With his doe eyes and April-fresh skin, Freddie Prinze Jr. seemed a natural leader of the late-'90s Hollywood teen invasion. Noted as much for his looks as for his acting, Prinze has proven to have a natural appeal that has endured him to legions of fans.
The beginning of Prinze's life was a turbulent one, as his father, the actor Freddie Prinze (best known for his starring role on NBC's Chico and the Man) committed suicide when the younger Prinze was only ten months old. Born in Los Angeles on March 8, 1976, Prinze moved with his mother to Albuquerque, NM, shortly after his father's death. Growing up in New Mexico, Prinze was a poor student who decided to follow in his father's celluloid footsteps. After his high-school graduation in 1994, Prinze took off for Los Angeles with little money and few prospects. However, he soon found work in Hollywood, first appearing in various television shows, including an episode of Family Matters and a few afterschool specials.
The actor first broke into film as Claire Danes' boyfriend in To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday (1996). The part was a small one, but helped Prinze to secure his next and more sizeable role in The House of Yes (1997), a wicked little black comedy that starred Parker Posey as Prinze's deliciously unstable sister. The film's release was mainly limited to art houses, unlike Prinze's next film, I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997). The film was a huge commercial, if not critical, success that propelled Prinze into, if not the limelight, then the hearts of many girls and more than a few boys everywhere. Following this triumph, Prinze went on to do a couple of forgettable films before the 1998 sequel I Still Know What You Did Last Summer. The combined impact of that film and the success of Prinze's next major project, She's All That, gave the actor even greater fame and caused least one writer to dub him the next Leonardo Di Caprio. Unfortunately, Prinze's following endeavor, Wing Commander (1999), proved to be an unmitigated disappointment, serving to illustrate the extreme fluctuations of success in Hollywood. Prinze's growing popularity, however, seemed to survive relatively unscathed, judging by the slew of websites erected in his name.
If there was any question that the actor's popularity was waning in the wake of Wing Commander's lackluster performance, that doubt would soon be confirmed with hard numbers, as a triple threat of romantic comedies unceremoniously removed the teen-crowd superstar crown from Prinze's head. The cookie-cutter offerings Down to You and Boys and Girls (the latter of which reteamed him with She's All That director Robert Iscove) attempted to posit Prinze as a collegiate heartthrob, but both films' mix of moony romance with gross-out gags did little to attract moviegoers of any age. Anticipation for his next starring role, alongside Jessica Biel and Matthew Lillard in 2001's Summer Catch, was understandably low; the film was even saddled with a late-August release, traditionally reserved by studios as a "dumping ground" for unpromising product. As it turned out, Summer Catch's mixed reviews proved more forgiving than its paltry $19 million take.
Prinze's next project brought him out of the romantic comedy trend and into the doghouse, or at least the Mystery Machine. Re-teaming with his usual foil Lillard and starring -- yet again -- opposite his longtime love interest Sarah Michelle Gellar, Prinze took on the role of Fred in the live-action adaptation of Scooby-Doo in 2002. Though almost universally panned by critics, the film reversed Prinze's dwindling status as a box-office draw by appealing to a demographic he'd yet to conquer: preteens. Not one to look a gift franchise in the mouth, Prinze signed on for another installment, Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, and took nearly two years off between the blockbusters as he tied the knot with Gellar.