Exclusive: Sarah Michelle Gellar on why she will never be sick of saving the world
Sarah Michelle Gellar – currently starring in Wolf Pack – talks to Stylist about anxiety, Hollywood comebacks and the importance of championing other women.
Sarah Michelle Gellar is a name that needs no introduction, quite frankly. Whether it’s Cruel Intentions, Do Revenge, I Know What You Did Last Summer or Veronika Decides To Die, she’s dazzled us in countless films over the years – and, even when she’s portraying a seemingly classic damsel in distress (see 2002’s Scooby-Doo), she has always added so much depth and complexity to her on-screen personas.
Of course, there’s no point denying that Gellar is most famous for her contribution to the world of TV – specifically, her seven-season stint as the eponymous hero at the centre of our beloved Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Now, the actor is returning to the medium via Wolf Pack, another supernatural teen drama, and quite honestly, the nostalgia is real.
“I was originally like, ‘I don’t do wolves,’” she tells me frankly. “But my team said, ‘It’s really good writing, you should read the first episode.’
“So I read it, and I read the second episode, and the third one… and it had all of the pieces that make me love something like this. So it was a very impulsive decision for me to star in this series.”
Watch the trailer for Wolf Pack below:
On paper, the series sounds like any other werewolf-themed show: a teenage boy and girl have their lives changed forever when a California wildfire awakens a terrifying supernatural creature. However, it was Wolf Pack’s unusual approach to mental health – specifically, anxiety – that lured Gellar in.
“The best horror thriller is the one that emotionally connects to you,” she explains, “because the worst horror is what we create in our minds. And so Jeff [Davis, executive producer] and I spoke about anxiety, and how we use that word a lot. How we’re all feeling it all the time, due to this bombardment of information from the world.
“It’s a lot. But anxiety is actually our body running at peak condition. So, if we could learn to harness that, use it as a tool, and acknowledge that this anxiety is real…”
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Gellar pauses to reflect for a moment. “It’s not as simple as saying that your mind is working overtime; we’re actually feeling these things. And, if we can harness this feeling, we can turn it into a superpower.”
Anxiety isn’t the only big talking point in Wolf Pack, of course; the series is focused on the negative impact that social media is having on human connection, too.
“Our devices are making us more and more digitally connected,” she says, “but, ultimately, we’re becoming more and more emotionally disconnected. We don’t know how to have a conversation, we don’t want to look someone in the eye, and we’re so busy recording life that we’re not living it.”
Gellar adds: “And yet the idea of the pack… well, during lockdown, we had these pods, which is essentially your pack. Honestly, without my pod – without the people that I was able to socially and emotionally connect with – I don’t think it would have made it. So we wanted to combine that feeling with being an adolescent and feeling different or that you’re not understood or that you’re different…
“It’s really cool. And it’s really different. And I don’t think you’ve seen it yet.”
Here’s what happened when we sat down to chat with the pop culture icon about her upcoming series, the world of Hollywood comebacks, and everything in between.
Wolf Pack is set during the most recent California wildfire – how do you think that adds to the horror factor?
So, I’m from New York, but I live in LA now, and during the last fire the sirens came up and down my street at 2am. And they said, ‘You have 10 minutes to evacuate: grab your things, grab your animals, you have to leave.’
We left as the fire was coming over the hill, not knowing if we were gonna have a house to come home to – and we did. A dirty house, but a house. So it is really scary, because fire itself is really scary, right? It’s this beautiful flame, this flicker, but it creates such destruction. And we have a whole discussion towards the middle and later end of the season, all about what the fire does – not just to our environment, but to the animal kingdom, too.
Werewolves and vampires have been a unique obsession for humankind for centuries. Do you think this fear represents something deeper within us?
These stories have always come from us trying to explain things we don’t understand. That’s what we do. We tell a story about how the Earth was created, or why the sun sets, and if you think about werewolves in particular, they come from a time before there were electric lights. When it was dark, and people couldn’t see things at night, except for once a month when that full moon came – yet they still couldn’t explain certain things. Things that go bump in the dark, or whatever. Horror always comes from the mind, and from somewhere very deep within all of us.
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Much like Buffy Summers, Kristin Ramsey – an arson investigator – is another strong female character. What can you tell me about her?
I’ve warned my fans that it’s a slow drip; she’s not in the first few episodes very much, but you’ll realise why I’m there later. Because it’s more than just the fire that’s brought her there, obviously, but you won’t guess what it is right away. And that’s been new for me, because if I’m going to play a character – even if it’s small, like the headmaster in Do Revenge – you usually know exactly who she is and what she’s about in the very first scene.
People often ask me how it feels to be a character that saves the world a lot. I’m like, it’s way better than being a character that ruins the world a lot! And I like strong female characters. They’re not in every story – a lot of the time, actually, the story is about the guy and the woman is the girlfriend, the wife or the sister. So there’s certain projects that I’m always going to gravitate towards, because they have the characters that I want to play.
Kristin acts as something like a mentor figure for the younger characters; did you find yourself taking on that same role off-camera with your co-stars?
I strongly believe that, as a producer, you are responsible for what happens on set – particularly with regards to the safety, both emotionally and physically, of the people involved. And so you have to work to create that environment. I believe the role of the mentor, or guardian, or whatever you want to call it should exist not just for the cast, but for the crew and for everybody involved.
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Some people have called this your TV comeback, and I feel like this is a phrase we’re hearing a lot recently. How do you feel about that?
I don’t mind – some people think that it’s a bad thing, but I took time off to raise my kids, and now I’m dipping my toe back into TV. I don’t mind the phrase at all.
I wonder if there’s more to the phrase, sometimes –particularly with regards to people like Ke Huy Quan and Brendan Fraser, who feel as if there wasn’t space for them in Hollywood until now?
That’s an interesting question, and I can’t speak for Ke Huy Quan, as I don’t know him personally, but I think I can speak more for Brendan Fraser and his experience. I think some of it, and this is not Brendan’s case, but some of it is social media – you’re able to get to know these people a little bit, and you realise that there’s a want for them.
It’s also because there are so many ways to make films and TV now. It’s not just a case of, ‘This goes to network TV or this goes to film,’ because there’s more landscape to do the things that you love, and to put the people that you love in front of the camera, and it doesn’t always just have to be the same. You know, I love Julia Roberts, but Julia Roberts can’t do every romantic comedy now because there are romantic comedies on the streaming networks and in the cinema, and there are just more places.
With Brendan, people wanted to pigeonhole him years ago as the action star, you know? He was Rick in The Mummy, and they forgot what a great actor he is, and then they just moved on to the next action hero. Now he can finally do all these different roles and show everyone how talented he is.
I love how you always cheerlead and champion your friends, particularly on social media. That’s not something we’ve always seen a lot of, is it?
I think that’s true, especially for women – we are supposed to be pitted against each other, because that’s the business that I came up in: we weren’t here to lift; we were here to rise. But that’s just not in my make-up. So why do we have #ManCrushMonday? Let’s start #WayToGoWednesday and pick someone that does something cool and celebrate them.
And that brings us back to the idea of strong women. Is there a particular one from history that you would like to bring to life in a biopic?
I don’t know, because I’m more the person that likes to create characters. I think that there’s a different pressure when people are playing real people, and hats off to all who do it, but I’m not a mimic. I love film and TV and stories, so I will create characters that I want to watch.
And what would you say to anyone who isn’t sure about watching Wolf Pack, then?
I think I would honestly say it’s much more than the title. In fact, I actually originally wanted them to call it The Pack, and not Wolf Pack, because it makes it seem like it’s a straightforward horror, and it’s not. The Pack represents so much more than what you think. And, sure, it’s not for everyone, but the people that dismiss it out of hand are not the people I’m making it for.
There are so many channels, and there are so many options, and it’s OK if it’s not for you. I am not gonna sit here and try to convince you otherwise. All I will say is that we made something that I’m really proud of, and that I think is really cool, and it’s your loss if you don’t watch it.
Wolf Pack is currently available to watch on Paramount+, with new episodes airing every week.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer, meanwhile, is streaming on Disney+ and Do Revenge is over on Netflix. So go have yourself a Sarah Michelle Gellar fest, already!
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