The Goodbye Girl

ENTERTAINMENT WEEEKLY Why now? Why is this the right time?

SARAH MICHELLE GELLAR I hope it is the right time. This is so weird. This is like the first time I've really said it. Joss and I always [said] from the beginning, as long as we can give 140 percent, we'd always be doing it.

You always worry about being the show that's been on too long -- especially when you're a cult hit. Last year, a lot of people were ready to tear us down. [So when] we started to have such a strong year this year, I thought, ''This is how I want to go out -- on top, at our best.'' I was 18 when I started the show; I'm 26. I'm married. I never see my husband. This has been the longest span of my life in one place. There've been times where that's been difficult -- you want to pick up and go, try other things, live in different places. It feels right, and you have to listen to that. The show, as we know it, is over.

EW Why do you say ''as we know it''?

SMG I know they are planning a spin-off, and I would love to come back [for some episodes] -- assuming, of course, that they don't kill [Buffy]. The moment I say all this, I'm going to get the last script and go, ''Oh, my God!'' Look, this is so scary. I love this job, I love the fans. I love telling the stories we tell. This isn't about leaving for a career in movies, or in theater -- it's more of a personal decision. I need a rest. Teachers get sabbaticals. Actors don't.

EW What was it like announcing your decision?

SMG At the beginning of this season, Joss and I had a conversation outside my trailer. We both kind of felt that this was the end, that we should make that decision and say it publicly. And then...we didn't. We didn't even talk about it for a while... [But] the fact the show's been so good [this season]decided it for us. It was a realization that we all came to.

EW If the show had stronger ratings, and had received more mainstream acclaim -- as in Emmys -- would you have stayed?

SMG No. Our show never had top 10 numbers, but everyone talked about it. Joss and I disagree on this. People are always, ''How sad are you that your show never won any awards?'' I think it's great! This is the cool show, the show the voters don't get. I've won an Emmy. Okay, it's a Daytime Emmy, but it's still an Emmy. It doesn't mean nearly as much to me as my Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Award for Favorite Female Butt Kicker.

EW Was money an issue for you?

SMG Money? No complaints. Never.

EW I'll be honest: Buffy on UPN has always seemed like an odd fit.

SMG I knew this question was coming.

EW Do you feel the switch from The WB to UPN in 2001 hurt the show?

SMG It was a hard transition. This is a hard question because UPN has been very supportive of the show. They gave us a home. But I will always have a loyalty and a very, very deep appreciation for the support that I felt at The WB. The WB and Buffy were synonymous. They made each other.

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