From the very beginning, Buffy Summers knew the dangers of being a Slayer. Like it or not, she would spend the rest of her life looking over her shoulder, always ready for the next attack from the forces of darkness. But if she abdicated her role, then who would protect humanity from the monsters spewing from the Hellmouth?
Although it didn’t involve demons from a nether realm and certainly wasn’t a matter of fate, Sarah Michelle Gellar found herself thrust into a similar situation while filming Buffy the Vampire Slayer. At only 17 years old when shooting of the pilot began, Gellar came to the show as the youngest of the main cast. And yet, thanks to the decade-plus on-set experience she had already garnered and her natural resolve, Gellar became the one to call for a halt when her fellow actors needed a break.
In a profile for The Hollywood Reporter celebrating Gellar’s return to genre television with the new series Wolf Pack, former co-stars recall the actor’s protective actions. “We were working crazy hours, and a lot of things that got pushed weren’t necessarily safe or under the best conditions,” said Seth Green, who played werewolf Oz on the series. “Sarah was always the first one to say, ‘We agreed this was a 13-hour day and it’s hour 15 — we’ve got to wrap,’ or, ‘Hey, this shot doesn’t seem safe,’ when nobody else would stick up for the cast and crew.”
Unsurprisingly, producers did not take well to the teenager’s convictions. “I saw her get called a bitch, a diva, all these things that she’s not,” remembered Green; “just because she was taking the mantle of saying and doing the right thing.” Anya actor Emma Caulfield concurred with Green’s observations, noting the wear it put on Gellar. “It was obvious that Sarah lacked the support to be the leader she needed and wanted to be,” she revealed. “There was a tremendous amount of resentment and animosity from a certain someone — and I suppose now we can all guess who.”
The “who” is, we can guess, Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even as he was establishing himself as a mainstay in nerd culture, also launching shows such as Angel and Firefly and serving as an early architect of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Whedon reportedly mistreated his collaborators, often acting vengefully toward female performers. As the allegations against Whedon mounted, Gellar released her own statement via Instagram, declaring in 2021, “While I am proud to have my name associated with Buffy Summers, I don’t want to be forever associated with the name Joss Whedon.”
Looking back at her time on the Buffy set, Gellar has no regrets about her actions. “If people think you’re a bitch, it’s almost better,” she admitted. “There’s less expectation that way.” Hopefully, Gellar’s actions — and her resistance to attacks — will help raise other expectations: that creatives ensure the safety and dignity of all their collaborators, no matter how powerful they may be.