The past is finally catching up with Sarah Michelle Gellar. On the surface she’s America’s sweetheart, the star of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Scooby Doo movies, non-threateningly beautiful and as down-to-earth as anyone could be who’s been acting for 23 of her 27 years. Achingly cool with just a hint of nerd, Gellar balances her Hollywood pursuits and movie star marriage to Freddie Prinze Jr with such unexpected extra-curricular activities as flower arranging, antique book collecting and spending hours in front of the telly watching cartoons.
“I didn’t watch cartoons as a kid,” she reveals, “but then somehow in my teens when I got nostalgic for my youth, I got into them big time.” Behind the smiles and perfect hair, however, lies a crack in her teen scream queen persona. A terrible truth, now revealed. As a child she was banned from McDonald’s. Somehow she finds the strength to talk about it.
“Banned is a strong word,” she begins, a little on the defensive side. “When I was five I did a commercial for Burger King.” It was the first ad in the States ever to name and shame a rival. In this case, McDonalds. “You take those kind of commercials for granted now, but at the time McDonalds was so outraged they sued Burger King and named me in the lawsuit. While that was going on I wasn’t allowed to eat there. It was tough because when you’re a little kid, McDonalds is where all your friends have their birthday parties, so I missed out on a lot of apple pies.”
With the ban now lifted, Gellar is free to indulge herself. “Oh, I like burgers,” she says with relish. “Meat and burgers”. Despite evidence to the contrary, Gellar obviously likes her food. Her skinny frame is less about diet than exercise. She studied Tae Kwon Do for five years, and is currently into kickboxing, street fighting, boxing and gymnastics. Fried, reconstituted beef is only the tip of her culinary iceberg. What she really loves is sushi.
Having just completed a three-month stint in Japan filming upcoming thriller The Grudge, Gellar admits she got hooked on Blowfish, illegal in the States because it’s poisonous and potentially lethal. “I loved it. It’s so good. They have to slice it very carefully, making sure they leave just enough poison to make your mouth tingle. The first time I had it I asked for a second bowl almost immediately and was about to order a third when somebody pointed out that it was $85 a time, which is a lot of money to pay for poison.”
$85 doesn’t sound like much for someone who reportedly made $6 million for Scooby Doo 2. “I never get paid as much as they say,” she explains.
Just as bizarre as her taste for poison were her behind-the-scenes eating contests with Buffy co-star David Boreanaz. Just for a laugh, before every screen kiss, they’d eat stinky food, “not to upset each other,” clarifies Gellar, “more a friendly competition to see who could gross the other out. One night I got really sick because I combined tuna, nachos and jalapenos. I was determined to win because that’s who I am. I’m like, ‘I must beat him. I must smell worse’. But I went too far. My stomach hurt so bad I was up all night.”
Backstage shenanigans were not restricted to noxious kiss-offs. “The hours were really bad. We worked so hard for so long that at a certain point we got slap happy, we just went nuts, and did these things that seemed really funny at the time, but afterwards… I remember one day, David and I did tattoos of each others’ names on our stomachs, but the ink was permanent and took a week to clean off!”
Though she refuses to prove it, Gellar lays claim to three genuine tattoos, the Chinese symbol for integrity on her lower back, something Celtic on her left hip, and a heart with a dagger hanging over it tucked away on the inside of her right ankle. “They’re addictive,” she explains. “You can’t stop at one.”
Gellar’s relationship with the media is jovial but guarded. She’ll throw you a fish, but stop short of a meal. Joke about her tattoos but stop short of revealing them. It’s a technique honed to perfection after years in the celebrity spotlight. “In the beginning it was difficult,” she remembers. “You’re 18 years old and all that time you’ve lived your life a certain way. Suddenly everyone’s talking about you, nice things and not such nice things, and your life changes overnight. You can’t prepare for that. It’s overwhelming and takes a lot of getting used to.
“Eventually you reach a place where you see all the attention you get as a sign that people like what you do, and if sometimes someone says or writes something unkind about me, I’ve learned to ignore it. What are you going to do? I don’t want to be a whiner, someone who pleads, ‘I just want my privacy’. But at the same time you want it, you crave it. The best you can do is show your fans respect and hope they’ll treat you the same way. It usually works out. That’s how I am with reporters too.”
Does she ever dare read her own press? “I don’t go online and type in my name or anything like that. Every so often I’ll read something about myself, if it looks interesting. If I’ve got 20 minutes spare time, though, I’m not going to spend it reading about me. There’s got to be something more interesting I could be doing.”
Like making a Buffy movie, perhaps? Gellar shakes her head. “We went out on such a high. What if the movie was disappointing? Would that be the legacy we left people? Would that be what people remembered us by? It frightens me,” says Gellar, rising to leave, but not before dropping a tantalising, “you never know, though. Never say never. That’s my motto.”