In the new CW drama series Ringer, premiering on September 13th, actress Sarah Michelle Gellar makes her return to television in a dual role. Bridget witnessed a murder before going on the run, hiding out by assuming the life of her wealthy identical twin sister, Siobhan. Trouble is, Siobhan’s seemingly idyllic life is just as complicated and dangerous as the one Bridget is trying to leave behind.
During a recent interview to promote the serialized thriller, Sarah Michelle Gellar talked about the technical challenges of playing twins, how they plan to have two or three flashbacks per episode, that she had missed getting to develop a really kick-ass role (or in this case two) over a longer period of time, and that the show will provide answers, even if those answers lead to more questions. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
Question: When you read this script, did you wonder how they were going to pull it off?
SARAH MICHELLE GELLAR: I think the thing that surprised me the most is that, when I started reading it, I thought, “I see where this is going, I get it,” and then, you get to page 20 and you’re like, “What!?” I’m very rarely surprised by stuff like that, so to me, that was the general surprise.
Is there anything you can say about the episodes following the pilot?
GELLAR: The wardrobe is fabulous!
What do you like about your wardrobe?
GELLAR: It’s so interesting because Cynthia Bergstrom, who did my costumes on Buffy, is doing my costumes on this show. Buffy was still a high school student and there was a lot of stunt stuff. These are very wealthy people in New York. Designer labels that I, Sarah, could not afford, my character wears.
Which twin do you think you’re more like?
GELLAR: I look a lot like both of them, so that’s handy. What I love about the show is the duality of all of the characters and the idea that we all have a good side and a bad side. I’m not necessarily more like either one of the characters because, in their motivations, they both feel incredibly justified, but Siobhan has the better wardrobe.
Is playing both of the characters, when they’re in the same scene together, more or less difficult then some of the other effects you’ve been involved with?
GELLAR: It’s slightly less difficult than the other effects that I’ve been involved with. At its basic, you really just want the characters to have a conversation. Even though the visual effects are really amazing, in what we’re capable of doing, I don’t think that’s the part the audience really cares about. So, in the pilot, we played with the face replacement and some of that stuff, but ultimately, it’s about what the characters are saying, so I think it works best when we just talk to each other. In a weird way, it actually goes very quickly because you pare it down to the emotion of the scene, as opposed to being all fancy.
What is the technical challenge of having both twins in the same scene?
GELLAR: It’s really interesting because technology has come a long way. At the end of Buffy, I played three characters, and it was just old-school split screen. There is so much more available now, between face replacement and the stop-motion cameras. During the pilot, we played with all of them, like kids with new toys, to figure out what works best.
How often does that happen for you, going forward?
GELLAR: Right now, we’re aiming for two to three flashbacks per episode. They’re usually all me, but sometimes we do have a younger set of girls. Every once in awhile, the flashbacks will be other parts of the story, like how Andrew and I met, or something between Siobhan and Henry. The flashbacks are a great way to give answers to the story.
This show is all about what Bridget and Siobhan don’t know about each other. What don’t people know about you?
GELLAR: I think it’s pretty much all been written. It’s out there.
What do you think about the idea of twins who don’t really know anything about each other?
GELLAR: I’m fascinated by twins. It’s such an interesting thing. I’m an only child, so I don’t have a sibling. But, if you think about the bond that siblings have, that intensifies so much when you think about being in the womb together. These are two girls that shared everything and were so close, and then something so tragic ripped them apart. It’s like losing a part of yourself because twins are a part of each other. I just think that’s so interesting.
Were you looking to get back to TV, or was it specifically this script?
GELLAR: I think it was a combination of both. The nomadic lifestyle does work for a lot of working parents, but I’ve traveled and I’ve seen it, and I want to be able to go home at night and see my daughter. I want to be there for her first day of school and her school recital. Honestly, television is what offers me that. They’ve been amazing about working around schedules. I was able to go to her last day of school. All the big milestones, I’m there for.
Was there ever any hesitation about returning to a long-term character on TV?
GELLAR: I was very burned out after Buffy. It was exhausting. It took me from essentially 18 on the pilot to being 24 and married when we finished. That show was my life. I was doing movies on the hiatuses and on weekends, but I needed to explore and live that gypsy lifestyle. So, I traveled and worked with amazing actors, like Andy Garcia, Alec Baldwin, Brendan Fraser, Forest Whitaker, Lee Pace. It was this great learning experience. And then, I started watching a lot of television. I was always in these foreign countries and I would get TV shows on DVD, and I started to realize that all of the amazing roles for women were on television. I was spoiled by Buffy because I thought that was the way it was everywhere, and it’s not. I started to watch Damages and all of these amazing, female-driven shows, and it was something that was always in the back of my mind. Then, once I had my daughter, I realized that I was done living the romantic lifestyle, and nothing offers that more than television. If I hadn’t had the time away, I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate the experience that I’m appreciating now. But, that could just be my advanced age, too. I don’t know.
As the face of the network this Fall, do you feel pressure?
GELLAR: Yes! Well, yes and no. I’m so proud of the show and I’m enjoying it so much. I hope it takes off with fans, but if for some unknown reason it doesn’t, I’ve had the best time. I don’t regret a minute of it.
Are you hoping that the Buffy fans will follow you to this show?
GELLAR: That’s all you can hope for. When picking a show, I took into consideration who my fans are. Let’s be honest, Buffy was a mid-season replacement on The WB, based on a failed movie. If it wasn’t for the outpouring of fans and critics supporting us, we would have been canceled after four episodes. Sure, you want to stretch and you want to do different things, but it’s also our job to think about who our fans are and what they want to see. Ultimately, that’s why we do. I do it to entertain the people that want to watch what I do.
Is your association with Buffy a double-edged sword, or have you always been comfortable with it?
GELLAR: I’m proud of the show, of the work we did, and of its legacy, so that’s nothing but good things. Sure, as an actor, you want to play different things, but I was also really fortunate. A lot of times, when you start a show at a young age, you get stuck. You get six years of high school, but I didn’t have that. Buffy grew. I didn’t feel that I was trapped because I got to do so much. And then, I went and played all these other characters for awhile. How many times, in any actor’s life, do you get to be a part of something that has a legacy like that? I think that’s only fortunate. I don’t see the negative. And, if people think that I can save the world and kick butt, I’m okay with that.
Since he has directed television before, is there any chance that Joss Whedon might direct an episode or two?
GELLAR: I think he’s a little busy making that superhero movie (The Avengers), at the moment.
Aside from the twin aspect, what sets this show apart from what else is on The CW?
GELLAR: Have you seen the men on my show? The CW is all about the girls. We have the men on my show! I would tell any actress that the trick is to play all the female characters on your show, and then all the men are yours. All joking aside, I’m a television watcher and I get frustrated with shows sometimes when they set up puzzles and then they don’t give answers. It’s just more questions and more questions. One of the things that’s really important to all of us is that we will give answers to the questions. Yes, they may bring up some more questions and some more mysteries, but there will be answers and you will understand the motivations and the circumstances of why this happened.
What sort of pace will the show have, in answering questions?
GELLAR: You’ll find something out in every act break.
Was there ever a period of time where you thought this show wasn’t going to make it, with the transition from CBS to The CW?
GELLAR: The answer is actually no. (President of CBS Entertainment) Nina Tassler had read it and kept calling because she was such a champion of the show. I finally went in and spoke with her, and one of our fears was fitting it into the CBS mold. Nina kept saying, “We’ll let you do what you want to do. We know the show you want to make.” So, she won us over and we all decided to do the show. But, while we were filming, it was always on our minds. We were like, “Are we going to have to have a procedural element? Will the audience that CBS caters to respond to the show?” All those things were always in the back of our minds.
It’s a terrible process, what you go through, during pilot season. All the shows turn themselves in and there is a good four to six weeks before you get that phone call. We turned it in and got a phone call, pretty much the next day, from (President and CEO of the CBS Corporation) Les [Moonves] saying, “I love this show, but I have the same fears you do. What do you think about putting it on The CW?” I thought about it and we all talked, and it just made sense. It was almost a relief for us because we knew that we could tell more of the stories that we wanted to tell, on that network. And, The CW has been so incredibly supportive. Nobody has better advertising and marketing than The CW, and they respect what we’re trying to do, so it was a blessing.
Are you going to be doing much of the action yourself, or are you using stunt doubles?
GELLAR: I don’t know. I got chased in Downtown L.A. and I did get to hold a gun. Buffy never got a gun. We shall see.
Why should viewers sympathize with these twins?
GELLAR: Well, because their journeys, in both of their minds, are justified. In terms of Siobhan, something happened that was so tragic and all of her motivations are based on what happened to her and how that’s changed the course of her life. For Bridget, she’s made a lot of mistakes, but ultimately, she’s trying to redeem herself and I think everybody can understand what it’s like when you want to make better the mistakes you’ve made in the past.
What’s it like to play a character who is both redeeming herself and her sister, at the same time?
GELLAR: It’s so complicated, but I love it. It brings back Cruel Intentions for me, and that was one of my favorite characters, aside from Buffy, that I’ve ever played. I had to make her sympathetic. Even though she did horrible things, there was always a reason behind them, and that’s essentially the same thing I’m trying to bring to this.
What does your husband, Freddie Prinze Jr., think of this show?
GELLAR: He loves it. He’s perfectly happy to stay at home and put the baby to bed and send me out with Ioan [Gruffudd].
How do you think TV has changed since the glory days of Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
GELLAR: It’s changed so much, from the fact that there are so many channels available now to spoilers. There were no blogs when I was on Buffy. There were no weekly magazines, aside from People. Now, to be able keep your secrets for your show is so hard. The beauty of our show is that we have to work extra hard to keep that stuff secret. It has definitely changed.
Were you surprised by how excited people were to learn you were returning to TV?
GELLAR: Yeah. You can only hope that they want to see you on television and that they’ll watch. But, everyone has been so kind.
Are you happy to finally be playing a grown-up?
GELLAR: I think Buffy was a grown-up. One of the amazing things about the show was that I was able to grow with her. Yes, she started in high school, and then she went to college, and then essentially she was a mother to all the other Slayers, so I always felt like Buffy was a grown-up.
You mentioned essentially playing a mother on Buffy, and this character is a stepmother. Did becoming a mother help prepare you for this role?
GELLAR: Well, hopefully, my daughter only turns out like Zoey Deutch (the actress), and not like Juliet Martin (the character). That’s all I have to say about that one.
Do you watch a lot of TV, yourself?
GELLAR: When I can, I do. When I was out of the country working on movies a lot, I did watch a lot on DVDs. I have a two-year-old, so I watch a lot of Sesame Street right now. But, I watch when I can because I am a fan.
What shows do you like?
GELLAR: I love Dexter. I’m a big fan. I cannot wait for Dexter to come back. That’s the one, right now, that I would say is my number one. I love Breaking Bad and Damages. There are so many great shows, right now. I love The Good Wife.