A Breath of Fresh Air With Sarah Michelle Gellar

Posted on 18. Nov, 2008 by Administrator in Fashion, hCovers, Profiles

 words by Devoe Yates, photos by Robert Todd WIlliamson

After a period of relative silence spent relishing some quality time with her husband of six years, Freddie Prinze Jr.,
Sarah Michelle Gellar has returned to the limelight with three new films released into the hungry world, The Air I Breathe, Possession, and Suburban Girl. She is just as you’d imagine her to be, a striking and waifish beauty to behold and a wisened veteran of the entertainment world, having started her career at the mere age of four when a talent scout spotted her at a New York eatery and introduced her to the world of television commercials. From there, Gellar went on to win a daytime Emmy for her work on All My Children and dominate the world of television with her cult classic, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. On temporary leave from her home base in New York City and taking shelter from a rare L.A. monsoon, Sarah stopped by the h office to enlighten us with her latest endeavors.
Recently, and for the first time ever, Sarah agreed to grace the cover of Maxim for their December offering, claiming their title of “Woman of the Year” and treating many happy periodical enthusiasts to some rather saucy and revealing glossies. I wonder if it’s hard not to let such attention go to her head, having been voted one of the sexiest women on the planet for nearly nine years. Immediately she laughs and ponders, “That’s a hard question to answer. You know, I look at it as a different person almost. I remember I was at the newsstand at the airport recently buying gum when the Maxim issue was out. People are just looking at the cover and there I am, and my face isn’t all made up and the guy there was shaking his head like “No, that’s not her.” I look more like the other Sarah than that one. It’s easy to separate the two. I mean, I don’t normally go to the supermarket dressed like that…with a hair and makeup team and lighting crew….though it might be interesting if I did do that once. Appreciated by some and probably really hated by others.”

And Sarah’s no stranger to the watchful eyes of the public. She’s constantly approached and photographed. In her most recent film, The Air I Breathe, which is currently inhabiting theaters, Sarah plays a pop star dealing with such pressures of fame, the crazed fans and ever present paparazzi,the constant shuffling from one appearance to another, the indelicate proddings and pokings of the press. One wonders if this was an anxiety that Sarah could easily relate to, “I’m still able to lead a pretty quiet life. I always think of it as one part is my job and one part’s my life, so it’s not too bad. I love what I do, so when it comes time to talk about something you’ve worked on or a film you’re proud of, it’s nice to be able to share those experiences. There are always things that are hard, especially things in life that I wish could be kept private, but at the same time I’ve been lucky enough to have been granted that respect for the most part.”
In a particularly harrowing scene in the film, Sarah’s character is in the midst of an emotional breakdown when she’s surrounded by a glom of fans and flashing cameras from which there seems no escape. Has Sarah ever felt so overwhelmed? “Oh absolutely, plenty of times. Even though you know that you’re not truthfully in any danger, it can be hard to get your bearings and not be affected.”
The film weaves together the somewhat metaphysical tales of people from all walks of life searching for their own illumination and direction in this strange world. The cast is comprised of Forrest Whitaker, Andy Garcia, Kevin Bacon, Emile Hirsch, Julie Delpy, and Brendan Fraser. Surprisingly, the film was co-written and helmed by a first time director, Jieho Lee. How, I wonder, did a first timer assemble such an amazing cast, “It’s funny, he had a really beautiful script and a very, very specific vision. You know it speaks to his vision, the fact that he had four directors cast in his film, Kevin, Forrest, Andy, and Julie. I think that we all saw something in him that you look for in a director, a very clear vision. He was very confident. He knew exactly how he wanted to shoot it and what he was trying to say, and I’ve met with people, directors, that don’t have such specific intent. And I think it was his passion that helped everyone to want to be a part of it.”
It might be strange to some to see Sarah in a dramatic role that doesn’t involve screaming Asian ghosts or angry vampires or some sort of supernatural element, but as Sarah puts it, there are reasons why she’s known mostly for roles in the darker side of film and television, “I don’t purposely focus on one particular genre, but it’s a tough business and you have to find roles that are challenging and interesting. To me, the experience and the challenge is more important than the box office returns or the number of screens that you’re released on. I’m just not the girl who would be satisfied being the girlfriend in a movie, though maybe it’s a big blockbuster. That’s not why I do what I do. There are certain genres where women get the chance to lead, and horror happens to be one of them. The funny thing is, I’ve made a lot more other types of movies than those, it’s just that those are the ones that get the massive, massive releases. That being said, I love the challenge. I love that they constantly star females. But I hope that people will realize that it doesn’t have to be genre specific and that women can lead all sorts of different types of movies.”
Being a genre aficionado, one might wonder in particular what Sarah’s favorite horror movie of all time is. “The Grudge,” Sarah laughs wryly. “Honestly my favorite is probably (and most people wouldn’t consider it a horror movie) Fatal Attraction. That to me is true horror and true terror. I also love all the old school ones like The Exorcist.”
Another recent film in which Sarah ventured beyond the genre of horror was Richard Kelley’s Southland Tales, where she graced the screen as a porn star. The movie was designed as a quirky and stylistic Altman-esque examination of the near future from the mind behind Donnie Darko, but was met with much venom by the audience at Cannes, where it premiered, and by many critics since. Was this a big disappointment for Sarah? “Of course, I mean, you choose to do something because you love the experience and the people, and honestly, I’m more disappointed for Richard than anybody else because it really got a bad rap. I think the movie’s fun and I’m really happy with my performance, and everyone I know that went to see it had a really good time. I think sometimes people put such high expectations on things, and inevitably it just sets you up for failure. Cannes was really the wrong place to premiere that movie. It’s really not the audience that it was made for, nor can they understand the political ramifications of what Richard’s saying because it’s really, really from America. Anyway, at the end of the day, you work on a movie because you love it.”
But, for some time now, it seems that Sarah has been searching for even more meaningful and worldly rewards. She spends a great deal of her time working for and promoting many different charities, “It started simply with me begging to help anyone who needed help anywhere. Children have always been close to my heart and the Starlight Foundation and the Make-A-Wish Foundation have always been great. When I did Buffy, the show was so incredibly accommodating. We’d always let the kids say ‘Action!’ and ‘Cut!’ and it really brought that set together.”
But this was just the beginning of Sarah’s charity work, “Cancer Care came about because I had a lot of women in my life unfortunately afflicted with breast cancer. The animal rights work I do is just because I love animals. And then CARE really came about because I wanted to take some time off last year, but at the same time I wanted something I could do every day, something I could further do to help. I met with a bunch of different charities but the people at CARE, what they stood for, well, it just fit like a glove. It’s a humanitarian organization that focuses on fighting global poverty.”
Since then, Sarah has had a great deal of involvement with the organization, “I went to DC earlier this year to speak with my Senator about more CARE projects, and I’ve been helping set up events. I’ve contacted fashion houses and jewelry designers that are helping out, making jewelry and clothing to help raise money. It’s just been great, I’m even going to Africa at the end of next month. When we travel we focus on one particular region and all the different programs that we have in that region, and what people don’t realize is that even though one country might be very small, the needs are so specific to each individual within even a 20 mile radius. But our main focuses over there are to provide clean running water, supply medicine, develop the education system, empower women, and stop genocide and rape. There’s so much work that needs to be done all over.”
And it’s the fruit of these efforts that really moves Sarah: “It changes your life. When I originally got involved I had a panic attack. Like, can I handle this? Am I qualified? Am I the right person to speak to these women, to speak to these men, to these children? Can I stand for what I see? But then you realize that it’s the greatest gift you’ll ever have, it’s amazing to see the transformation that a little bit of belief makes. I think that’s what we all need, just someone to believe in us. That’s how we succeed in life. And I’ve been fortunate enough to have always been surrounded by people who believed that I could accomplish my goals. That’s really how I’ve managed to do it. If I can impart a little bit of that element all over the world then that’s the greatest reward. That’s better than any box office opening weekend.”
And it is with these revelations that Sarah must make her way. As for her upcoming projects, everything seems to be a bit up in the air for her right now, “With the strike going on, it’s been a bit difficult to make that decision. The things that you really want to do aren’t getting made right now, which is really frustrating. But what really makes me feel bad is all of the people out of work right now. Every grip and electrician and soundman and costume designer…even the restaurants near the studios are going out of business because they can’t survive.”
But luckily for her, it seems that Sarah has been able to continue to do what really matters to her, whether it’s working on films she feels passionately about or helping out her favorite charities. Having just turned 30, she offers this pearl of wisdom about finding happiness and direction as you grow older, “I think unfortunately we obsess so much over age, it’s like when you turn 16 and you expect your life to be magically transformed. I don’t think that overnight the world opens up and shares its secrets with you. I think as each year goes by, you learn more about yourself and you learn more about what you want from the world or what the world wants from you and just how to work through it together.” And at present, it would seem that Sarah has found her harmony with the world around her.

art direction by Laura Ann
hair by Mara Roszak
makeup by Rachel Goodwin
styled by Tara Swennen

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