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SYFY WIRE Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Sarah Michelle Gellar reportedly had ‘severed’ working relationship with Whedon since early in Buffy’s run

By Benjamin Bullard
Sarah Michelle Gellar

From Firefly to Buffy to Marvel to DC, fans of Joss Whedon’s generation-spanning body of film and TV work have found it hard, in recent months, to dodge media reports of the prolific creator/director’s alleged on-set indiscretions. Beginning with the Whedon-created Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its TV spinoff Angel in the 1990s, and threading all the way through to Warner Bros.’ Justice League in 2017, actors both male and female have issued a string of public criticisms highlighting their anecdotal accounts of Whedon’s alleged improprieties.

While neither Whedon nor his management have so far commented on the allegations made against him, a new report at Variety takes aim at examining the Whedon controversy from the point of view of several actors and crew members who’ve worked with him on projects both recent and farther in the past. The resulting report, which again doesn’t cite Whedon as a direct source, suggests a “pattern of inappropriate, imperious and disparaging behavior toward those who worked for him,” including a reported rift with Buffy star Sarah Michelle Gellar that originates from the iconic series’ earliest small-screen days.

Gellar was among 40 Whedon-acquainted actors and crew members who declined to directly comment for Variety’s report. But a pair of sources “familiar with the [Buffy] production say that fairly early into the show’s run, Gellar had a severed relationship with Whedon, to the extent that she did not want his name spoken around her.”

Joss Whedon

Buffy premiered at the now-defunct The WB network all the way back in 1997 — more than 20 years before Cyborg actor Ray Fisher would come forward, in the summer of 2020, with scathing condemnations of what Fisher perceived as Whedon’s “gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable” treatment of actors on the set of Justice League. Those remarks would eventually yield support for Fisher from fellow Justice League actors, with Jason Momoa lending the most vocal support. But they also preceded additional accusations against Whedon from actors he’d worked with back in the Buffy and Angel days — including recent claims of impropriety from Charisma Carpenter (Cordelia Chase on both series), as well as from Michelle Trachtenberg (Buffy’s Dawn Summers).

Trachtenberg recently posted to Instagram a claim that “There was a rule” on the Buffy set that Whedon was “not allowed in a room alone with Michelle [Trachtenberg] again.” And Carpenter went public earlier this month with a pair of  Twitter posts claiming that Whedon “abused his power on numerous occasions while working together on the sets of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.” Carpenter accused Whedon of compelling actors to compete for his attention, and of making disparaging remarks about her own pregnancy at the time — including how it might adversely affect her future on the series.

”The person who worked closely with Carpenter while she starred on Buffy and Angel recalls the actor frequently describing Whedon as being ‘mean-spirited’ and ‘verbally abusive’ toward her,” reports Variety, “making it obvious to her that he had favorites — and she was not one of them. ‘That was his game,’” the source reportedly told the outlet.

Specifics surrounding any alleged Whedon-Gellar interactions that might have led to their reported Buffy fracture aren’t mentioned in Variety’s report, though Gellar’s recent social media remarks suggest that she’s sympathetic toward other actors and their Whedon-focused complaints. “While I am proud to have my name associated with Buffy Summers, I don’t want to be forever associated with the name Joss Whedon,” Gellar recently said in an Instagram post, reacting to Carpenter’s accusations.

Sources for Variety’s report suggested that Buffy’s early small-budget filming environment, far removed from daily studio oversight and populated by a lot of relatively inexperienced young actors, may have provided the kind of atmosphere that helped foster an unprofessionally cliquish, “high school” social dynamic among its talented cast and creative lead.

Reportedly operating “much like an indie film,” the Buffy set allegedly functioned “like high school, with Whedon making everyone aware of who was in and who was out,” according to Variety. The same sources, all speaking anonymously, described the on-set culture of both Buffy and Angel as “a cult of personality” that centered around Whedon: “Those on the inside of Whedon’s circle basked in his attention, praise and friendship; those on the outside got the opposite: scorn, derision and callousness,” the report states.

Whedon’s creative resume is the stuff of movie and TV legend, encompassing perennially-revered sci-fi small-screen treasures like Firefly, Buffy, and Angel. On the big screen, Whedon helped build Marvel’s MCU into a box office juggernaut as the director of The Avengers (2012) and Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), before stepping into a late directing role on Warner Bros.’ Justice League after director Zack Snyder left the project due to a family tragedy.

Most recently, Whedon boarded and subsequently left The Nevers, a supernatural sci-fi drama on which Whedon and HBO were collaborating. Announced in 2018, The Nevers originally put Whedon’s creative talents front and center as writer, director, executive producer, and showrunner. In November of last year, however, HBO revealed that Whedon had departed the project. The Nevers is still on track to debut on April 11 debut at HBO, with Philippa Goslett replacing Whedon as showrunner.

Amid the still-brewing controversy surrounding other actors’ allegations against Whedon, HBO Chief Content Office Casey Bloys told The Wrap earlier this month that the network had received “no complaints or no reports of inappropriate behavior” from Whedon during his truncated creative stint with The Nevers.