The Real Prinze
June, 2000

Freddie Prinze Jr. settles back in his chair at a Los Angeles hotel where he's talking to a reporter about his new film, Boys and Girls.

This turns out to be the last interview for Prinze in what has been a very long day. But as the clock nears 5 p.m., Prinze shows no sign of wearing down. The 24-year-old Albuquerque, N.M., native is all personality, a display that would put the Energizer Bunny to shame.

It's vintage Prinze, almost a carbon copy of the guy he plays in this romp about figuring out romance the first time around, adult-style. He's like his generation's version of Cary Grant, minus the affected answer.

In real life, Prinze already seems to have romance figured out. Even though he has claimed time after time that he's the quintessential nerd who never gets the girl, he's one-half of a 20-something poster couple with Sarah Michelle Gellar, TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The two co-stars of I Know What You Did Last Summer seem to have been involved for at least four months, though at first steadily denied the relationship.

Gellar proved her own generational popularity by winning two MTV Movie Awards, last Saturday, the night before this interview. and the first of two days, Prinze spent talking about Boys and Girls -- and, apparently, Gellar.

In trouble with girlfriend Sarah Michelle Gellar?

Backstage at the awards, one reporter asked Gellar about Prinze's announcement at an earlier junket that he admires his girlfriend's healthy appetite.

Prinze hastily clarified: "She can out-eat me in sushi and that's about it."

"It's a shame that Freddie is gonna go home by himself tonight," retaliated Gellar, laughing.

Gellar's the one who has his heart, but she's not the only woman impressed by Prinze's many qualities. "He's classically cute," says Amanda Detmer, who plays one of his love interests in the film. "And charming. And it comes across on screen. You can't run away from it. Why should he? It's not hurting him at all."

British beauty Claire Forlani (Meet Joe Black), who plays Prinze's longtime friend and eventual love interest this time out, puts it succinctly: "We did click. We had a blast. He's fun."

The charming Prinze--named one of PEOPLE magazine's 50 Most Beautiful this year -- is the son of the late comic actor Freddie Prinze, popular star of the '70s sitcom Chico and the Man. Prinze Sr. died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the height of his show's success in 1977 after being divorced by his wife, Kathy Cochran. Prinze Jr. was 10 months old at the time. When he was 4, he and his mother moved to live near relatives in New Mexico. But while the father was tormented by demons brought on by success and fame, his namesake son seems to have charted a more even course.

Surmounting a painful legacy

As Prinze told a reporter three years ago, "No matter how rough things get, everybody has a choice," he said. "The stuff with my father? I chose to use that to make me strong."

Growing up in New Mexico, Prinze was a self-described artsy type who liked school plays. "I was doing the same thing I do now," he says. "The only difference is, I get paid to do it now. Before, people just thought I was a weird kid."

That weird kid, now a burgeoning matinee idol, is putting the finishing touches on a very adult agenda with the release of his latest movie: "When I was making She's All That [1999], I said in an interview I wanted to make three films for a specific generation -- to become something like a video library for that generation," he explains.

High-school makeover romance She's All That would be the first volume. Down to You took the star to college and, of course, romance. Now with Boys and Girls he finishes the trio (covering a relationship from high school through the last year of college), and clearly pleases its star in the process. He says he feels it's his best work yet.

"I think everybody wants to know what the other sex wants and how do you keep that? How do you not mess it up? I think that's what this movie does," he says, adding, "I think everybody can understand that and relate to that. It seems like it should be more complicated than that, but it isn't."

Keeping life uncomplicated is what seems first and foremost on Prinze's agenda, a lesson learned perhaps from his father's inability to overcome his own problems at a young age. How'd he get to be so smart? The notion makes Prinze laugh.

"I'm not that smart. That just came to me." And from where? "I have no idea," he confesses.

No matter. Life is good. "I'm the luckiest guy in the world," he professes. "I have a home that I love. I have dogs that I love. I have a family that I love. I have a woman that I love. I have a job that I love. You know? It can't get much better than that," he says with a shrug of the shoulders and a goofy grin.

And who's gonna doubt a charmer like Prinze?

-- additional reporting by STEF MCDONALD

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