Buffy the Vampire Slayer-  A Shivers Feature by Anthony Tomlinson
We look at the early career of Sarah Michelle Gellar and discover how she became Horror's hottest heroine.

Sarah Michelle Gellar as BuffyIn 1994 Sarah was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award, for her role as Kendall Hart in the Soap All My Children, and missed her junior high school prom in order to attend the prestigious event. In 1995 she was nominated again, and this time won, in the Outstanding Younger Actress category. There was a sour note to the celebrations, however. The next day ABC announced that Sarah was leaving the show, which reflected badly on the young actress, as it seemed that her Emmy had suddenly made her too grand for the Soap. In fact Sarah had given the studio notice of her intention to leave several months’ earlier, and they had told her that she must not publicly reveal that she was leaving, allowing the show’s producers to make the announcement when it suited them. The way that her departure was announced, and her antagonistic relationship with Lucci, has left Gellar with mixed feelings about the show. She told TV Guide magazine: “Soaps in general for me were an up and a down. Those were hard years. I was fifteen to seventeen, I graduated high school two years early during that time. I was growing up. It was a very awkward time. And, for me, the Emmy was validation of the work that I’d done and the time that I spent there. But at the same time, I was ready to move on. For many reasons, one of them being just the fact that two years in the life of a 15-year-old or an 18-year-old is a very long time. And, when I got to LA, I really had to start from scratch. And so the Emmy, to me, was the culmination of my Soap years.”
Sarah had studied the Korean martial art of tae kwan do for several years before she was cast as Buffy, and achieved brown belt status before stopping formal training. She also used to compete in figure skating competitions, and ranked third position in the New York State Regional competition. It is a skill she put to good use in the Buffy episode What’s My Line? – Part One.

Mid-Season Slot

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a mid-season replacement for the fledgling WB Network (which is why the first season is so short). The producers auditioned Sarah for the part of Cordelia, but Gellar was more interested in the feisty Buffy. She told Femme Fatales magazine, “My manager spoke to the Warner Bros network and they mentioned they had this Buffy show. He thought it would be a great opportunity to use my tae kwan do, and to do comedy and drama. I probably had 11 auditions and four tests. It was the most awful experience of my life, but I was so driven. I had read the script and heard about Joss Whedon and how wonderful he was. I went to the audition the week he was Oscar nominated for his Toy Story screenplay. I thought, “I’m going to have this role”. He tells me I nailed it, but I still went through 11 auditions”.
Sarah shot the series’ pilot in April 1996, and returned to the Santa Monica studios in September that year, to shoot the remainder of the first season.

Good Press

Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been a much-needed success for the WB Network. Its ratings are skewed because the network has limited coverage, but are very good by the network’s own standards (the first episode earned the network 4.8 million viewers), and the show has received a lot of very favourable press attention. Gellar is, naturally, often the focus of media scrutiny, and has featured on the covers of several important magazines, including TV Guide and Rolling Stone.
Last year Sarah appeared in two important Horror movies, Scream 2 and I Know What You Did Last Summer. She landed her I Know What You Did Last Summer role the day that Buffy’s first episode aired, on the 10th of March 1997. While making I Know What You Did Last Summer Sarah was named as one of TV’s 20 Great Faces by TV Guide, who eulogised “Her allure – neither too fierce nor too frail – begins with the smooth surface of buttermilk skin. The softness that radiates from the corners of her pouty lips contrasts with the courage in her green eyes. Trusted friend, fearless protector, girl next door: Gellar aces every test – including those nasty SATs”, which prompted much teasing from her co-stars.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer pic copyright Warners

For a full profile of Sarah Michelle Gellar, see Shivers #56.