If Buffy star Sarah Michelle Gellar grew up with a distrust of men - after her parents divorced while she was still an infant - then the feisty actress clearly still believes in fairy-tale happy-ever-after endings. Which she proved this week after announcing her engagement to fellow teen icon, Freddie Prinze Jr.
The couple have quietly been dating for the past 15 months, having met on the set of teen slasher flick, I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), some four years earlier. "We were very lucky we were able to keep it quiet for as long as we did," says the notoriously private actress today. "Relationships are hard, no matter who you are. And it's even more difficult to have other people critiquing and making comments."
The sweethearts will have plenty of time to finalize their wedding plans since they are currently co-starring in Scooby Doo (2002), a live-action version of the long-running kids cartoon. The couple play Fred and Daphne in the movie, about a group of teens who travel around hunting for ghosts, accompanied by their talking dog, while their co-stars include Matthew Lillard as Shaggy, Isla Fisher as Mary Jane and Rowan Atkinson as Mondavarious.
Announcing their betrothal over Easter weekend at a joint birthday party for 24-year-old Sarah Michelle and her Hollywood agent, Eddy Yablans, the actress was seen sporting a ring reportedly designed by Cathy Waterman, who's done monster-size rocks for the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Meryl Streep and Meg Ryan.
And this will mark the first trip down the aisle for both Sarah Michelle, and Freddie, 25, the star of every teeny-bopper romance movie made since 1998, including She's All That (1999), Down to You (2000) and Head Over Heels (2000).
Handsome Freddie is the son of Freddie Prinze Sr., the actor-comedian who starred in hit 70's US TV show Chico and the Man before committing suicide aged 22. Sarah Michelle, meanwhile, has been in the acting biz since age 4, starring on day-time soap All My Children before ending up the slaying star of the teen vampire cult hit TV series.
When Sarah Michelle's father walked out on the family when she was still in nappies, it left a lasting mark on the Buffy star, who admittedly put career before romance - resolving from a tender age that no man would ever be in a position to break her heart.
But today there is a softer expression on her beautiful, determined face as she has finally allowed love into her life. Having dated fellow actor Freddie Prinze Jr. for more than year, she feels comfortable enough about their relationship to publicly date - announcing their engagement with the conviction of a woman who knows she will definitely visit the altar within a short while.
A showbiz veteran with 20 years experience, the New York-born actress began her career as a toddler, appearing in more than 100 commercials, and since starring in hit teen films Scream 2 (1997), Cruel Intentions (1999) and I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Sitting pretty and poised in a Beverly Hills hotel suite, the 5' 3" dynamo is clad in a low-cut velvet black clingy top and tight jeans, as she discusses love, life, marriage and Buffy: "I've learned a lot in the past three years, especially in the past year," she acknowledges. "I'm not as scared of everything as I was. I'm not as easily shaken. I'm not as stressed out. I've managed to balance things now. But it's hard. I think people sometimes forget how young I still am.
Prior to meeting Freddie, the actress barely dated, apart from a brief romance with actor Jerry O'Connell: "I'm no push over, and I'm only interested in a man if he is very driven and very serious. I take everything that I say very seriously. You can't take back words. And I don't do anything halfway. I don't really date in the business, and it's hard to meet people like that because of what I do. "Going through a breakup is the most painful, personal experience in the world. The last thing I want to do is read about it, or have other people making judgments. I don't know how stars who have these big public relationships and breakups get through it," she concedes.
An only child, she was raised by her mother, Rosellen Gellar, who guided her career: "My Mom is the most amazing woman that I've ever met and probably will ever meet in my entire life. I'm incredibly close to my mother, despite the fact I've lived on my own for nine years already. My mother is the most amazing woman I've ever met. I wanted for nothing. I never felt a lack of affection."
"And I am, I believe, a perfectly content and very well adjusted person - probably more so than most people I know who have two parents. Everything I am is because of my mom. We were scraping by and there were times when we didn't know if we would be able to pay the rent but my mother never let me want for anything, either emotionally or materially. I can't say enough about how she gave up everything to raise me."
"My Mom's so cute too. She still cuts out little articles from local papers and brings them to me. One of the greatest gifts my job affords me is that my mother, who gave up her entire life for me, doesn't have to work anymore. Now I can give back and she can take it easy and do whatever she wants, because I bought her a house and paid off the mortgage," says the actress who is reluctant to discuss her father, who her mother divorced when she was seven years old.
"I might have been an immaculate conception. You never know. My father, you can just say, is not in the picture. I'm not being deliberately evasive about him, it's just that there's so little to say. He is not a person who exists in my life. Just because you donate sperm does not make you a father. I don't have a father. I would never give him the credit to acknowledge him as my father," says the millionaire, self-assured actress whose next film project is Harvard Man (2001) in which she co-stars opposite Eric Stoltz, Adrian Grenier, Rebecca Gayheart and Joey Lauren Adams.
"It's a 60's drama in which I play Cindy, daughter of the most powerful Mafia boss on the East coast, who has an affair with a star basketball player. There are many sub-plots going on at the same time, which include love, sex and drugs. The movie is about what happens when you are trying to find yourself, and to what length you'll go to find your true peace. We shot the entire movie in 20 days.
"I had two love scenes in this movie. One was on my first day. It was 110 degrees and it was so hot. The scene is in the woods. It was like, 'Hey Adrian. It is nice to meet you. Now, let's have sex!' The entire crew was watching and I didn't know anyone. It was quite an experience. It took a few takes to make us more comfortable. I was fully clothed though," she adds with a smile.
"I think a lot of producers think that it breaks the ice. It does especially if you don't have a lot of rehearsal time. For movies like this, we don't have that rehearsal time. The best thing to do is to just jump in. This is the best way to do it because then everything else is a piece of cake!
"But I think, essentially, this movie is the story of what happens when you are trying to find yourself, and to what length you'll go to find your true peace," says Sarah Michelle who hopes her loyal Buffy fans will not be put off by the drugs and sex content of Harvard Man (2001)
"Well, there are two different kinds of fans - fans of Buffy and there are fans of me. Hopefully, the fans that are fans of me will want to see me do something else. I think I have a little more confidence after Cruel Intentions," says the actress who finds her film roles a welcome break from her TV day job, fighting ghouls and vampires.
"I've lived such a strange life that slaying demons and werewolves for a living doesn't faze me at all. I get all my energy from work. I scream. I yell. I come home and I go to sleep. I'm never home - I even feel sorry for my cat. Whenever I'm not working, I'm asleep. I'm the kind of person who gets bored if I don't work for two days. Weekends are boring anyway. Admittedly, I don't have much of a life beyond work, but how many other girls get to really release their inner demons for a living?"
"I keep myself in good shape by training in the ancient Japanese art of Tae Kwon-Do. I do not do all of my stunts but I do a good portion. I'm trained in Tae Kwon-Do and do gymnastics every now and then. I eat a healthy, balanced diet, but I don't go crazy with my stunts because I do have to be able to show up for work the next day. If someone thinks I have a good butt, then I take that as a compliment."
"I have few vices to speak of. I don't drink, I don't smoke and I've never done any drugs. I avoid fried food and have even quit coffee. My work provides all the caffeine I need. I have remarkably few vices, and I'm never late. Being late is rude," says Sarah Michelle who has gained a reputation as a strong-headed, self-possessed woman who is not to messed with - much like her TV alter-ego.
"I don't call myself a feminist because feminism has a negative connotation. It makes you think of women who don't shave their legs. But feminism is not just about not being weak. It's about being able to take care of yourself. Just because you might care about what you look like or what the opposite sex thinks of you, it doesn't make you not a feminist, although it's a word I hate. Do I consider myself a strong female individual? Uh-huh. Can I take care of myself? Yes," says the actress who strongly defends herself against accusations of being anorexic - along with fellow TV celebrities like Ally McBeal's Calista Flockhart; The Practise's Lara Flynn Boyle, and Friends' stars Courteney Cox Arquette and Jennifer Aniston.
"Recently, weight has come to the forefront. And it breaks my heart for Calista Flockhart. She's the nicest girl, and she's so talented. She's a skinny girl, it's just her natural body type. And let's be honest, we have a tendency to look to models as being beautiful, and we like beautiful people, but I know how airbrushed I am in magazines, and I know that those models are airbrushed, and they're often 6'4". I'm 5'3". Let's be honest, I'm not all that different. It's hard, and in America we use sex to sell everything, we use pretty people. It's there. Luckily for my show I have to work out so much anyway, so that's a nice trade-off."
"But, it's hard, and I understand what happens to someone like Calista. All of a sudden you're put in the spotlight, and you get scared. Things change, and sometimes you look at things differently. Besides, I've always been a skinny thing. Yes, I did at one point have a little baby fat, and I did lose that. But I'm a tiny-boned person, and I work like a dog on this show. Maybe some actresses have anorexia, but I certainly don't."
"In the past couple of years there has been a lot of pressure on me. It doesn't control me. It did for a little while, but you can't let it do that," insists the actress who is the spokesman for popular US cosmetics firm, Maybelline: "I think of myself as smart before I would ever think of myself as beautiful. It's annoying because sometimes you meet people and they think, 'Look! Another cute little blond actress.' That's not who I am. I mean, I'm re-reading all the major Greek tragedies in my spare time! To me, being sexy is being confident. It's important to know that you don't have to have big silicone breasts falling out and a thigh-high skirt," says the actress who prefers to dress down in casual clothes with her fiance.
Ask Sarah Michelle if she intends to slow down her hectic schedule after she marries, and she says: "No, it's more important to live my life the way I want to live it. I'm not going to live my life to please other people, but I have to do things that I believe are right, and I believe it does good. And that's how I have to handle myself. "And you have to remember who you are. I'm not a super-hero. A lot of people like to think I am, but I'm certainly not a super-hero. And I'm not Buffy in my private life, I'm Sarah. Sometimes actors can loose themselves. You play so many different parts and you spend so little time with yourself, that it's nice to have a private life."
"Most of the time I am so grateful to have the work,and it's more like, 'Oh my God! Do you believe I'm getting the chance to do what I'm doing?' I have a lot of friends who are actors, and most of them are out of work right now. And it's so hard for them, and it breaks my heart. I love getting up in the morning and having a place to go, and I like what I do. And it's so rare that people like they're jobs, and I think it's exciting to feel that way. I get excited. There's nothing like arriving on the first day on a new set, or even that first day back on the set on Buffy after a break. Even after a honeymoon."