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Interview: Sarah Michelle Gellar for "The Grudge"

By Paul Fischer Monday October 11th 2004 07:25PM
 Sarah Michelle Gellar for "The Grudge"

Sarah Michelle Gellar was in a chirpy, upbeat mood when we met to talk about her starring role in The Grudge, the English-language remake of the Japanese horror hit. This may be a new phase in the young actress's life, who is finally back on the screen in a familiar genre for the actress who discovered fame and fortune as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the hit series that ended its popular run last year. Gellar admits that it was tough to finally say goodbye to the show that launched her career. "Oh, I mean, it was the most difficult thing I ever experienced," says Gellar, chatting in a Los Angeles hotel room. "It's all I knew, since I got that show when I was 18 years old. It was a character I loved, a challenging character, and that crew was my family, whom I saw nine months of the year for eight years of my life, so It was incredibly difficult."

As for those rumours of a Buffy movie, Gellar is quick to nix that idea, at this stage at least. "I have a lot of hesitation about it, since it WAS a movie, and I spent the first year of the show constantly explaining to people, 'no no, it's not like the movie' because there was such a bias to the movie, because it didn't work as a film. And that's my initial hesitation and the other is that clearly you're going to disappoint people. I mean, I was very happy with the finale, but I still believe that it should have been two hours. I believe there wasn't enough Xander, that certain things get left out, and when you make a film you're setting your self up to disappoint people. Part of the reason I believe the show worked was because the story's an arc and you felt for this character's experience, and it wasn't a beginning, middle and end and I don't believe she worked like that. I say that now, and if in a year they could send me the script, I could think it's great and we could be at the junket a year and a half from now, but I will say that I have a lot of hesitations about it and it is not something I particularly want to do at this time."

Though concentrating on movies, Gellar says that at least she is finding time for a personal life. "You find a lot more time for everything. Weekly television is the most incredible grind and I remember, before I left to do The Grudge, one of the producers called me and said, "Now, Sarah, this is not going to be what you're used to. This is going to be really hard hours and really early calls and you're going to work like five days in a row." And I'm like, "What? I'm from television. What are you talking about?" Doing a movie and you have dinner afterwards?" She says that in between acting gigs, though, she has discovered sleeping and "reading for pleasure. Being able to pick up a book and sit down for two and a half hours and finish it." As well as "Just seeing your friends and being able to plan vacations, being able to sit around and not have plans, not having to manage your time wisely because this is your one day off in a month on television and that's the dentist and the doctor and the eye doctor and the vet."

And what about starting a family with husband Freddie Prinze? "On my day off in one day? Wow, you know something I don't know.," she responds, laughingly. "You mean am I prioritising having a baby? I'm not ready to start seriously thinking about that. I'm only 27 years old so please, I have some time." Meanwhile, Gellar is set to put her film career on track, fresh from acting with a talking dog in the Scooby films, the actress gets to hold her own in The Grudge, a chilling tale of an exchange student in Japan who discovers the ghostly terrors that lay within the outward normalcy of a benign looking house. Shooting the film in Japan with a Japanese director who spoke no English were not barriers to her taking on this film. "It was the main reason I took the project. The idea for me to first of all be able to spend three months in Japan to be able to be part of the first film ever to be made with the original Japanese director, were all of the reasons why I chose the project."

Having already done horror films in the past, notable I Know what you Did Last Summer, Gellar says she was not reluctant to step into that genre word once more. "If it was horror, in my opinion, in the American sense, then I would have been, but I think that Japanese movies are much more thriller-oriented. But people ask me that question a lot and I definitely did think about it beforehand, but women still have a long way to go in this industry in terms of roles where we can really sort of lead the film and drive it. I was thinking, look at past Oscar winners. Right after Halle Berry won, she did Gothika, and Charlize Theron is doing Aeon Flux, and why is that? Because that is the big roles where women can really drive them and be successful in them."

Yet horror films are not necessarily about character, but Gellar disagrees that was the case working on The Grudge. "You know, usually that would be the case, but it really wasn't in this film, and we spoke a lot beforehand about each character and why we were there and what our reaction was to being in Japan, because it's important to keep that and it was the first time I really did an experience like that where it was important but of course the surroundings and situations make it that much easier to sort of create a character." Gellar also sees distinct differences between Japanese and American horror. "Well I think Japanese films leave a lot more to the imagination. It's a lot more about setting it up and letting you take it to that place where it makes it scariest for you. It's not gory, it's not bloody, and I think because of that, it's much more chilling."

The actress did spend several months working alone in Japan, without friends or family, including her husband, visiting her, but the actress says that she the Japanese made her feel less lonely. "It's very hard to be lonely in Japan. Clearly you miss your family, your dog, your home, but Japanese people are incredibly welcoming. The best advice I got before I left was someone said the best thing you can do is just learn the basics of the language. And a lot of times when you go across, especially when it comes to Europe, I'm so embarrassed because it's like I bastardize the language and I feel like everyone's laughing at me, but in Japan they're so honoured you're taking the time to learn even the smallest bit of the language, they open up their homes to you and they're so gracious. They invite you to dinner, and on top of that I had this great cast that was so interested in everything Japanese and Japanese culture and Japanese society." Gellar is being kept busy filming Southland Tales, for director Richard Kelly [Donnie Darko], a musical/comedy set in 2008 where a three-day heatwave in Los Angeles culminates in a huge Fourth of July party. "it's so hard to describe. The only thing I can sort of say is could you imagine trying to explain Donnie Darko to people before they saw it? Okay, it's about a guy and there's this six foot imaginary bunny. Richard Kelly to me is just a genius and part of the things I want to do is be able to work with interesting people and have different experiences and having such an amazing time on this film just pushes me to want that more and more and more. I had seen Donnie Darko and thought this guy is so different and he has so much to say and it would be such an honour to meet him. That's just how it all started."

But musical or not, Gellar is emphatic that there will be no singing on her part. "No, you can all rest assured that I will not," despite her having sung in a memorable episode of Buffy. "That was the most miserable experience of my entire life, because I am a perfectionist. I don't do anything unless I can train for months and months and months and we got that script three weeks out. Plus I had no days off and I would leave work and take a singing lesson and go to the dance class and to me that should've been the first episode after a three month hiatus when you could've been ready and I'm done with that, boy. So no, I will not be singing in Southland Tales."

Gellar says that she hasn't signed to do a sequel to The Grudge, "but I would go back to Japan in a heartbeat for anything." Trying to find the right acting project, Gellar says it would not include anything with her husband. "I don't think that audiences particularly love it. I know as an audience member, I don't really like seeing couples together. Scooby was a great project for us because at the time I was on Buffy and I was very limited in what I could do and when he would go away to make films and I was on Buffy, I couldn't go. I never had time. I would wrap at six a.m. Saturday morning and be back at work six a.m. Monday morning. And it afforded us the opportunity to travel together, to be together, to spend that time, but at the same time, I don't think that movie was hinging on Daphne and Fred's relationship, clearly. It's a movie about a talking dog. So that was a great experience, but we're not looking to make Eyes Wide Shut part 2, I can tell you that right now," she adds laughingly. As busy as she seems, Gellar says that she hasn't a clue as to what her future will bring. "We joke that I'm a professional commitment phobe right now. Eight years of my life, I knew what I was doing and it was very planned. I chose my movies based on hiatuses and didn't choose them based on I was dying to do it. The first thing that I'm learning right now is that I can really wait until there's something I really want to be a part of and I want to do. I don't want to have to work nine, 10, 11, 12 months a year and I can wait." Gellar also yearns to visit Italy. But which part? "The part with the food and the wine. I mean, the shopping. I mean, the art, clearly."

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