Like basically every other celebrity, Sarah Michelle Gellar’s fame has ebbed and flowed over the duration of her career. While she’s most closely associated with her time as the lead on the cult TV series Buffy The Vampire Slayer and a handful of films from the late ’90s, she’s actually still quite busy. So maybe it’s not accurate to say that we rarely hear about Sarah Michelle Gellar — we’re just hearing about her less than we became accustomed to during her peak of cultural visibility.
The Sarah Michelle Gellar of today isn’t in our faces quite as much as she was closer to 2000, but then again, a lot of things have changed since that era. We all walk around with what is essentially a tiny TV in our pockets. Hardly anyone from 2000 could have predicted the cluster of streaming services currently aiming to replace network and cable television. Major studios of today are much less likely to make the kind of mid-budget drama and horror films that helped launch Gellar’s career in the ’90s. Multiple generations of Buffy The Vampire Slayer fans have never even heard of Kristy Swanson, the original Buffy from the 1992 film, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
What has changed for Sarah Michelle Gellar over the course of these tumultuous years? And why isn’t she the megastar she was in her stake-wielding heyday? We’re here to divulge why.
She hasn’t had a hit on the same scale as Buffy
Buffy The Vampire Slayer, starring Gellar as the titular lead, ran for seven seasons from 1997 to 2003. It laid the foundation for the spinoff show Angel, plus a pile of comic books, video games, action figures, and oodles of other Buffy-related media and memorabilia. Needless to say, it’s an extremely popular and influential show. While it’s not impossible for an actor to strike gold twice and play the main character on multiple monster-hit series, it is certainly improbable.
One could argue Julia Louis-Dreyfus counts as an exception to this rule. But putting Veep, while undoubtedly a hit, on the same level as the galaxy-tier phenomenon of Seinfeld sounds a little dubious. Likewise, Matthew Fox comes close by starring in Party of Five and Lost, but the former family-oriented drama doesn’t match the success of the latter magic island-oriented drama. David Hasselhoff absolutely pulled it off with Knight Rider and Baywatch, but obviously, the Hoff is in a league of his own.
Gellar did get more high profile post-Buffy jobs than most of her castmates, with some notable exceptions. David Boreanaz and Alyson Hannigan both remained major television stars on Bones, which ran from 2005 to 2017, and How I Met Your Mother airing from 2005 to 2014, respectively. Both shows also lasted longer than Buffy, but it would be a stretch to suggest either left a cultural footprint as enduring.
She has a ton of money and doesn’t have to do anything unless she feels like it
Websites that publish estimates of stars’ net worth aren’t always reliable, and obviously, we can’t just call up Sarah Michelle Gellar’s accountant to find out how much money she has in the bank. But we feel safe in assuming that the studios involved compensated Gellar proportionately and fairly for her work on Buffy, as well as for her contributions to films like 1997’s I Know What You Did Last Summer and 2002’s Scooby-Doo. If that assumption is accurate, she became a millionaire several times over well before she turned 30.
Gellar’s husband and fellow ’90s heartthrob Freddie Prinze Jr. also achieved an impressive degree of film and television stardom in his 20s, in productions like She’s All That and Friends. Therefore, it feels very reasonable to guess that he also became the average person’s idea of very wealthy relatively early in his life. We’re sure the couple has bills to pay, just like anyone else. We’re also fairly certain that they’re not going to be desperate for a cash influx anytime soon. That means they don’t have to take every role or job they’re offered, which means they simply aren’t on television as much as they’d need to be if they were broke.
The long shadow of the ’90s
Popular culture went to a strange place in the late ’90s. In music, the decade started with Nirvana’s caustic-yet-catchy Nevermind, but somehow ended with the largely angst-less all-singing, all-dancing Backstreet Boys releasing the top-selling album of 1999. Meanwhile, film enjoyed a much more consistent 10 years, starting with an indie film boom and wrapping up with, arguably, one of the best years for movies in the history of movies. But if there was an annoying trend in cinema and television during the final months of the Clinton administration — film’s answer to the Backstreet Boys, say — it was media that fell within the vaguely-defined "teen" genre.
While Buffy transcends the ’90s teen explosion, the same can’t be said of I Know What You Did Last Summer or Cruel Intentions, two significant works of the era and genre, both prominently featuring Sarah Michelle Gellar. She wasn’t exactly typecast — Kathryn Merteuil and Buffy Summers are wildly different roles — but her persona became very closely tied to a distinct point in time and a distinct entertainment demographic.
Trends go out of style and become retro-cool again in cycles. Case and point: Cruel Intentions is a semi-ironic musical now. But casting Sarah Michelle Gellar in a 2020 film or TV show might be kind of like commissioning Dave Grohl to make a SoundCloud rap album: You know he can do it, and he might even do an exceptional job, but it just feels … off.
The Crazy Ones wasn’t a bigger success
Sarah Michelle Gellar looked like she was on her way back to the top of the television heap as recently as 2013. On paper, the small screen return of Robin Williams, who got his big break on the sitcom Mork & Mindy in 1978 before becoming one of his era’s most recognizable movie stars, looked like a no-fail situation. Thus launched CBS’ The Crazy Ones, on which Gellar played the daughter of Williams’ eccentric advertising executive. Alas, the show only completed its first 22-episode season before the network pulled the plug.
As The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance amply demonstrates, cancelation after only one season is not a meaningful indicator of a television show’s quality. For that matter, as readers know all too well, sometimes bad shows will stay on TV for years. The Crazy Ones was also doomed by outside circumstance: Williams passed away in 2014, a few months after the final episode of The Crazy Ones aired. So even if the first season had been a bigger success, a second season might’ve been impossible without a significant recasting, or possibly a reconfiguration of the entire show. But nevertheless, if The Crazy Ones had been a big, long-running hit, you couldn’t write "What is Sarah Michelle Gellar up to these days?" without sounding silly. That it didn’t end up working out that way can be chalked up to chance.
She often works as a voice actress
Sarah Michelle Gellar has a number of projects percolating at various stages of development. One particular production is of unique interest to a base of hardcore fans. Hint: It’s the project based on a cartoon in which the character Gellar portrays fights a skeleton bad guy, voiced by the one and only Mark Hamill.
Announced in 2019, Netflix’s animated Masters of the Universe: Revelation features Gellar lending her voice to Teela, alongside Hamill as Skeletor, Chris Wood as He-Man, Lena Headey as Evil-Lyn, and Kevin Conroy as Mer-Man. Talk about a star-studded cast. Netflix tapped Kevin Smith of Clerks, Chasing Amy, and most pertinently, Clerks: The Animated Series to run the show. Notably, this isn’t the only modern Masters of the Universe project, but it’s a whole lot less murky than the much-delayed movie.
This isn’t Gellar’s first time working as a voice actor: She also appears as April O’Neil in 2007’s TMNT, and has popped up frequently on Star Wars: Rebels and Robot Chicken. In an instance of high irony, she did not provide the voice of Buffy Summers in the un-aired pilot of 2004’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Animated Series. The cartoon iteration of the teen slayer is instead voiced by Giselle Loren.
She still appears in celeb media on the regular
If you’re the sort of person who can’t be bothered with media unless it’s related to superheroes, space aliens, or some variety of supernatural forces, then it’s understandable if you think Sarah Michelle Gellar fell off the face of the planet after Buffy ended in 2003. But if you clicked this link believing Gellar had possibly been trapped in the Negative Zone all this time, then it’s obvious you don’t watch daytime talk shows or read celebrity gossip magazines.
Gellar is still famous enough for Daily Mail photographers to follow her around like weirdos while she does normal stuff like go grocery shopping and pick up the mail. Meanwhile, the folks at People thinks Gellar and Prinze adopting puppies is a newsworthy event — which, granted, it is, but only because every puppy is newsworthy. As recently as October of 2020, Gellar went on The Kelly Clarkson Show and announced that her children are finally old enough to watch Buffy, and they’ve binged the heck out of it to help make the best of the COVID-19 lockdown.
"I didn’t know if they’d be into it, but they are so into it," she told the "Since U Been Gone" singer. "Except I’m the world’s biggest disappointment, because they’ll always ask questions, and I’ll be like, ‘I don’t remember! I’ll have to text someone and ask.’" Eh, we can’t remember what happened at our jobs 20 years ago, either.
She co-owns a healthy baking company
Cookies, brownies, cakes, donuts — a lot of the time, they’re loaded with excess sugar, salt, and chemicals we can’t pronounce. The problem is, they’re also delicious. Thus, we are compelled to eat them, even though they’re usually terrible for us. A few years back, Sarah Michelle Gellar ran up against this age-old conundrum, and decided to do something about it.
"Our kids were really interested in baking … and my knowledge of baking [was] all eating, and I don’t have the time to get 30 million ingredients" she told AOL in a 2019 interview. "So I went to the store, and we were shocked that in 2015 … the only things were the traditional legacy boxed brands … where the number one ingredient was salt."
The lack of baking mix that wasn’t aggressively terrible for human health prompted Gellar to co-found what she and her business associates call the "junk-free baking" company Foodstirs. If the photos on the boxes are any indication, Foodstirs makes some delicious treats. Foodstirs is also unique as a professional endeavor Gellar’s undergone that has nothing to do with Buffy, or movies, or anything which we as the content-consuming public would normally associate with her. People have lives outside of their television personas, y’know?
She’s pretty busy raising her kids
Sarah Michelle Gellar is a deeply committed mom, like so many mothers around the world. But the key difference here is that typical moms only end up in the news if they do something horrible or amazing. Gellar parents as hard as anyone, while also being the kind of famous person who is photographed when she runs out to the store for milk.
Raising wee ones takes up a whole lot of time and attention. Since Gellar and Prinze officially became parents in 2009, child rearing has likely eaten into time both of them could’ve otherwise devoted to acting in R-rated films, screaming cuss words, joking loudly about adult topics around the house, and other activities that get more difficult when there are little kids in the vicinity. Granted, most of those things don’t seem to be of interest to the pair, but it’s definitely clear that their kids take up a major amount of space in their lives.
In recent years, Gellar has cultivated a mutually-beneficial relationship between her media persona and her mom-hood. Most notably, her business venture with Foodstirs was partially inspired by a family treat-baking activity. She’s also indicated taking a hands-on approach to her son’s COVID-mandated Zoom-learning situation in at least two unrelated interviews. All evidence indicates that Gellar spends loads of time with her offspring — and that’s just the way she likes it.
She spends a bunch of time promoting optical health
Sarah Michelle Gellar does quite a bit of partnering with specific brands, like any celebrity. Thus, it would be inaccurate to describe her work in optical health as "charity." However, even if she is advertising products, she goes about it in a way that encourages people to make sure their eyes are in tip-top shape. And hey, it’s much better to be a spokesperson for vision than, let’s say, cigarettes or cheap vodka.
"I was working on Buffy and getting horrible headaches and squinting," she told a crowd of fans during a 2014 Australian trip to promote Specsavers, an optical retail chain, according to a Daily Mail report. "The doctor on set told me to get my eyes checked … I had no health insurance … so I had never had my eyes checked. He told me I was blind as a bat!"
More recently, Gellar’s re-centered her optical-related endeavors on childhood myopia. Apparently, fixating on screens all day is pretty unhealthy for developing eyeballs. Who’d have guessed?
She does a lot of charity work
A quick image search will call up plenty of visual evidence of Sarah Michelle Gellar appearing at fundraising functions for various causes. But she’s definitely invested a uniquely large amount of time into UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital. Gellar hosted an outdoor benefit for the facility back in 2015, and according to The Hollywood Reporter, had been routinely volunteering at the hospital around that time.
"It’s hard enough to get children to go to the doctor to get a shot. Think about what sick children go through day in and day out," she told the outlet. "What Mattel provides is truly amazing, from the smallest details — like little kids don’t use wheelchairs; they use red wagons; the window washers dress up as superheroes. What they do requires a lot of funding."
While the sight of fantasy characters might be helpful for sick children, we caution against applying that strategy to adults. We’re not medical experts by any stretch, but seeing a character from Neon Genesis Evangelion or A Nightmare on Elm Street outside one’s window while recovering from surgery doesn’t seem conducive to healing.
Systemic Hollywood misogyny
In an age when Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman remain contentious topics in certain circles, it should come as no surprise that female action heroes were something of a rarity two decades ago. Back in the late ’90s, Buffy Summers joined the ranks of Sarah Connor, Ellen Ripley and, uh, not exactly a ton of other butt-kicking female characters in media.
At the time, Buffy was properly recognized as a milestone of feminism and LGBTQ representation in sci-fi and fantasy media. But in retrospect, it’s notable that Joss Whedon went on to direct two of the top 10 highest-grossing films of all time, while every other famous person associated with Buffy remained, primarily, on television. And it is worth noting that dashing ladies’ man David Boreanaz went on to star on Angel, Bones, and SEAL Team after Buffy, whereas neither Gellar’s Ringer, nor The Crazy Ones — which are not action or fantasy-related shows, incidentally — got picked up for second seasons. As talented, lucky, hard-working, and well-represented as Boreanaz and Whedon probably are, they also benefit from the kind of society-wide sexism that banished Winona Ryder to prestige television, while keeping Johnny Depp top-billed in major blockbusters long after the end of the ’90s. Gellar is still very much around, but one wonders what she might have done in the past couple of decades in a more fair world.