Sarah Michelle Gellar roundhouse-kicked her way to pop icon status as the lovely-but-lethal Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But that was more than 15 years ago. Since then, the actress has been busy: She’s starred in films like “The Grudge,” lent her voice to Seth Green’s stopmotion show “Robot Chicken,” married ’90s (and current) heartthrob Freddie Prinze Jr., and given birth to two children, Charlotte Grace (4) and Rocky (1). While some celebs might take a minute to breathe — or even decide to call it quits and rest on their laurels — Gellar, 36, is back in the television saddle, starring alongside comedy legend Robin Williams in this fall’s No. 1 new show, “The Crazy Ones,” which drew more than 15 million viewers for its Sept. 26 pilot episode.
Set in Chicago, the show stars Williams and Gellar as Simon and Sydney Roberts, a father-daughter team running a major ad firm. For Gellar, stepping into her role as Sydney, the pragmatic counterpart to Williams’ creative chaos, involved taking in a lot of television. “Watching commercials and thinking about the most memorable ones, that was my research,” Gellar says. “[Wendy’s] ‘Where’s the beef’ is the commercial that really stuck with me.”
“The Crazy Ones” is a horse of a different color for Gellar, which she readily admits. “The bond we formed [as a cast] is really different,” she says. “We say that we’re like a mini theater troupe.” While a sitcom is uncharted territory, Gellar is proving that comedy is right in her wheelhouse. “Part of what made ‘Buffy’ so great was its comedy. And I’ve always been lucky to keep my feet wet, whether it was with ‘Saturday Night Live’ or [other projects].”
Not that Gellar needs to prove her mettle or Hollywood worth. In her 33-year career (she started modeling at age 4), she’s earned a Daytime Emmy for her long-running role on “All My Children,” and “Buffy” was named one of Entertainment Weekly’s 10 greatest TV shows of all time. Even on the big screen, Gellar is certified gold. Her horror flick “The Grudge” earned more than $110 million at the U.S. box office, making it the No. 8 domestic grossing horror film ever. Though her career might have cooled while she grew her picture-perfect family with Prinze (whom she met on the set of the cult classic “I Know What You Did Last Summer”), it’s never really lost momentum.
Now, she’s moving faster than ever. In just the first three episodes of “The Crazy Ones,” Gellar has belted out an off-key song in a crowded restaurant in front of Kelly Clarkson, flooded Daley Plaza, and crashed a car alongside Williams. Between takes, she’s equally playful with the cast. “When we were shooting the pilot, all the lights went down on the set; it was complete darkness,” remembers John Montgomery, the show’s executive producer and former executive creative director of Leo Burnett ad agency (see sidebar). “The lights came up and Sarah was lying on the floor like she’d been murdered, like she was a character in ‘Clue.’ She’s always looking for opportunities to keep things fun and light.”
Montgomery is just as quick to sing Gellar’s praises onscreen. “Sarah is able to mine different human foibles, like insecurity. She finds the truth in the scene and makes it funny,” he says. “I think we’ve tapped into something that she hasn’t been able to put on display before, but must have been there all the time.”
Though the show is filmed almost exclusively in LA, it’s set in Chicago, a city that Gellar is a big fan of — despite having a rough experience on her last visit. “I was going to dinner three blocks from my hotel and [the doorman] was like, ‘Do you want us to get you a cab?’ It was three blocks! I was like, ‘I’m from New York, I’m fine,’ ” she says. “It was the longest, coldest three blocks I’ve ever walked in my life. I had to stop halfway and take a break. I took a cab on the way home.”
When Gellar isn’t filming, she’s juggling life as a wife and mother. She’s been married to Prinze for 11 years, and the pair appears happy as ever, recently moving into a sprawling new house to accommodate their growing clan. Gellar makes it a point to carve out family time, taking Charlotte to school every day and to ballet class. Yet the actress stays mum on how she spends her days off, doing her best to retain a normal life. “I think any working parent will tell you it’s about having help,” she says. “I’m lucky to have great friends and family around, whether it’s my husband or my mother. It’s a challenge, but you set an example for your kids by showing them what hard work looks like.” Charlotte and Rocky see their mom in action when Prinze brings them by the set. “Sarah is just a great, warmhearted person. [She creates] a nice family atmosphere [on set],” Montgomery says.
Even with the stress of being back in the public eye and starring in a top-rated show, Gellar is keeping her cool, knowing she doesn’t need to prove herself. “It takes the pressure off,” Gellar says of “Buffy’s” success. “ ‘Buffy’ was so incredible and you can’t recreate that. Now everything is gravy. I’m having the time of my life and I’m one of the few people who wake up every morning and go to a job they love. I’m just so happy and so lucky.”
Art Imitates Life (at Leo Burnett)
Though the ad firm on the show is called Roberts & Roberts, it’s based on Chicago agency Leo Burnett and the experiences of former Executive Creative Director and Executive Vice President John Montgomery (left), now the series’s executive producer. Here’s a glimpse at the oft-crazy world of advertising:
In the pilot, as Williams and Gellar are about to be fired by McDonald’s (actually a client of Leo Burnett), Williams goes into his office, holds up a Clio Award and asks, “How much do you think a Clio goes for on eBay?” That Clio was one of many earned by Montgomery that now decorate the set.
The Spectacular Failure
In episode two, Gellar plans a “spectacular,” an advertising event designed to get press, with a giant coffee pot. What she doesn’t plan for is Chicago’s wind — and she proceeds to flood Daley Plaza (above). That actually happened to Montgomery. “We had a spectacular in New York that had a coffee-related disaster. We had forgotten to factor for wind when we floated a coffee pot above a billboard.”
Is That On?
On an upcoming episode, the ad gang has a major ‘oops’ moment when they’re on the phone with a client: They think the mute button is on and spill their real thoughts. The client hears it all. “We’ve all been on conference calls when we thought the mute button was on and it was, in fact, off,” Montgomery admits.
Photos of Sarah Michelle Gellar courtesy Jordan Strauss~AP