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Sarah Michelle Gellar

Sarah Michelle Gellar - Self Magazine October 2007 - Self.com Interview

Thursday 18 October 2007, by Webmaster

Sarah Michelle Gellar’s real impact in a superficial world

In the October issue of SELF, Sarah Michelle Gellar, formerly known as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, talks about turning 30, growing up in a single-parent household and her involvement with CARE, a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty. In this exclusive excerpt from her interview with SELF senior staff writer Erin Bried, she talks more about charity work and also reveals what her tattoos mean, how her role on Buffy has affected her, and why she loves New York City.

SELF is working with Gellar to raise money for CARE. Donations made through the link below, up to $100,000 will be matched dollar for dollar by CARE ambassador Sheila Johnson’s I Am Powerful Challenge. Gellar also teamed with Helen Ficalora to create a gold necklace charm to benefit CARE. Twenty-five percent of the proceeds go to CARE. Want to help us meet our goal and support the work Gellar and CARE are doing? Make a donation or buy a necklace now!

SELF: How many tattoos do you have in total?

Sarah Michelle Gellar: Four. I have a symbol for integrity on my lower back, a heart and dagger and a cherry blossom on my ankle, and two dragonflies on my back. I have the integrity one to remind me to be careful with my words, because words can hurt people. Phrasing things strangely can hurt people. That’s why I don’t like to do personal e-mails. E-mail is for "What time is the flight?" or "What time is the dinner reservation?" If it’s anything more, I’d rather do a phone call. The heart and dagger is supposed to represent the precariousness of life—it was just this stupid young thing where I was like, my life is never going to be the same. At least I was smart enough to get the heart and knife in a foreign language so it’s not very obvious that I’m the young person getting the traumatic tattoo! My engagement ring has dragonflies holding it up. Freddie loves dragons. So for our anniversary one year, we got each other tattoos. He got a dragon and I got dragonflies. Tattoos are so addictive.

SELF: How do you blow off steam?

Gellar: Sometimes it’s going to the gym. The endorphins and sweating and just getting it all out. Sometimes it’s curling up on the floor and having a full-on conversation with my dog. Sometimes it’s just taking a walk and clearing your head and just being reminded that life is pretty good. We all have bad days, but we bounce back.

SELF: Do you consider yourself outspoken and has it gotten you into trouble?

Gellar: Oh yes, being outspoken has always gotten me into trouble. I’m just this little thing and then all of a sudden it comes out. But I’m learning to put it to good use these days. And I also now try keeping a few more things to myself. I think that could be beneficial to everyone!

SELF: You described L.A. as a hateful place in one interview.

Gellar: No, I actually really liked it when I first got there. I surprised myself. I was one of those transplanted New Yorkers at first, but I was really happy. The sun shines all the time. Grass! I’m not sweating on the subway! I’m not waiting for the bus that stalls in the freezing cold rain! I’m in my car. But it was tough being surrounded only by the business. That was shocking to me. I missed museums. I missed my friends. But I really liked it at first. It was only about five years into it when I started to really miss New York.

SELF: Did you notice your personal priorities changing in L.A.?

Gellar: I don’t think I even had personal priorities because for the first three years of Buffy, all I did was work. I’d do one or two movies on the hiatus and I worked my ass off on the show. The WB network was constant press—there was a photo shoot every weekend for the show. I didn’t have a social life. I didn’t date. I was lucky Seth Green was on the show—he’s been a friend of mine since I was 5. I was just so encapsulated in that situation and the fame just comes so quickly. It was really hard for me and I didn’t acclimate to it very well at first. It was only when I started making friends in similar situations that I felt more comfortable. I remember feeling really uncomfortable when I came back to New York for a visit because everyone was looking at me—so I just jumped in a cab. It was weird to feel so uncomfortable in your own home.

SELF: So when you think of the show, was it an unhappy time in your life?

Gellar: No, it just wasn’t a social time. The show was hard work, but it was incredible. I got the chance to be on a show that was groundbreaking and that’s going to go down in the history books. That doesn’t happen too often in life. I’m so proud of the show. I get a kick when I go to foreign countries and it’s on TV in a different language.

SELF: Did you find that moving to L.A. affected your body image?

Gellar: Yeah. Especially because I so associated myself with being a brunette. I thought of myself as this New Yorker, as sophisticated. And all of a sudden I’m having to play a character named Buffy with platinum blonde hair. It’s funny. People always assumed in those years that I was from California. But yes, it’s a tough town. In New York, we have five months out of the year where we don’t have to worry. You have 17 layers on and it doesn’t matter what you look like underneath. But in L.A., people are always looking at you, especially if you’re on a show like that. And then the blogs start. Oh, did she gain a little weight? All of a sudden people are commenting daily about how you look and your hair color. It automatically makes you self-conscious.

SELF: How did that affect you?

Gellar: It took time. I wouldn’t go on the sites for the show. Nine out of 10 times, your interaction with the fans on the street is positive. If people are going to take the time and talk to you, it’s usually to say something nice. That was one thing I missed in L.A. There’s not a lot of interaction because you’re in your car all the time. In New York, there’s street interaction. You have umbrellas and you’re walking toward someone and you have to move left or right. Or it’s hot out and someone’s walking down the street and he says, "Damn, it’s hot out!" That doesn’t happen in L.A. In New York you can walk into a bar and talk to anyone. I can still do that to this day. Especially post 9/11 and living downtown (in Tribeca), it’s really friendly. I feel like people always ask me about New Yorkers, because we have this bad reputation. But people say nice things on the street all the time for no reason. I was just walking down the street the other day and this guy comes out of the subway and says, "You are very pretty." He had no idea who I was, but he just said it and kept walking. I was like, wow. That makes your day. Of course, I would have liked if he said I was very smart!

SELF: You’re a biker now—do you wear a helmet when you bike?

Gellar: Yes. In fact, I’m not a great biker. When you live in the suburbs, kids bike to school, but growing up in New York, my mom wasn’t going to let me bike all over the city. So in the beginning when Freddie and I started biking around, he was like, "Wow, you’re a really bad biker!" And I said, "What do you expect? I took taxis at age 8!" Down here in Tribeca, everyone bikes, and you’ll see people—other actors—and they’ll laugh when they see me with groceries biking so slowly with a basket and a helmet. I’m still getting better with it.

SELF: You’ve been married for a while now. Do you feel like you’re settled in?

Gellar: We do more together here in New York. In L.A., we didn’t both need to go to the supermarket. It was like, who is going to get in the car? Here, it’ll be a Sunday morning and we’ll make an outing of going to the farmers’ market to get fresh vegetables. It’s so much more spontaneous. We take more walks together. Last night my friends were joking because we were out and I’d gone to the bathroom at the same time as Freddie. When we came back we were holding hands and my friends were like, why are you holding hands? Did you guys just meet? There are just more random acts of togetherness in New York.

SELF: How does that benefit a marriage?

Gellar: In any relationship, whether it’s a marriage or a friendship, you have to put the time in. And you forget that. Relationships have to be nurtured. You have to say, "We’ve been having too many dinners with our friends, we need to have a date." Or I’m not seeing my girlfriends enough one on one, so we have to make sure we have a brunch or lunch or do something. I think that’s really important, and as people, we have a tendency to forget to focus. We just assume that everyone’s going to be there.

SELF: Do you think there a danger of being too comfortable in a relationship?

Gellar: Yeah, you see that happen a lot and it’s really sad. People have always asked me, "Isn’t it difficult to be away from your partner?" But it’s also the reverse. I’ve learned to miss that person. I remember what it’s like when we’re apart. So when we have time to be together, we really make the most of it.

SELF: What about your personal values? Do you feel like now you’re coming into your own life philosophies and your own moral code?

Gellar: Definitely. I have a great marriage and great friends and everything. But there was this one thing missing. Which is, in what I do, I have this great voice. If I’m going to be on a cover of a magazine that’s worldwide and reaches all these people, I want to find a way I can make a bigger difference. Yes, it’s nice to talk about my hair color and stuff, but there could be something else that I do with that. I started to think of ways that I could really make a difference. I met with CARE and I was like, I get it, let’s do this.

SELF: What difference did it make for you in your life?

Gellar: You learn to be really grateful for what you have. You also learn how much of a difference you can make on both an individual level and a grand scale. You realize, 3 billion people in this world live on less than $2 a day. And 1 billion of those people live on less than $1 a day. They don’t have running water. One of the greatest experiences in my life was also during one of the saddest times in my life. It was right after 9/11 on the Buffy set. I was in L.A. and couldn’t be in New York and had friends who worked in the World Trade Center. It was a very difficult time. I was asking, "What can we do?" And I decided that whatever the crew could raise, a couple of the actors and producers would match it. I’d go up to the extras and say, "Look, you’re working on the show today. You’re getting your coffee for free, so give me the $3 you spend at Starbucks every day." After one month, we raised $60,000 to help buy Christmas presents for all the women and children who lost their husbands and partners in the blaze. And it was amazing to see on that little scale what difference we can make.

SELF: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. You’ve done a lot of breast cancer advocacy.

Gellar: I’ve had so many women in my life affected by breast cancer. One of my best friends went with a friend to get their first mammogram. It was like a girls day and they didn’t think anything of it. And our other friend had a lump and it was malignant. And this was just a girls day! I will say this, though. I’ve had 16 people in my life who have had breast cancer now, and they’re all survivors! All survivors! And I’m talking, some of them were not supposed to be survivors.

SELF: How has your role as Buffy, a hero, influenced you?

Gellar: What I liked about Buffy was that she wasn’t the smartest, prettiest or more popular girl in school, but she had confidence. And that’s how you gain success. She had inner strength and I was able to put that out there for young girls.

SELF: And playing a superhero?

Gellar: It made me think that I was really tough! Sometimes, I’ll say to Freddie, "If we wrestle, I’ll beat you." And then I inevitably lose. [Laughs] So I guess in some ways it affected me negatively! But on the whole, positively.

Don’t miss the rest of what Sarah had to say! Check out the cover story in the October issue of SELF!