must confess, I’m getting a little impatient now. Any hobbies? “Robbing grocery stores,” she says. “Petty theft.”

Very Winona, I remark. For a few seconds she laughs, then the mask clicks back into place. “That I didn’t say,” she snaps. “Don’t write it down.”

I promise to leave it out. I lie. She doesn’t enjoy the interview process very much, does she?

“Anybody who says they love doing this,” admits Gellar, “is either lying or an egomaniac. It’s not so bad when I’m in America, because I don’t care about going outside. But here? I’m across the road from Harvey Nichols right now. I want to shop.”

Shopping is one other thing that Gellar is willing to talk about. “I’m here to contribute to the British economy,” she quips several times.

She has one day off on her three-day visit to Britain, and she’s spending that shopping. As it’s a Friday, she’s upset that she won’t be able to go to Portobello Market. When I tell her that a lot of Portobello is open on Fridays, she gets excited. Or at least, I think she’s excited.

It could be an act. It’s an old cliché that actresses have no depth, but with somebody as witty and bright as Gellar, it’s obviously not true.

However, exactly what that depth is, I just can’t figure out. Possibly she’s been working so long that she’s not entirely sure either. Something makes me suspect that she’s pretending she’s just a normal girl - and she’s not.

Reminds me of someone, that.

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