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Sarah Michelle Gellar

Sarah Michelle Gellar - ’Freddie’ Prinze Savors Tough Demands

John Crook

Sunday 30 October 2005, by Webmaster

LOS ANGELES (Zap2it.com) - He may be one of Hollywood’s best-known insomniacs, but even Freddie Prinze Jr. has to admit it: He’s pooped. "This is the most challenging job I’ve ever had, if only because it’s more than just acting," Prinze says of "Freddie," his new Wednesday ABC sitcom. "Writing and taking notes and rewriting and casting and trying to make sure small things like having the right song for a club scene: All that stuff is so much work, I don’t really have time to think about anything in my ’spare time’ except to act. People were telling me, ’Oh, a half-hour schedule; you’re going to love it.’ Hey, man, I’m working 15-hour days."

That’s not surprising. On the surface, "Freddie" may look like a typical family sitcom, but behind the scenes, the show is a key element in ABC’s newly expanded outreach to the lucrative Hispanic viewing audience. Like its time-slot neighbor, "The George Lopez Show," "Freddie" is being dubbed into Spanish.

And Prinze isn’t just a movie star slumming in prime time. The 29-year-old actor — who also carries credits as a creator, writer and executive producer on his series — says he is finding sitcom work invigorating after some bad experiences in film. "The rate at which you work [on a sitcom] is so rapid," Prinze says. "You’re doing an entire play a week, and the amount of information that goes in your head and comes out of your mouth in a five-day period is insane, and it doesn’t let me rest. And I like that. I gotta keep pushing myself forward.

"You feel like a puppet at a certain point, especially in the studio film process. It’s insane to me the lack of control you have over your own performance. In this day and age, if they don’t like the way you say, for example, the word ’love’ in a scene, they can go to another scene, take the word from there, and digitally replace what you had done. They do that all the time, and it’s disgusting. Then I stepped into this and just fell in love."

Lightly autobiographical, "Freddie" casts Prinze as Freddie Moreno, a rising Chicago chef who shares his home life with a bevy of female relatives, including his grandmother, sister, niece and sister-in-law.

Raised by his Italian-American mother, Kathy, and his Puerto Rican grandmother after the 1977 suicide of his dad, "Chico and the Man" star Freddie Prinze, the actor says he also drew from his frequent trips to Puerto Rico to spend extended time with his late father’s family.

"My mother knows that, at the end of the day, I am my father’s son," Prinze says. "I share his name. And it was important to her that I understand who my father was, that I understand his heritage and his culture and his loves and his family. She believes that it’s important to remember where you come from and what America is all about."

Like his TV character, Prinze is an accomplished chef and fanatical foodie. In fact, he used food as a way of evaluating potential girlfriends during his bachelor days, before meeting wife Sarah Michelle Gellar.

"I had a girlfriend for 3 1/2 years (actress Kimberly McCullough), from 18 to about 21, and we split up, and there I was in Los Angeles, which is such a strange town for meeting people," he explains. "So I had ’the food test.’ I would take them to my favorite restaurant, and depending on how many courses they could make it through, that determined how many more dates they got. And there were certain things that, if they couldn’t eat, I knew it was never going to work, because food is such a big, huge part of my life. My mother instilled that in me as a child. Sarah made it through all eight courses and ate everything — so I married her."

While Gellar and Prinze co-starred in two "Scooby-Doo" movies, don’t look for her to guest star on "Freddie" anytime soon.

"If we’re fortunate enough to be on the air forever, she’ll definitely be on the show," he says. "I just thought that would be such an obvious thing to do during the first year. Sarah comes to the rehearsal days and the shoot days and she loves it. But she’s always wanted to make films, and she’s very happily doing that these days."

If Prinze sounds happy and grounded these days, he also concedes that his father’s suicide at age 22 is something he continues to deal with.

"When I turned 22, that was a weight lifted off my shoulders, and when my father got his star on the Walk of Fame, that was another weight lifted off," he says quietly. "But there’s still a lot of weight there. For right or wrong, there’s some stuff I can’t let go, and no amount of therapy is going to change that. No drugs, no alcohol, no weed is going to help that."

Nor is the fact that young Hollywood is starting again to embrace the same deadly drug culture that prevailed at the time his father died. It’s a depressing reality that leaves Prinze feeling frustrated and helpless.

"It blows me away to see people younger than my father [was], and for them it’s becoming fashionable and glamorous to do heroin and put eight pounds of cocaine up your nose a night," he says. "It’s insane what I see people doing, but they’re not going to listen to me, so what am I going to do? I’ve said a couple of things to a couple of people, but they’re not going to learn anything from me. They’ve got it made, making $12 million a movie, so they don’t get it. They don’t recognize it as a problem, because it helps them forget about their problems. And if anybody who works with them tries to tell them, usually those people get fired.

"If you come out here without a solid foundation, you’re done. You’re dead before you’ve lived."