There are Hollywood icons and then there are institutions—the hard-working actors and actresses that just sort of “have to be there” for the world to continue to spin on its axis.
With a career that started when she was four years old and a long list of pop culture–cemented roles (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I Know What You Did Last Summer and Cruel Intentions, to name a few) along the way, Sarah Michelle Gellar snuggly fits into that category, but don’t tell her two kids that. (Her teenage daughter likes to “borrow” her Charlotte Tilbury, while her son isn’t super fond of seeing her face on billboards while she’s carpooling him home from school.)
“They mainly like their time with mom and dad to be their time with mom and dad,” shares the 45-year-old—who recently returned to T.V. as not only an actress, but also an executive producer via the fantasy-drama Wolf Pack on Paramount+—of her tight-knit unit of four that also includes her husband of 20-plus years, Freddie Prinze Jr. “But, by now, we’ve been doing this long enough that we have it down.”
I’m sure you’re asked to do projects all the time. What made you decide to do Wolf Pack?
It was a combination of things. It was the timing and it was the setup. As I slowly started getting back to work, I liked the idea of paying homage to what the audience loves—sort of a nod to Revenge and Cruel Intentions. The show is also a nod to Buffy, but in a modern way. I think that, so often, shows discuss mental health, but they don’t really get into the nitty-gritty of it. I love the normalization of anxiety in the show, which is something we all deal with.
I love the idea of fighting your demons. I think, during COVID, a lot of us realized how important all the feelings are—both emotionally and physically. It’s a great feeling when you can be your most authentic self with a group of people who make you feel supported, and how isolating life can be without it.
The truth is, anxiety is your body working at 100 percent, and if you can learn to harness that, you can make anxiety your superpower.
I just love the idea behind all of it. It all came together. The joke was I had no intention of doing it. I didn’t even have an intention of reading it! Then my team was like, “You know what, you could just read it…maybe you and [creator and writer] Jeff Davis could meet…I think you’ll like his writing.” I read it and then I was like “Oh, this is really good,” but I still had no intention of doing it. So, we talked on the phone and Zoom because I had COVID at the time and we just clicked in such a way that I was like “I will regret not doing this—take the leap.” Although I think those words might have popped in my head because I was delirious of COVID. I’ll blame taking it on my fever.
Do you think the conversation surrounding mental health and anxiety is getting better?
Absolutely. One of the things that Jeff taught me—which I think is so interesting— is that we traditionally look at anxiety as a problem, right? It’s almost something to be ashamed of. The truth is, anxiety is your body working at 100 percent, and if you can learn to harness that, you can make anxiety your superpower. It’s taking a conversation that used to be something you hid from—you would take anti-anxiety medicine for your stress, or whatever those things are—and vocalizing that this is something we all experience in different ways.
There are different techniques that work for people. But the more you normalize the conversation, the more likely you are to find your people that can support you through these things. And maybe you can even learn different techniques that work for you in different situations. I think about this a lot: If you’re a teenager now, you’re a COVID kid…they were so isolated, and really learning how to cope with that is such a crazy, important life skill.
I think to the outside world, you look so centered, even though you’ve grown up in this industry. How do you make sure you’re doing O.K.?
It’s been a long road to learn how to do that. But I have my people who support me and let me be me and know how to talk me down off that ledge when I feel that way. I know we talk a lot about work-life balance, too, but I’m not sure that really exists! I look at it as I just have to try to balance each day, every day. I ask myself: What does this day need from me? Is this the day I’m focusing on work? Or is this the day for family? How do I be my best me for everyone and not spread myself too thin today? Sometimes, what I need is different. Sometimes, taking an hour in the day and taking a bath and reading a book and just letting my mind shut down for a little bit is exactly what I need.
How do you leave work at work?
I’ve been doing this long enough that I know how to separate. Once I leave whatever scenes I just filmed and wash my face, it’s like I enter into my “other life.” I always joke that I’m the two Sarahs: There’s Sarah Michelle Gellar and Sarah Prinze. I can leave the Sarah Gellar stuff with the one Sarah, and then I can go and do the Sarah Prinze stuff; I am able to go back and forth between the two.
I like that. Picking your brain about beauty, is there anything that you really love?
I just discovered a lot of things! I sort of realized during the pandemic that maybe I wasn’t taking care of myself as well as I could; I keep telling my husband that I feel like I’ve aged so much in those three years of having the kids home and homeschooling and all that! He keeps saying, “You didn’t age any more in those three years than any other three years.” But it sure feels like I did!
I always joke that I’m the two Sarahs: There’s Sarah Michelle Gellar and Sarah Prinze.
Working out is good for me, both for my mental health and for my exterior health, and I really do thrive on it. I definitely get those endorphins. People have asked me in interviews, “When do you feel the prettiest?” I always say that I always feel the best right after I work out. Your face is a little flushed and your body feels good and those endorphins are going through you. That’s where I always feel my best.
But I’d love to learn about more about all these new lasers that are out there. There’s so much you can do that’s new and not super invasive; I actually just got my first peel this past year!
Did you like it?
Yes. I really liked it. It was great to feel like you’re revealing a version of your older self. It was almost emotional…so, yes, I liked it and I’ll do one again. I think it’s so incredible how many options are open. If you’re lucky enough to be able to go to some of these places…and, if you can’t, there are so many great at-home options now.
Do a lot of people still expect you to be in your 20s when they meet you?
It can be hard when you’ve been in the public eye for a long time, but I think that I’m the worst at comparing myself to what I used to look like. I’m harder on myself than the public is. I can’t expect to look like I did when I was 20, because that’s just ridiculous and unrealistic. That wouldn’t look right! I just try to be the best I can be, but I’m probably harder on myself. I think most of us are.
And now your daughter is a teenager. Does she steal any makeup or skin care from you?
I have to tell her that some stuff is off limits! I literally say, “Girl, this Charlotte Tilbury is not for you!” She’s always been big on skin care and she’s good at doing her hair. I’m a little simpler; I walk through the door, I wash my hands, I wash my face. I think her skin-care routine might be longer than mine. She’ll definitely have better skin than me as she gets older. There is so much conversation around products, and having these routines and kids are sharing what they use on social media and all that type of thing. They’re learning much younger how to take better care of their skin than I think we did.
Oh, definitely. Do your kids care that they have famous parents or are they immune to it and just think you’re mom and dad?
They have good days and bad days. There are days where they feel like, “Why do people have to talk to you?” Or, “Why is someone taking our picture?” They don’t really like the picture-taking…it can feel like a bit of a violation for them. They also just feel like their time with their parents is their time with us. Yesterday I was driving home with my son on the freeway, and he was like, “Mom, why are you on that billboard?” He didn’t love the huge billboard in his face. I thought it was kind of funny though.
That is funny. I know you talked a little bit about reprising your Sex and the City role. What would be your ideal reboot from any of your roles?
I can’t expect to look like I did when I was 20, because that’s just ridiculous and unrealistic.
I think it’s so hard to do that. My hat goes off to anybody who does do it, but you talk about the inevitability of comparisons—you’re just not going to please everyone. I don’t know. I think I’d be better at doing a reboot of a show or movie I wasn’t initially involved in.
That makes sense. My last question: What advice would you give to your younger self?
I wish I stopped and enjoyed it all so much more. I was so focused on work and what the next job was when I was younger. I was always go, go, go and next, next, next. I was always asking: “What’s coming now?” I never really stopped to enjoy and appreciate how lucky I was. Of course, it’s hard when you’re that age; I’m not sure anyone would appreciate it…but I do wish I stopped to understand how lucky and how amazing this time was. I can’t regret that too much, though. I’ve lived a really good life and it’s still really good.