Typical summer’s day in Hollywood. Scorching heat. Zero breeze. And across the street from a park where kids are playing, there’s a dead actress in a doorway. Golden hair splayed across the weeds, ants scurrying along her bronzed skin. She’s hot — and not just in a doesn’t-this-slinky-chocolate-brown-dress-look-amazing-on-me kind of way. She’s sweaty. And worse. ”It reeks of urine down here,” says Sarah Michelle Gellar. ”I’m just tellin’ ya.”
The photographer hovering over her isn’t happy either. This ”Dead Blonde in a Doorway” shot is a crucial moment in the ambitious, creepy-cool pictorial James White and Gellar have cooked up for EW’s Photo Issue — an homage to the disquieting horror flicks of Italian masters Dario Argento and Mario Bava, in which ”the women always looked glamorous,” says White, ”even when they were left for dead.” Problem: Gellar isn’t looking sufficiently lifeless. White wonders if the location isn’t helping. Maybe they should go somewhere else.
”Wait,” says Gellar.
She arches her back. Turns her head so her hair spills onto the steps. The final touch: a simple turn of her dangling wrist. ”Gooood,” coos White, clicking quickly through a roll of film.
Such is the added value you get from a young star whose résumé is dotted with death. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, of course, as well as I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream 2, and, coming Oct. 22, The Grudge, a sinister shiver of English-language Japanese horror, remade by director Takashi Shimizu from his 2003 original. ”You want dead doll eyes?” asks Gellar as she steps up to a window of shattered glass crusted with blood. ”I can do dead doll eyes really well.” One of White’s assistants grabs her from behind. On cue, Gellar’s body goes limp, her eyes turn glassy. Perfect . . .
Turning terror tricks is second nature to the 27-year-old Gellar, though making The Grudge was anything but old hat. The film — produced by Spider-Man director Sam Raimi — is a menacing mosaic of story lines revolving around a house in Tokyo, and Gellar pursued her role with such fervor that ”we used to joke Sam was going to have to get a restraining order,” she notes. It wasn’t just because Gellar and hubby Freddie Prinze Jr. are gonzo for Asian cinema. What she wanted was to be connected to something creatively exciting — like Buffy, or even Cruel Intentions. But not another Scooby-Doo. ”Leaving Buffy was the scariest horror movie of my life. I was 18 when I started the show. It had been my entire life,” she says. ”Going straight into a Scooby-Doo [sequel] felt safe. Homey. But . . . ”
The Grudge appealed because it was unlike anything she’d ever done before: surreal, nonlinear, with an artist at the helm. It was also three months in Tokyo, shooting guerrilla-style, stealing shots in rush-hour traffic and on subway trains. So precious was the experience to her, she’s protective of the film that came out if it — so she beats you to the punch about reports of recent reshoots. ”When you hear reshoots, you automatically think trouble. It’s not,” she explains. ”It was all about adding.” Test audiences wanted more backstory. Gellar and Shimizu wanted to tweak a few shots. Regardless of how The Grudge turns out, Gellar seems to have found herself in the translation. ”It was clear to me she wanted to do something different,” says Shimizu through a translator. ”It was because of her enthusiasm that I wanted her.”