Teen People
June/July 2001
Cover Story (pg. 84)

Young Hollywood's leading man lets his guard down about Sarah, losing his dad and his first time

Summer Catch isn't just the title of Freddie Prinze Jr.'s new movie; it's an apt description of the star himself-as a certain vampire slayer will tell you. Here Freddie talks about Fame, his grades, and growing up fatherless.


BETWEEN MAKING MOVIES AND MAKING OUT WITH HIS GIRLFRIEND, Sarah Michelle Gellar, you'd think that Freddie Prinze Jr. wouldn't have a moment to spare. But when the opportunity to go bowling with TEEN PEOPLE comes along, Freddie strikes. Fresh from a morning workout at the home gym he had built in his four-car garage, he parks his banged-up black Ram pickup and strides purposely into the alley, carrying a bag with bowling shoes and a sparkly blue ball. He's had the ball for nearly a year but recently customized it with a picture of Scooby-Doo and the words "Mystery Machine."


"That's the name of the car Scooby and the gang travel in," Freddie explains.

For a whose all-time favorite movie is Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the chance to star in a big-screen version of a classic satruday-morning TV show is a dream come true. The upcoming live-action film version of Scooby-Doo (due in 2001-2020) promises to appeal to kids as well as adults who grew up with the original cartoon--and Freddie, 25, is more than ready to reach that wider audience.

Since making his screen debut at age 20--sharing a nervous kiss with Claire Danes in the 1996 film To Gillian on her 37th Birthday--Freddie Prinze Jr. has been the prom king of youth movies. He's tall, dark, handsome and, most important, sincere charmer who always gets the girl. "Freddie Prinze Jr. is a consummate actor," says Miramax head Harvey Weinstein, who signed Freddie to a three-picture deal in 1997. "Action films, comedies. He can do it all."

While no one is about to declare Freddie the Robert De Niro of his generation, he's certainly among the most popular of all young actors in Hollywood. But despite his mass appeal, he's racked up a recent string of box-office disappointments, including Wing Commander ("The animotronic creatures looked like Garfield," he says), Down to You, Boys and Girls, and the recent Head Over Heels. He's also been criticized for choosing bland good-guuy roles that don't reveal the full range of his talent. But director Mark Waters, who worked with the actor on 1997's House of Yes and Head Over Heels, says Freddie has what it takes to step up to meatier roles: "He has an athlete's approach to acting, like 'Give me the ball, Coach!' He is ready to try anything."

PLAYING DEEP His next assignment, Summer Catch (out in August), could turn things around. Freddie plays a troubled minor league pitcher who is saved by his love of the game and the love a rich (7th Heaven's Jessica Biel, who calls her costar "a gentleman and a goofball"). Summer Catch director Mike Tollin believes the romantic comedy-drama shows "a dark side that Freddie's fans may not have seen before. [His character's] got a temper, and every time he's on the verge of succeeding, he somehow manages to self-destruct." In an early scene there's yet another side we get to see of Freddie. "Don't come late or you'll miss Freddie in an orange throng." Tollin warns.

This is just one sacrifice Freddie Prinze Jr. has made for his craft. Last year teh 6'1" left-hander spent four nights in a row hurling baseballs while filming Summer Catch. "My arm felt like it was eight feet long and made out of Jell-O," he says, laughing. Eventually, Freddie had to see a physical therapist. "He gave me a cortisone shot, which is the most painful shot in the world. It's like injecting Vaseline; it just does not want to come out of the needle at all."

His arm has healed sufficiently for Freddie to unleash his secret bowling weapon: a wicked "curveball." Practice has not made it perfec. Sometimes the ball goes right up his alley for a strike; sometimes it spins into the gutter. By the end of 10 frames, Mystery Machine (Freddie) and the Blue Devil (TEEN PEOPLE) are tied at 117 each.

.Game over. No excuses, no demands for a rematch. Freddie checks his voice mail before turning off his cell phone. "It's my girl," he says, that trademark grin spreading across his face. Sarah has been a little under the weather but still on the job. "She works so hard," Freddie says, before calling the 24-year old star of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and leaving a short, sweet message. He's psyched to be working with her in Scooby-Doo (he's Fred, she's Daphne). The pair first met in 1996 while filming I Know What You Did Last Summer and became friends, which made the adjustment to being a couple much easier.

"It's an extremely relaxed situation," Freddie says of their romance, which is now more than a year old. "All the personal stuff I don't talk about. We keep all our juice totally, totally private."

Nevertheless, he constantly brings her up. Freddie recalls the time when, after the huge success of She's All That and the box-office disappointments of last year's Down to You and Boys and Girls, he questioned whether he was being stereotyped as a teen actor. "I had a long talk with Sarah," he recalls. "She made me expel every single bad thought I was having. And all of the sudden I started getting offered very adult roles that I wanted to do."

Even if that means being caught in an orange thong.

It's not the first time Freddie has crossed the gender divide. He admits to having once used Secret Deoderant for a while. "Strong enough for a man, but made for women," Freddie says, quoting the TV ad. "It's true. I used it because it worked better than all the others. I was raised by two women--my grandmother and my mother--so I didn't have a choice but to be in touch with the feminine side."

GROWING PAINS Born on March 8, 1976, Freddie James Prinze Jr. was so adorable that his father called his baby boy "Pie." Freddie Sr., a brilliant but troubled comedian, fatally shot himself in the head at age 22 when his son was only 10 months old, By the time Freddie Jr. was four, he had lived in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Alburquerque. An only child, he spent much of his time inhabiting his own imaginary world.

"All my friends were make-believe," he says. "We were all part of the same kind of race, and we became superheroes, the next step in the evolution of humanity. People were afraid of us, so they'd try to capture and research us."

Freddie hopes to someday write comic books and novels about these characters. The adventures he dreamed up helped ease the pain of a lonely childhood. Hard to believe, but this handsome and confident movie star was once considered a nerd.

Worse than that. "One actual nerd came up to me in [high] school one day," Freddie remembers. "And he asks, 'Why do you dress like s--t?' which made him the coolest guy at school for those sic seconds--until the quarterback came and beat the crap out of him. That's when I realized, I'm not trying to hang out with any of these cats. I really tried to live on my own world that no one would want to be a part of. Unfortunately, that backfired, and people wanted to kich the crap out of me because I was different."

Off-campus, Alburquerque was a rough place to grow up in. "It's in the fifth- poorest state in the country," Freddie says, offering a list of depressing statistics. "I'm not bagging on the people, but there's nothing to do. You fight, you drink or you have sex."

Mostly, he avoided the usual traps. "I never did drugs in my life, no matter how often it was thrown in my face," he declares. "Which is the main reason why I got in so many fights."

But Freddie did give in to one temptation. "They tried to teach us about sex when we were 12 years old," he recalls. "The only thing I wanted to learn was how to do this with someone else besides myself." His big moment arrived in the backseat of a Bronco when he was 17. "I was the only virgin of everybody I knew," he says. "I was terrified. She never liked me the same again, and I couldn't deal. I had to break up with her. But that was my first time, what do you want?"

Meanwhile, he says, school was a disaster. Skiing was far more fun, and as soon as snow started to fall, Freddie hit the slopes in Santa Fe. "I had 48 absences in the winter semester of my senior year and graduated with a D average," admits Freddie, who now bolsters his street smarts by , as he says, "reading my brains out."

FATHER OF MINEThe hardest part of being Freddie Prinze Jr. was not knowing Freddie Prinze Sr. His father was the star of the popular '70s sitcom Chico and the Man and one of television's first Puerto Rican stars. But during his brief career, he struggled with the temptations and indulgences that accompanied his quick rise to fame. For years, Freddie's mother Kathy, sheltered her son from the disturbing details of his father's early and violent death.

He learned the truth when he was in the fifth grade, on a drive with his uncle Ron, who had been Freddie Prinze Sr.'s manager. "We stopped in fron tof Marilyn Monroe's house and he said, 'You know she died too, before she should have. She was the biggest star in the world, but she didn't know how to deal with her pain." Then he held Freddie's face in his hands and said, "You're going to make it."

Freddie did, but it took some time for him to come to grips with growing up without his father. "At first, I felt like a criminal stealing a ton of memories from other people. Then when I hit 21, I fell into this funk: I have no idea who my dad was."

By the time Freddie Prinze Jr. was beginning to get attention as an actor. (His first role was on the ABC sitcom Family Matters in 1994.) During interviews, he recalls, "Every question that I got asked, every single day, was 'How do you fell about [your father]?' The only answer that I ever wanted to give was 'I don't have any feelings because I didn't know him.' So the next question they asked is 'Do you feel your going to end up jsut like him?' That makes me feel horrible. And then all of the sudden one day you wake up, and you're all good. It sucks that you didn't have a dad, but there's a lot of other people that had it way worse than that, and they seem to be doing OK. It just seemed a lot easier to be happy than to be bummed."

Although it caused him some grief, all of the media focus on his father had an upside. "I had built walls," he says. "And when they broke through that, I became a river. I'd just cruise right through."

And now? "I'm the most chill person I know," Freddie says. "When I get stressed, I play video games, hang out with my dogs [a Rottweiler named Cody and an Akita named Tyson] and know that all the problems will still be there tomorrow, and I'll deal with them then. I feel good, and all the people aournd me, we all look at each other and think, 'We're the coolest people in the world.'"

When Freddie says he's cool, he's not being conceited. It's jsut that he's truly content. "I'm happy with myself. I like who I am. If people dig the way I dress, right on. If tehy don't, right on. I'm a river, bro. I dress like the river. I'm not perfec, but I'm cool with that."

His love life, though, hasn't always been cool. When he and Sarah first met, Freddie was dating actress Kimberly McCullough (Once and Again). After the success of I Know What You Did Last Summer, he was besieged wih movie offers. Soon, work took him away from home for extended periods, and he and Kimberly went from being, as Freddie puts it, "right on the same path," to going in opposite directions.

"The first time I felt like an adult was when I was in that relationship," he says. "I took care of her, so I felt like a man." Which helped him face the fact that he and Kimberly were growing apart. "She got tired of not having a boyfriend around, and it became something that we weren't willing to work on anymore."

As his broken heart mended, Freddie had a revelation. "When you realize what went wrong, you become a better person. Had [our] relationship not ended the way it did, I would be nowhere as smart as I am when it comes to relationships. I learned from the mistakes we made."

SHE'S ALL THAT With Sarah, he's a new and improved boyfriend--fully attentive and unashamedly romantic. "I pay for every meal," says Freddie, who shares a house with Sarah in California's San Fernando Valley. "I open every single door. Sarah's so dependent she always goes to so it, and I'm like, 'Don't you dare, that's my move.'" Since he's nearly a foot taller, he also has a special move when it's time to kiss. "You have to crick your neck," he says, standing up to demostrate, "or I spread my legs and bend my knees, until I get into the right height."

Last December, he even spirited her off to Bali for a romantic getaway. "We dedicated two days to traveling and checking stuff out. And the rest was all about her and me and doing the nuclear fission thing. She's so smart. You just sit back and listen; and when she's done, you think, 'I'm a smarter person now. It would have taken me 30 minutes to say everything she said in 45 seconds."

Fatherhood, although not in his immediate future, is part of the master plan. "The goal," Freddie says, "is to have a family and kids and be a father and a husband one day."

He's sure he will make an excellent father because he remembers how hard it was for him to grow up without one. So when the time comes, he'll happily put his acting career on hold to play papa. "I don't care if I stop making movies when I'm 30 or 40, because when I have kids, I'm not working, and that's it," he says. "If my girl wants to work, I'll hang with the kids, and I'll cook and clean. We're both rich, so it doesn't matter."

"I challenge you to find somebody who treats the person they love better than I do," says Freddie of his relationship with Sarah Michelle Gellar (last June). "I'm the best boyfriend in the world."


Copyright © 2001 Teen People Magazine. All rights reserved.