The 5' 3," sandy blonde-haired Gen-Y icon Sarah Michelle Gellar's life story reads like a preteen wish fulfillment fantasy. Born in Manhattan in 1977 and discovered by an agent in a Manhattan restaurant at the age of four, Gellar signed for her first role (in the 1983 telemovie An Invasion of Privacy) not one week later. A plethora of bit parts in television series (Spenser: For Hire) and theatrical films (Over the Brooklyn Bridge, 1984; Funny Farm, 1988; High Stakes, 1989) followed, before Gellar landed a recurring role, in the early '90s, on the decades-long daytime soap opera All My Children. Throughout the early years of her career, Gellar was managed and supervised by her mother, a former nursery school teacher who insisted on straight A's as a prerequisite of an acting career. Sarah Michelle delivered, time and again.
Despite the apparent fairy tale-like quality of her rise, Gellar reportedly battled several decidedly unhappy experiences as a child, including a parental divorce, decades of estrangement from her father, and social struggles in a New York City high school, experiences parlayed into her first (and most infamous) lead: that of Buffy, a California valley girl high school student-turned-"exterminator of the undead" in the early-'90s syndicated cult fantasy series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Gellar inherited the role from Kristy Swanson, who fleshed it out in the (decidedly more comic) 1992 theatrical release of the same name. Under Gellar's aegis, the show lasted seven years, from 1996 through 2003, and it became a massive international hit, garnering legions of fans. The subject matter of the series required the young actress to engage in rigorous exercise and physical training off-camera throughout Buffy's run.