The 5' 3," sandy blonde-haired Gen-Y icon Sarah Michelle Gellar's life story reads like a preteen wish fulfillment fantasy. Born in Manhattan in 1977 and discovered by an agent in a Manhattan restaurant at the age of four, Gellar signed for her first role (in the 1983 telemovie An Invasion of Privacy) not one week later. A plethora of bit parts in television series (Spenser: For Hire) and theatrical films (Over the Brooklyn Bridge, 1984; Funny Farm, 1988; High Stakes, 1989) followed, before Gellar landed a recurring role, in the early '90s, on the decades-long daytime soap opera All My Children. Throughout the early years of her career, Gellar was managed and supervised by her mother, a former nursery school teacher who insisted on straight A's as a prerequisite of an acting career. Sarah Michelle delivered, time and again.
Despite the apparent fairy tale-like quality of her rise, Gellar reportedly battled several decidedly unhappy experiences as a child, including a parental divorce, decades of estrangement from her father, and social struggles in a New York City high school, experiences parlayed into her first (and most infamous) lead: that of Buffy, a California valley girl high school student-turned-"exterminator of the undead" in the early-'90s syndicated cult fantasy series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Gellar inherited the role from Kristy Swanson, who fleshed it out in the (decidedly more comic) 1992 theatrical release of the same name. Under Gellar's aegis, the show lasted seven years, from 1996 through 2003, and it became a massive international hit, garnering legions of fans. The subject matter of the series required the young actress to engage in rigorous exercise and physical training off-camera throughout Buffy's run.
Gellar (a compulsive shopper and brand aficionado off-camera) then signed as a Maybelline spokeswoman and prepared to move into the third phase of her acting career. As Buffy wrapped, it coincided with the resurgence of American teen horror films led by Wes Craven's Scream series, and although Gellar did not join the cast of the first installment, her popularity on Buffy the Vampire Slayer thematically paved the way for involvement in one Scream sequel and one emulator: Scream 2 and I Know What You Did Last Summer (both 1997). In 1999, Gellar teamed up with two other notables of the same generation, Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe, for the Dangerous Liaisons teen update Cruel Intentions. As Kathryn Merteuil -- the depraved schemer who coaxes her stepbrother (Phillippe) into deflowering the school headmaster's daughter (Witherspoon), and thus inadvertently sets in motion a chain of disasters that will destroy them all -- Gellar played off of her wholesome, "all-American girl" image and helped turn the picture into a minor hit.
Meanwhile, Gellar met and fell in love with Hollywood heartthrob Freddie Prinze Jr. (the son of the ill-fated, late-'70s Hispanic comedian Freddie Prinze), and the two married in Mexico in 2002, the same year they co-starred as Fred and Daphne for director Raja Gosnell in the live-action summer blockbuster Scooby-Doo. Two years later, Gellar and Prinze took the wheel of the Mystery Machine to fight a mischievous specter in 2004's Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. Gellar (long a student and admirer of Japanese culture) then traveled to Japan to do battle with some truly frightening entities in the 2004 J-horror remake The Grudge. In that effort, she plays an American student employed at a Japanese health center who uncovers a centuries-old curse that feeds off of anger and guides one victim after another into an unquenchable, violent rage.
Subsequent vocal work on the animated cult hit Robot Chicken found the former vampire slayer having a bit of behind-the-scenes fun without the stress of appearing before the camera, and a role as an ambitious porn star teetering on the edge of the apocalypse in director Richard Kelly's eagerly anticipated Donnie Darko follow-up, Southland Tales, preceded a trip back into terror as a successful business woman haunted by a decades-old murder in the 2006 supernatural thriller The Return. In that picture, Gellar plays Joanna Mills, a thick-skinned, courageous Midwestern girl plagued by haunting supernatural visions, who attempts to uncover the origin of these specters. Unfortunately, that film opened to horrendous critical reviews and lackluster box office numbers in November 2006, appearing and disappearing quickly.
Gellar would do plenty of voice acting in movies like the family-friendly CG-animated fairy tale Happily N'Ever After and the Weinstein-produced, CG-animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Gellar would ultimately find continued success in TV, however, lending her voice to the animated sketch comedy series Robot Chicken, and her role on the series Ringer.