First things first. Yes, Sarah Michelle Gellar is happy with the way Buffy the Vampire Slayer ended its seven-year run. "I love that it ended full circle with her sharing her power," says the 27-year-old actress. "I do believe that the finale should have been two hours. There was a lot of time for those Slayerettes and I felt that some of the characters, specifically Xander, didn't get enough screen time.
"I know that some stuff had to get cut," Gellar continues. "For example, there was a scene where I was walking down the hallway of the high school and having flashbacks to all of us from the first season. But in terms of the actual episode, yes, I was happy."
Don't look for The Artist Formerly Known as Buffy on television anytime soon. "I can definitively say that I won't be doing series TV for the next five years," she says. "I just physically couldn't do it."
Instead, Gellar is focusing full-time on her big-screen career. Currently, she stars in the American remake of a popular Japanese horror flick, The Grudge, as a foreign-exchange student in Tokyo who's targeted by an evil vengeance spirit. But why play another horror heroine so soon after wrapping Buffy?
"I didn't set out to do that, but being on Buffy spoiled me," she says. "It's rare to have a female protagonist who drives the story and is so well rounded. Women drive TV, but they still have a long way to go in films. The horror and thriller genre seems to be where actresses really shine, like Naomi Watts in The Ring. Some actresses can be the girlfriend or wife, but I think I would be so bored — I would go crazy."
A self-confessed devotee of Japanese cinema, Gellar says The Grudge appealed to her right away. In fact, she was so eager to land the role, she did something few name-above-the-title actresses ever do: audition. "They were surprised that I was willing to audition," she says. "I think a lot of actors get to the place where they feel they're too big for that. But I like to audition because it's my chance to say, 'Hey, this is my take on it. Are we on the same page? As a director, is this what you saw?' There's a satisfaction to going in and auditioning and getting the part. And I hope, as an actor, that I never lose that."
Instead of relocating the story to the U.S., the studio allowed director Takashi Shimizu (who also directed the original Grudge) to set the film in Tokyo. That meant that Gellar essentially scored a three-month vacation in one of the world's liveliest cities. Any time she wasn't needed on set, the actress was out exploring Tokyo and its outlying towns. "You should ask me what didn't I do," she laughs. "I went to Kamakura and Kyoto, I saw sumo wrestling, I went to all the temples, I went to the Tokyo Tower. I went shopping."
Of course, she also had a movie to complete. But Gellar says that the shoot was a smooth one, despite the fact that she and Shimizu didn't speak the same language. "I came from TV, so I thought I knew fast — you don't know fast until you work with Japanese filmmakers. But I learned a lot. As an actor, it's your job to put complete trust in your director that he can lead you to the performance that works for the piece. And as a director, you have to trust your actor to bring your vision to the screen. This was a great lesson for me, because I had to learn how to develop that trust without language."
Next up for the ex-Slayer is a long vacation, possibly followed by a role in Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly's next project. But Gellar is in no hurry to choose her next gig. "The Grudge raised the bar so high for me that I learned I don't have to jump into everything," she says. "From All My Children through Buffy, I never stopped. I never knew that it was OK to do that."