For six years, Sarah Michelle Gellar embodied one of pop culture’s most capable, strong-willed, and fearless young women in Hollywood as the titular star of Joss Whedon’s iconic series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
When the series came to an end in 2003, Gellar followed it up in with the 2004 sequel to 2002’s massively successful Scooby-Doo and the incredibly popular American adaptation of Takashi Shimizu’s The Grudge. But in the years that followed, she struggled to replicate that success.
So she turned her attention to her husband, Freddie Prinze Jr., and their two young children when fate presented her with an unexpected but undeniable opportunity. “I was at a place in my life where I wanted to do something different and every time I would post something I made for my kids or from a project, I would just notice this interest in this other side of my life,” she told BuzzFeed News of the early seeds that led her to launch a culinary lifestyle company. Yet even with that social media encouragement, Gellar found herself confronting a kind of fear long thought conquered.
“It’s kind of crazy because it's nothing I've ever done in my life,” she said of developing the brand, now called Foodstirs, with partners Galit Laibow and Gia Russo. “I think we get complacent in life when we know we're good at something and we can do it with our eyes closed, so I was like, Can I do this? Can I learn e-commerce? Can I learn user experience? Can I learn front-end and back-end development? But how am I going to teach my kids to try stuff that's different if I'm actually afraid to do something that's different?”
While Hollywood is littered with actors promoting companies they did nothing to help build, Gellar couldn’t imagine simply slapping her name on a prepackaged product. “Foodstirs is my baby,” she enthused. “I've never done anything where I'm just the face of something. That's not how I do things. I can't put my name on a charity unless I'm in the field, doing the work. It’s not always easy to do, but it's important to me — that's when it's not about a business, it's about a passion.”
So, Gellar put her nose to the grindstone and immersed herself in every facet of what it would take to successfully launch a food-based company: recipe development, back-end web development, front-end user experience, learning all about SEO, and mission statement execution.
And that mission statement makes clear that Foodstirs’ first — and most important — customer is children. The company’s primary product is whimsical baking mixes, designed to visually appeal to kids and to be prepared with the adults in their lives. “I believe that the best thing you can give your children is confidence, and confidence with food is body image, it's language, it's vocabulary, it's mathematics, it's science — when you think about everything that goes into [cooking], it's incredible,” Gellar said. “This is using all of my passions at once.”
Those closest to Gellar have marveled at how much her skill set has evolved over the last two years — particularly her husband. “Freddie’s like, ‘What language do you speak now?’” she said of her newfound technological prowess. “It’s because I was seriously lucky if I could turn on my computer two years ago.”
At that time, Gellar was coming off back-to-back shows that were canceled after a single season: the CW’s noir-tinged drama Ringer where she played twin sisters and CBS’s The Crazy Ones with Robin Williams playing her ad executive father. “Crazy Ones … that was a perfect situation,” she said, growing uncharacteristically quiet, the loss of Williams still visibly affecting her. “Two years later and it's still hard to talk about. I don't know if that kind of experience will ever come around again. I think it will be very hard to commit to something after that experience because it was so perfect.”
Those two jobs are the temporary bookend to Gellar’s impressive career, particularly for an actor of her age: After winning an Emmy in 1995 for Outstanding Younger Actress in a Drama Series for All My Children and headlining Buffy, one of the most acclaimed shows of all time, she parlayed her television triumphs into cinematic dominance, starring in 1997’s I Know What You Did Last Summer, 1999’s Cruel Intentions, and the aforementioned Scooby Doo and Grudge movies
“I've had more success than I ever thought I would have,” Gellar said, leaning back in her chair inside a cavernous conference room in Midtown Manhattan. “You hope in your life to do one thing that leaves a mark and leaves a legacy; I've had several. I'm more than fortunate. I don't even know what the word is. Who gets to play this many iconic characters? All I can say is I feel extremely fortunate and I feel extremely grateful and appreciative of it. … It's not about topping something, it's about enjoying the experience now. And if I'm going to leave my children and leave my family to do something and be somewhere, it’s about the experience. I'm not trying to re-create or chase. I don't feel pressure.”
The latest Hollywood experience that was worth Gellar’s while was voicing the role of the nefarious Seventh Sister in the upcoming season of Star Wars Rebels. It’s a family affair for Gellar: Prinze Jr. voices the role of Kanan Jarrus, a Jedi. “I kept teasing Freddie when he got the job, like, ‘Who do I have to sleep with to get on this show?!?’” she said with a laugh. “Who doesn't want to be a part of freakin’ Star Wars!? Find me someone on the street who doesn't want to be part of Star Wars lore forever. I think sometimes people think you're joking when you say that kind of thing, so I had to tell [the producers] I wasn't joking. When they finally realized I was serious, it was like, 'Oh, OK, sure.'”
Although Gellar is by no means leaving Hollywood behind, acting is simply not her focus now; her every waking moment is consumed by an elaborate plan to continue expanding Foodstirs, which she doesn’t mind because there’s a larger, more important goal in mind. “I just want to encourage people to put the phones down. There was an article in the paper recently that was talking about how this new generation can't have confrontation because everything is done this way,” Gellar said, lowering her head and looking down at an invisible phone in her hand. “If you look at all the studies and you want to keep kids off drugs, you want to keep kids from being depressed, it all comes down to family time.”
The 38-year-old is doing her part with Foodstirs, and she hopes her company continues to expand and grow — in fact, she can even visualize a day when Foodstirs actually brings her back to television. “There's no reason why we can't move into programming,” she said, mental cylinders firing. “There’s no reason I can’t have my own channel!”