LOS ANGELES – As in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer (search)" and her "Scooby-Doo (search)" movies, Sarah Michelle Gellar (search) is back to battling the undead in "The Grudge," a remake of a Japanese fright flick about a malevolent presence in a house where bloody misdeeds occurred.
Only this time, Gellar faces evil as a mere mortal, without Buffy's superpowers, without a talking Great Dane and the rest of the Scooby gang to lighten things up.
That was the appeal, playing an ordinary human unable to go Buffy on her demons and pummel them to dust.
"That's the reason I did it. I like being challenged. I've played Buffy. No one is ever going to out-Buffy Buffy, so I'm not trying to," Gellar, 27, told The Associated Press.
"I was on this hit show. I had this amazing character. I had an obligation to a second 'Scooby' movie. And then it was time for me to go, 'OK, what do I want to do with the rest of my life?' This movie was the first movie that came along where I had this desire in my gut to be a part of it, and it was a feeling I hadn't had since 'Cruel Intentions,"' her 1999 teen update of "Dangerous Liaisons."
"The Grudge" appealed to Gellar for other reasons. She and husband Freddie Prinze Jr. (search), one of her "Scooby-Doo" co-stars, are huge fans of Asian cinema, including the Japanese version of her film ("I saw it in my house, at night, by myself. Not the smartest thing ever," Gellar said).
The movie allowed her to work with writer-director Takashi Shimizu, who created the original video version and its sequel, a Japanese-language theatrical remake and sequel. He makes his English-language debut with "The Grudge."
Gellar also got to collaborate with Sam Raimi, the "Spider-Man" director whose horror-movie outfit Ghost House Pictures produced "The Grudge."
Raimi was aware of Gellar but had never seen "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or the actress' movies. A powerhouse audition by Gellar won her the role, he said.
"She just came in and blew everybody away. It's rare for an actress of her caliber to read for a role in Hollywood. That told us she is a humble person who was passionate about getting this job," Raimi said. "Sarah has a vulnerability to her while still being a strong character. She's intelligent, and maybe most important, she has a likability. She's able to produce a quality that you like, where you're rooting for her, and in a horror film, that's critical."
Long fascinated with the Far East, Gellar got to make her first trip there to film the movie, which retains the Japanese setting of the original, changing the protagonist to an American student living in Tokyo.
Unlike Naomi Watts in "The Ring," who was on screen most of the time in that Japanese horror remake, "The Grudge" is an ensemble tale whose focus twists into flashbacks and side stories centering on Gellar's co-stars, among them Bill Pullman, Clea DuVall, Grace Zabriskie and Raimi's brother Ted.
"Part of what I loved about this is it wasn't just about me," Gellar said. "Also, clearly it gave me some days off to explore Japan."
Gellar also got to do her own variation of the scary shower scene, whose standard was set by Janet Leigh in Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho." Leigh, who died Oct. 3, insisted the scene frightened her so much she could no longer take showers.
In one of the creepiest moments in "The Grudge," an unearthly manifestation of the house's evil spirit pops up as Gellar's character takes a shower.
Gellar's recollections of her shower scene are lighter than Leigh's.
"I've heard her speak about it. I've heard her say she only took baths after that. Mine was more comedy, but I'm a silly person," Gellar said. "All I think about when I think of that scene is the 17 Japanese men in the film crew that were horrified at having to be in the shower with me.
The men clearly were uncomfortable, she recalled, adding: "And there's me with my little, you know, pasties, and I was having an allergic reaction to the water, so they tied garbage bags around my legs since they weren't showing. So you can imagine clearly how glamorous I looked in pasties and garbage bags."
Raised by her mother in New York City, Gellar was doing TV commercials before she even started kindergarten. Throughout school, she did TV guest spots and played young Jacqueline Bouvier in her pre-Kennedy days in the 1991 miniseries "A Woman Named Jackie."
Gellar had a lead role in the short-lived series "Swans Crossing" and was a regular on the soap opera "All My Children" in the mid-1990s, winning a daytime Emmy.
Her other movie credits include "I Know What You Did Last Summer," "Scream 2" and the romantic comedy "Simply Irresistible."
With her spunky charm and goofy sense of humor, Gellar seems a natural for more romantic comedies. But she says the genre does not interest her.
"Never say never, but it's not the kind of movie that I love to see. It's not where my sensibility is. For comedies, I'm a dark-humor kind of girl. So I don't know what I would necessarily bring to that genre," Gellar said.
Gellar hopes to start shooting the ensemble musical comedy thriller "Southland Tales" early next year and is in the market to do an all-out action flick.
Two things fans should not expect are future on-screen pairings with hubby Prinze or a big-screen follow-up to "Buffy."
"I truly believe that people don't want to see movies about relationships of married people," Gellar said. "I don't think audiences like it. I don't like it. I love Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, but I don't want to see 'Shall We Dance?' with Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins."
As for a "Buffy" reprise, Gellar would not rule it out completely, but said the series went out on a high note last year and she feels it's best to let it rest in peace.
"I am very hesitant. I say that sitting here now, and I could two years from now see a script and think I have to do that," Gellar said.
"But it's also time to try other things. What am I going to be doing, essentially killing vampires with my wooden cane?" said Gellar, scrunching up her face and copping an elderly woman's voice. "Saying, 'Oh, bad vampire,' as I lift up my cane, and it's got a spike on the end of it."