For kids of the ’90s, Michele Trachtenberg was ubiquitous and overlooked at the same time. If you owned a TV, you couldn’t escape her — but she always played by her own rules. The actor, who broke out as the titular character in Harriet the Spy, rose to fame in the era of Nickelodeon’s All That, which was known for churning out some of the network’s most beloved comedians including Amanda Bynes, Nick Cannon, and Kenan Thompson (who eventually graduated to Saturday Night Live). Nonetheless, she never made a single appearance on the sketch comedy show. Instead, the same year that All That premiered, Trachtenberg established her extraordinary comedic talent on the network’s cult hit The Adventures of Pete & Pete – which, in some ways, foreshadowed the rest of her career.
Trachtenberg’s credits read like a who’s who of early aughts cult successes, whether it was her role in Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the risqué teen comedy EuroTrip, which saw a Matt Damon cameo so beloved, it’s still regularly referenced on the internet almost 20 years later. She even took a walk on the dark side, embodying Gossip Girl’s ultimate villain, Georgina Sparks, which proved the actor was far from a one-trick pony.
Since Gossip Girl ended, Trachtenberg hasn’t been as boldly in the limelight, and though bad timing is to blame for some of it, the actor has the type of star power that lets her carefully pick her projects. Here’s what she’s been up to in recent years.
Twilight would have changed Michelle Trachtenberg’s career
In another world, where vampires sparkle in the sun rather than shrivel up and die, Michelle Trachtenberg could’ve become one of the biggest names in Hollywood. According to Us Weekly, the actor almost landed a role in the behemoth young adult film franchise, Twilight. Yes, that Twilight — the one that catapulted Kristen Stewart into a mind-boggling level of fame and grossed more than $3.3 billion worldwide. As the tabloid mused, there’s a world where Harriet the Spy grows up to become Bella.
"There was definitely interest here and there because there’s only so few pale girls in Hollywood," Trachtenberg told Us Weekly of her shot at on-screen immortality. "I’ve known [director] Catherine Hardwicke since the movie Thirteen. I was actually supposed to star in that, but I was on Buffy at the time."
Ultimately, the actor blamed "schedules" for the reason it didn’t work out. Nonetheless, she won’t think about where her career could’ve been had she gotten the part. "[Hypothetical answers mean] you’re not living in the moment and you’re looking negatively at what you’re doing now," she said, adding that she’s "already done the vampire thing" with Buffy. There are only so many vampire-related roles a girl can take.
Michelle Trachtenberg’s first post-Gossip Girl production job never got off the ground
Michelle Trachtenberg’s role as Georgina Sparks on Gossip Girl was polarizing for longtime fans because it shifted the narrative about Serena’s tumultuous party girl past. It’s also hard to not mention the fact that Georgina somehow managed to make Dan believe she had his baby, which seriously makes us question if he had the smarts to hide his identity as GG to begin with (sorry for the spoilers, but it’s been a decade).
Georgina also shifted the narrative of Trachtenberg’s career. After playing a character so unanimously unlikable — in both her most and least Christian moments — the star was no longer bound to wholesome TV roles. She was also poised to hop behind the camera with a production gig that never ended up working out.
In 2010, Vulture announced that Trachtenberg was teaming up Gossip Girl developers Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage to produce an untitled series, where she stars as a "criminology student with a dark past." The actor came up with the idea for the show herself, which was supposed to be her first major gig behind-the-scenes. Though it was scheduled for a potential fall 2011 premiere, it never got off the ground. Instead, Trachtenberg nabbed a part-time gig in Showtime dramedy Weeds while she finished out Gossip Girl.
She’s purposely avoided starring in a TV series
There’s a reason you haven’t seen Michelle Trachtenberg on TV in a hot minute. The star actually isn’t that fond of taking on recurring TV roles. In a 2004 interview with Entertainment Weekly, the actor admitted that she never planned to return to television following Buffy the Vampire Slayer. "I’m not a person to repeat myself creativity-wise," she said. "And I found TV to be rather stifling, especially Buffy. Three years as one character — where they’re not changing the character and your abilities aren’t being tested or challenged — gets very repetitive."
Trachtenberg did make some exceptions along the way, mostly appearing in a handful of episodes on edgy series like Six Feet Under and Weeds, but she always made an exit before she could possibly feel creatively stifled. As she told Conan O’Brien in 2006, she was famous enough to handpick guest appearances in her favorite primetime series — even if it sometimes required incessant begging, which is how she ended up in an episode of House. Then, there’s Georgina Sparks, who had enough character development over the course of four years that it was almost like Trachtenberg played four different people.
Beyond that, Trachtenberg has stayed away from traditional television series, opting for web shows, TV movies, and big-screen projects that challenge her skillset (think: National Geographic’s Killing Kennedy, where she brushed up on her Russian speaking skills, or Ice Princess, where she learned to competitively ice skate).
She produced and starred in a short-lived web series
Michelle Trachtenberg finally did get to test her chops as a producer in 2015, but she didn’t go the traditional TV route. Instead, she went for the really small screen (think: handheld) with the web series Guidance, a steamy teen drama not too far from her Gossip Girl roots. It was one of those series with high hopes, enlisting a corporate sponsor (it premiered on Verizon’s go90 app) and YouTube star power (YouTuber Anna Steele nabbed one of the leads).
In the series, Trachtenberg starred as Anna, a guidance counselor investigating racy photos that were passed around a group of high school students and purportedly had some sort of mystery behind them. (If there’s anyone who could get down to the bottom of it, it would actually be Georgina, but alas, Georgina’s aged out of high school scandal). Unfortunately, the series was a product of its platform. Verizon’s original video-streaming app failed to gain traction, and go90 was shuttered in 2018. Digiday claims it was a $1.2 billion failure, and Guidance only survived two short seasons.
Her Lifetime flick, Sister Cities, was a slam-dunk
In 2016, Michelle Trachtenberg finally hit a major ’90s child star milestone. Like her peers Mario Lopez and Tia Mowry, she joined the time-honored tradition of becoming a genuine Lifetime star. She had appeared in Lifetime flicks in the past (think: 2005’s The Dive from Clausen’s Pier and 2015’s The Christmas Gift), but Sister Cities became one of her biggest TV movie successes, garnering a whopping 81% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. In the world of Lifetime, it doesn’t get much better.
Lifetime movies are something of an enigma. Like everything Trachtenberg does, they have a fervent cult fanbase. You either dislike their tendency to come off as a two-hour soap opera (soft lighting and all) or love them to the point where you’re recording every juicy, ripped-from-the-headlines moment onto your DV-R. Original You fans really know (Yes, this was a Lifetime original before it was picked up by Netflix).
According to Variety, Lifetime nabbed the TV rights to Sister Cities in 2016, and the production was led by the Emmy-nominated team behind the network’s hit, Return to Zero. The success was also, in no small part, due to Trachtenberg’s effortless performance. As she told ET Canada, she was a lot like her character Dallas. "I’m definitely a perfectionist, and extremely type A, and not a lover of nature," she said. "So, it’s very funny to see myself-slash-Dallas in a lot of the environments that [are] surrounded by greenery and Earth."
Michelle Trachtenberg occasionally picks up voice acting gigs
If you haven’t seen Trachtenberg on-screen since Gossip Girl, you’ve probably heard her. In recent years, the star has dabbled in voice acting. For more than a decade, she occasionally popped up on Robot Chicken as Gummy Bear or one of many auxiliary female characters. She even reprised her Harriet the Spy role for an episode in 2018. Overall, the show seemed to really test her acting chops since, in most episodes, she took on numerous roles.
Most recently, Trachtenberg appeared in the animated Facebook Watch series Human Kind Of, where she starred as Judy Reilly, a nerdy teen who discovers she’s half-alien. The episodes are just five minutes long, which marks a departure from Trachtenberg’s numerous feature-length film roles, but it appears to have been well-received. The show has a 7/10 rating on IMDb, and a quick Google search shows that 97% of Google users liked it, but as of this writing, there’s only been one season.
2019 was Michelle Trachtenberg’s year of Gossip Girl reunions
With news of a Gossip Girl reboot starring newcomer talent (like prominent fashion blogger and former Rookie editor Tavi Gevinson), fans are itching to see the CW show’s original cast reclaim the steps of the Metropolitan Museum. As it turns out, it’s not all that unlikely. In fact, two miniature Gossip Girl reunions actually happened in 2019 — they just didn’t air on the CW.
First, Georgina Sparks was spotted in (not) the Upper East Side with none other than Manhattan’s reigning Queen B (we say that in Kristen Bell’s infamous voice). Over the years, Michelle Trachtenberg has managed to maintain her friendship with Leighton Meester despite their on-screen characters’ mutual disgust. According to People, they got together for a mutual friend’s murder mystery-themed bachelorette party in March of that year, and Trachtenberg shared a snap of the reunion on Instagram. "Spotted. Ms. Waldorf and Ms. Sparks. In the ballroom. With secrets. I’ll never tell. Xoxo," she captioned the post.
The month prior, Trachtenberg also had a run-in with her co-star Chace Crawford, who played Nate Archibald (the reason teen boys had swoopy bangs in the early aughts). As she posted to her Instagram, it all went down at a pre-Oscars party. Ms. Sparks isn’t such a black sheep after all.
Michelle Trachtenberg faked her own engagement
Michelle Trachtenberg has had a rather quiet love life for such a major star. Most of us actually forget that, according to Perez Hilton (via MTV), she allegedly had a screaming match with Ashlee Simpson in 2009 over Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz, who she snuggled up to at Warped Tour three years prior. That sentence is, indeed, an early-aughts time machine, but beyond that, we rarely hear about Trachtenberg’s boyfriends in the tabloids.
In 2020, everything changed when Trachtenberg faked her own engagement (which is some Georgina Sparks trickery if we ever saw it). Apparently, you can write your own tabloid headlines. All the star had to do was post a photo of herself on Instagram wearing a very conspicuous engagement ring. "I picked the right one," she captioned the post, before clarifying that she was only talking about voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. We nearly fell for it as bad as Dan Humphrey.
Either way, Trachtenberg is reportedly a taken woman. At the time of the engagement rumors, Us Weekly confirmed that the star had been quietly dating her talent agent Jay Cohen for more than a year. She reportedly signed with his agency in 2014.
She celebrated EuroTrip’s 10th anniversary
EuroTrip was so much more than a raunchy comedy that somehow managed to compress every single stereotype of Europeans and Americans abroad into 93 sweet minutes of aughties debauchery. It was more than simply taking American Pie on a backpacking trip for high school graduation. It was even bigger than "Scotty Doesn’t Know," which has stood the test of time as one of the best songs by a fake band in the movie, probably ever. The film is, quite literally, American history. It was so culturally relevant that it’s been eternally preserved in the Library of Congress.
Trachtenberg’s role as Jenny was her raunchiest to date. She didn’t just accidentally make out with her on-screen twin brother during an absinthe fueled club night — the actor donned a bikini, which marked the first time she showed any sort of skin in a flick. At the time, she told Entertainment Weekly it was "a little stressful." The 50 naked people on-set didn’t help, but finally, she was no longer a child actor — and it looks like the star has always held the film close to her heart.
In 2014, Trachtenberg celebrated EuroTrip’s 10th anniversary by having a panel with her co-stars where she revealed some juicy behind-the-scenes details about the cult classic. According to Entertainment Weekly, the star admitted that the extras in the nude beach scene (which originally had much less nudity) hung around craft services while totally stripped down — awkward.
Michelle Trachtenberg is still tight with Sarah Michelle Gellar
Sarah Michelle Gellar and Michelle Trachtenberg have known each other for longer than most of us have known our best friends. The pair worked together on the daytime soap All My Children in 1994, right before Trachtenberg found mainstream success with Harriet the Spy. According to a BBC interview, it was Gellar who helped Trachtenberg land the role of her on-screen little sister in Buffy – and she’s remained a so-called "little sister" to the actor ever since.
In 2015, Trachtenberg celebrated her 30th birthday and got a super-sweet Instagram tribute from her fellow Buffy castmate. "How is it possible that you are 30, @michelletrachtenberg," Gellar captioned a collage with photos of the pair through the years. "I met you as a little girl on [All My Children] and have continued to watch you grow. You may be taller [than] me now, but you will always be my little sister. You have the [key] to my heart."
By now, it’s clear that Trachtenberg is one of the rare celebrities that makes life-long friends on set. It seems like Gellar and Trachtenberg still hangout, and according to Us Weekly, the pair got together as recently as 2018 for a Halloween charity event.
She stood beside her Buffy co-stars to call out Joss Whedon
In 2021, Buffy director Joss Whedon was faced with a myriad of allegations regarding his on-set behavior. The tipping point appeared to be an op-ed written by his ex-wife, who blasted him for allegedly cheating on her and hiding bad behavior behind a feminist image. According to The Cut, Justice League actor Ray Fisher was the first to come forward with a tweet alleging that Whedon’s treatment of the cast and crew on the set of the DC flick was "gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable." Next was Buffy actor Charisma Carpenter, who accused Whedon of "[fostering] an abusive environment." Per The Cut, Carpenter claimed that (among a number of horrific allegations) the director berated her when she became pregnant and wrote her off Angel as a result.
Of course, Michelle Trachtenberg and Sara Michelle Gellar had their Buffy co-star’s back. According to People, Trachtenberg reposted Gellar’s Instagram statement which read, "I stand with all survivors of abuse." Trachtenberg took it one step further, alleging that Whedon acted inappropriately towards her when she was a teenager on the set of Buffy. "There was a rule. Saying. He’s not allowed in a room alone with Michelle again," she said
At the time of this writing, the situation is still evolving, with Justice League producer Deborah Snyder most recently speaking out to Insider.
Fans are still hassling Michelle Trachtenberg over her Buffy character
Michelle Trachtenberg first debuted on Buffy more than 20 years ago — yet, somehow, fans still wont get over it. If you thought Georgina Sparks was controversial, she doesn’t hold a candle to Dawn. The character has long been criticized for being a whiny, unnecessary addition to any already beloved series. Arguably, Buffy was doing just fine without her as a sidekick, and even Trachtenberg is willing to admit she was iffy about her character in the beginning, but now, she’s totally over the drama.
"Most of the haters don’t have the guts to say things in person," the actor told Entertainment Weekly in 2017. "I still get comments like, ‘Oh my God! I think Dawn is so annoying!’ I get it. It’s fine. It used to be a 60-40 ‘I hate Dawn.’ Then, it became 50-50. Now, I think it’s 60-40 being supportive of Dawn. Maybe even 70-30."
Her biggest gripe? Of course Dawn was annoying because teenagers are annoying. "I rarely get the ‘Oh she ruined the show,’" she continued. "I do get a lot of ‘Oh she was so whiny!’ Hi, were you a teenager? Oh, you were docile, sitting in the corner, doe-eyed and happy to be there? No." Y’all, Buffy hasn’t aired a new episode since 2003. Let. It. Go!