Unlike their characters in Roger Kumble’s Cruel Intentions, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Selma Blair are actual friends. Gellar, who played Kathryn, the self-proclaimed “Marcia f‑‑‑ing Brady of the Upper East Side,” says she fell for Blair as soon as the latter stepped in to audition as Cecile, Kathryn’s romantic rival, project, and possibly the most impressionable young woman to ever enroll in Manchester Prep.
To celebrate the film’s 20th anniversary and its return to theaters for one week, Gellar and Blair hopped on the phone to look back on their characters’ twisted relationship for EW’s exclusive oral history. (The actresses requested to do the interview together as Blair, who recently revealed her MS diagnosis, sometimes struggled with her speech, and Gellar would be able to help.)
Below, Gellar and Blair dive deep into their Cruel days.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Is everyone on?
SELMA BLAIR: Hi! Where is my Sarah?
SARAH MICHELLE GELLAR: I’m right here!
Let’s start at the beginning. What do you remember about the audition?
BLAIR: I was still relatively young in life-speak, and I was really kind of innocently goofy. It’s a classic story and it is full of deceit and things that are not politically correct — but don’t blame it on us, blame it on the classic French literature — and my natural awkwardness made people laugh. Right, Sarah?
GELLAR: It’s true. I read with a bunch of girls, and Selma came in, and for me, it was done. Because it is a classic tale, people did have a different idea of Cecile, who’s almost the most tragic character in it. Roger and I were like, “That’s what makes it different! It doesn’t work if she’s so tragic.”
That’s definitely true of the seduction scene, which Roger and Ryan [Phillippe] also talked about. Selma, how did you tap into Cecile, what helped you toe that line and keep her goofy? How did you come up with the “sexy” wiggle?
GELLAR: [Laughs] That wiggle.
BLAIR: [Laughs] I don’t know. I just have this girl in my head, a much younger girl, but she has confidence…. I think she probably really likes sex. [Laughs] So for her, I think it was a positive outcome. Roger and I, we were very close, and he was really tuned in to me as a person, and so, I don’t know, I probably took the line reading from Roger, for all I know. I was probably imitating him. [Laughs]
For you, Sarah, how did you tap into the mindset of, well, one of the greatest cinematic bitches of all time?
GELLAR: I started on soaps, and I played this terrible bad girl, and that was all everyone ever saw me as. Originally on Buffy, I was cast as Cordelia! I was cast as the bad girl, and then they couldn’t find a Buffy. And then all of a sudden, people only saw me as Buffy, as this heroine, and it was kind of funny to me, because I thought I was going to get typecast the other way.
By the way, what was in that coke cross?
GELLAR: Oh my God, that’s a great story. So the prop guy was like, “The best thing to do is chamomile tea,” only I had really bad allergies, so after the first couple [of hits], my nose was bleeding. The next day, my eyes were all red, and I literally had an allergic reaction to snorting all of that chamomile. I’m sure today they’ve figured something else out.
BLAIR: They use vitamin C now, because you can’t overdose on it.
GELLAR: Wouldn’t vitamin C burn? I feel like that’s acidic.
BLAIR: It is acidic, but apparently so is chamomile. At least you won’t get a cold with the vitamin C.
GELLAR: [Laughs] True.
In one of the film’s most titillating scenes, Sarah, you teach Selma how to French kiss. Tell me: What was running through your mind?
GELLAR: Let me preface the day: It had been a New York winter. It was after my birthday, so it was maybe May. It had been cold, cold, cold, and this was the first beautiful day in Central Park. So imagine New Yorkers who had been cooped up and then all of a sudden it was this gorgeous day, and what does everybody do? They go to Central Park for lunch, which was exactly when we were shooting. There must have been 300 people easy, would you say, Selma?
BLAIR: Yeah. And Sarah was really well known, so the pressure was on her. But I remember we did get ice cream beforehand and we were checking our teeth, because we liked the almond-covered bars.
GELLAR: I remember the same thing. I was so excited about the Good Humor truck being there, so I was motivated by the ice cream. But, little-known fact about that scene: Because there were so many people, the sound was terrible, so that entire scene was recorded fully in the sound studio.
BLAIR: I remember that. And I remember having to pull my hair back and go “Ow! Ow!” over and over and over. It was impossible. But I don’t think I had a lot of nerves back then. Sarah and I were really close — I looked to her as my dear friend and also mentor in the kindest way, so it was just awkward. It was like, “Oh, I almost wish I didn’t know her!”
Still, you both won MTV Movie Awards for Best Kiss. Where are your trophies now?
BLAIR: Mine is in my office, but… was there ever a moon man on it, or a piece of popcorn? A piece of mine has fallen off, but I still have it.
GELLAR: Selma, my love, the moon man is when you’ve recorded something. It’s for a singer. Though Selma has a Grammy —
BLAIR: No, nominated for a Grammy! I wish I had a Grammy. Julie Andrews won, that hack. [Laughs] But okay, then there was just an extra piece of popcorn missing. I’m not a recording artist. Damn.
GELLAR: [Laughs] Mine is in my office as well, and I have to tell you, it’s probably my proudest award. MTV, for our generation, that was the biggest award you could win.
To pivot to a totally different scene between you two, Sarah, did you actually push Selma off that couch? And Selma, did that hurt?
GELLAR: [Laughs] Yeah, I did shove her, but we had a mat.
BLAIR: We had a mat except for one take, because they shot it from far away. And no, I did not hurt myself at all. I was really rubbery, like my brain, at that time. My whole body was Cecile. Sarah didn’t hurt me, but I think she took pleasure in it. [Laughs]
GELLAR: Well, maybe we did a few extra takes, sure. [Laughs]
BLAIR: It was fun, and I still crack up so hard when she walks out of the room, rolling her eyes, saying, “You f‑‑‑ing idiot,” while I’m so gleeful in the background, with my “secret society” [dance]. I’ll never forget that line reading of “you f‑‑‑ing idiot.”
GELLAR: Well, that line reading was all Roger, because all I was doing was imitating the way Roger says it all the time.
BLAIR: I need to work with Roger more. He’s a really good line reader.
GELLAR: He’d be a great acting coach! But that “f‑‑‑ing idiot” GIF, I swear I use that at least once a week.
BLAIR: I don’t know how to get a GIF. I want to.
GELLAR:I’ll send it to you! [Ed. note: She did.]
BLAIR: I worked with him on The Sweetest Thing after that, and I still was like, “Wow, give me a little line reading, Roger,” and he was like “No, the first one’s free. It’s over now.” I was like, “Noooooooo!”
Going back to being pushed off furniture, Selma, you also got pushed off a bed by Ryan!
BLAIR: Yeah! I didn’t hurt myself at all! I mean, I have MS now, so maybe we have Ryan and Sarah to blame? [Laughs] Just kidding!
GELLAR: Wait, Selma, here’s a burning question: Who’s stronger, me or Ryan?
BLAIR: Oh, you for sure. Sarah’s strong and has a real drive behind her if she needs it. Ryan… I’ll take a little credit for that. I had to make sure I got some air. Ryan was actually such a gentleman on that set, making sure I was okay and being very, very careful with me.
So outside of the film itself, how did doing Cruel Intentions affect the way you chose roles afterward?
BLAIR: I was immediately and luckily offered a series of young teen roles that were somewhat similar…. I was offered any role I wanted — that was the only time, carte blanche, and it was funny to me, but they were so similar to Cecile and I just thought, “Oh my gosh, I don’t want to play another teen.” I was stupid, because I could be living next door to Sarah now if I did a few more of those movies. [Laughs] … I was 27, and at all my screen tests, I was with people who had to go off to school. I was wondering when I would grow up, but guess what? I’m grown up now, and I don’t have to wonder anymore! [Laughs] It was all a good time. There’s a few roles I would have allowed myself to take if I were more secure at the time, but [nothing] was going to top Cruel anyhow.
Right. On Cruel, you were working with a lightning-in-a-bottle cast, even with the adult cast members. Like, Selma, Christine Baranski played your mother!
BLAIR: She’s amazing. And she was so funny! She’s kind of [the actress who] made me think, “Oh, you can stay in this [industry] for the long haul, and not be nuts!”
Sarah, I read she signed on because her daughters were fans of Buffy. Is that true?
GELLAR: Yeah! She’s the best.
BLAIR: What was her line, “Close your legs —”?
GELLAR: “This isn’t Jamaica.”
BLAIR: Yeah, because she knew that K sounds were funny, I remember her saying. I’ve tried it in other things, but it doesn’t work for me. [Laughs] She has the touch. She’s great.
What do you think the legacy of Cruel Intentions is? How would you define it?
GELLAR: It was the first time a [teen] movie didn’t speak down. In the ’80s, you had John Hughes movies, which were great, but after that, movies didn’t give us an adult language. This was the start of that. And we never had to tone it down.
What have fan interactions been like over the years? Do they quote lines at you?
BLAIR: Even when I think I’m hot, some putz throws out, “I can be sexy!” And all of a sudden I’m like, “Aww.” [Laughs] It’s like, “No, I’m feeling myself right now!” And they’ll always bring Cecile back every time I strike a pose.
GELLAR: I get the Marcia Brady line the most. And I get, “You can put it anywhere.”
BLAIR: My dorky secret society dance, that one I get so much.
GELLAR: “Everybody does it, but nobody talks about it,” I get. And the Long Island iced tea!
When you rewatch the film or stumble upon it, what runs through your mind? When you watch yourself at that age, what do you think?
GELLAR: “What happened to us?!” No, I’m kidding. [Laughs] I’m proud of the film we made, I’m proud of the people we became, I’m proud that we’re all still really connected. I think that’s so rare, and really cool.
BLAIR: I accidentally showed my son the trailer when I was posting it on Instagram. I was like, “Look! I made a movie and I look young!” And he was like, “What the hell?” because it was Sarah all sexy and I was like, “Sorry!”
GELLAR: He was probably like, “What’s wrong with Charlotte’s mom?!”
BLAIR: You look hot. Arthur said Sarah has a “nice physique.” That’s what he says, “physique.” [Laughs]
GELLAR: [Laughs] Oh, thank you, Arthur.
Sarah, you said you’re all still really connected. I know you all went to see the musical, but do you regularly see each other?
BLAIR: Sarah sees Reese [Witherspoon] more — their kids are also friends. I haven’t spent time with Reese since that night, but it was a really fun night. I only run into Ryan, and it’s always pleasant, with a big hug. But Sarah’s in my life daily, helping me and being a friend always.
GELLAR: Selma tries to get rid of me, but I have the keys to her house, so she’s stuck with me. Sean Patrick Thomas and I, we’re also really good friends. Reese, our sons are really good friends, they went to school together until recently. And I just spoke to Ryan for the first time in a while! So, like I said, I’m proud.
BLAIR: Even though some [people] I’m not as close with [anymore], I do feel I can still reach out no matter what. There’s just a bond there from this movie.
GELLAR: To be honest, I will say that I don’t think in any job — and I’ve been in this business a really long time — I don’t think there’s as many people both on camera and off camera that I’m still as close with in any other job I’ve ever done, and that’s including Buffy. From the day I met Selma in that audition, it’s like something clicked with us. Every big milestone in my life, whether it was my 21st birthday or Selma’s baby shower, I just can’t imagine my life without her standing next to me. Nobody makes me laugh, and nobody knows how to put me in my place faster than Selma does.
BLAIR: Oh my gosh, Sarah’s my everything. I can’t tell you how much I love this woman.
To read more from our oral history of Cruel Intentions, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands now, or buy one — or all 12 — of our special Veep covers. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.