Why Freddie Prinze Jr. traded Hollywood stardom for something even better: fatherhood

Why Freddie Prinze Jr. traded Hollywood stardom for something even better: fatherhood
Mic
Mic

In the late '90s and early 2000s, nobody embodied the archetypical lovable, lustable all-American jock better than Freddie Prinze Jr.

Dubbed "young Hollywood's leading man" by now-defunct Teen People, Prinze was a woke bae before either word entered the lexicon, gracing a 2000 cover of Seventeen and telling young women they "don't have to be thin to be hot." The New York Times' A.O. Scott called Prinze a "nice-looking young actor with a winning, gentlemanly manner."

His popularity translated to big numbers at the box office: Prinze's films, most of which were released between 1996 and 2008, have cumulatively grossed more than half a billion dollars.

Then, as the careers of his contemporaries like Ryan Phillippe and Paul Walker surged, Prinze more or less ghosted — leaving behind a successful film career in favor of being a husband to actress Sarah Michelle Gellar and father to their two kids, Charlotte Grace, 7, and Rocky James, 4.

The Prinze-Gellar family.Source: Ellen Silverman/Rodale Books
The Prinze-Gellar family.  Ellen Silverman/Rodale Books

While Prinze more or less gave up his career on-screen, he didn't actually stop working. In fact, Prinze took on a wide range of projects, like writing for the World Wrestling Entertainment, voicing video game characters for Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age: Inquisition as well as for Disney's Star Wars: Rebels and, most recently, releasing his debut cookbook, Back to the Kitchen.

As GQ put it in a 2016 profile, Prinze "actually managed to bend this whole show-business thing to his will." 

"The most vocal [fanbase] is either WWE or Star Wars," Prinze said in an interview with Mic. "Gamers probably come in third. And then moms in their 30s who love She's All That — they control themselves more, so they're in fourth place."

For his latest venture, Prinze is teaming up with with Palmolive to release a series of "messipes" (i.e. messy recipes) in an effort to prove that cooking is just as much about making memories as it is about, well, food.

Freddie Prinze Jr.Source: Ellen Silverman/Rodale Books
Freddie Prinze Jr.  Ellen Silverman/Rodale Books

Mic: Freddie! Hi! What's your earliest food-centric memory?

Freddie Prinze Jr.: My mom is a chef and some of my greatest memories and lessons learned were at a stovetop with my mom while she was making me miso soup at 9:34 p.m. — I remember it exactly what time it was. 

That's very specific.

FP: Well, I was upset because I was 13 and had asked a girl to the dance, she said no, her name was Stephanie Hanson. Damn you, Stephanie Hanson.

Again, very specific.

FP: All because of this meal. I even remember what my mother's hair smelled like. We sat there and she said, "Freddie, you're a very nice boy. Now when you become a man, that's what women look for. But if you want to date a teenager, you have to be a jerk." I wasn't good at being a jerk so I didn't have many girlfriends in high school. But that memory is something I remember as vividly today as the day it happened. And I wanted my kids to have those kind of memories too.

Did you always know you'd return to cooking?

FP: When I moved to L.A. to sort of follow in my father's footsteps, my mom said, "Make sure you go to culinary school if the acting thing doesn't work out. You'll never be hungry and you can make good money." So I enrolled into Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, California, and about six weeks in, I got my first acting job, which was with Michelle Pfeiffer, and I was gone. I never looked back. It was in Nantucket. It was beautiful ... and so was she. (Sorry David E. Kelly, but I was in love with her when I was a young man.) 

That said, I became friends with all the chefs in Nantucket. I'm friends with like two actors — I married one of them. The rest of my friends are stunt guys and chefs because that's who I have more in common with. So I never felt like I stepped away from it, it was more of realizing it was a dream I had yet to satisfy, and committing to that dream.

Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle GellarSource: Ellen Silverman/Rodale Books
Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar  Ellen Silverman/Rodale Books

So when did you get the idea to take this love of food and turn it into a cookbook?

FP: My wife has been on my case to write a cookbook for four years, but it never felt organic. And then, as it goes, the person who gives you the best advice is the person closest to you, and you reject it on principle. It's not until someone you barely know goes, "Maybe you should write a cookbook," and then you go home and go, "Hey Sarah, I got this great idea from this random guy. I think I'm going to do a cookbook." And my wife was like, "Uh... you just got that idea?"

Was it challenging coming up with 75 recipes?

FP: I had about 130 when it was time to put the book together. A big part of the editing process was asking, "Is there an organic story connected to this recipe?" for those that may be intimidated by cooking to read the story first and maybe laugh, maybe read the Robin Williams story and shed a tear. But the point is that they're in a different state of mind when they read the recipe and it won't be one of intimidation and perhaps they'll be more susceptible to trying something new.

You mentioned your wife — an icon — Sarah Michelle Gellar. Both you and SMG released cookbooks within a month of one another. In what ways are your cooking styles similar?

FP: Her book is almost all baking or a quick snack, like her asparagus fries to kill for and you should make some and eat them tonight and mine is more cooking meals with the family. The connection between the two books is passion; love for our family. We're obviously both pretty right-brained people, although she has more of her left brain than I do, that's for sure. 

(Editor's note: I did the following night and can confirm.)

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You've been married for 15 years — holy shit — can you give me some advice on how to maintain a healthy relationship?

FP: Sure. I'll start with this: Over 50% of all the marriages in America end in divorce. So people think it's Hollywood that has so many divorces but it's a nationwide problem. My opinion is that people go too fast; they rush, they don't take their time and they get married for the wrong reasons. I know people that married someone solely because they're beautiful — and that is not a reason to get married.

Sarah and I were friends for two years. We built a foundation of trust. She knew my qualities, my faults, my priorities, all the bad stuff I'd done, the good stuff. There was no "let's get to know each other" period. A lot of times people try to blast through that, they try to present their best self and they keep this facade up for so long that one day they're engaged and the person doesn't know any of the bad stuff that you've done. Like cooking, low and slow. That's not my term, it's Emeril Lagasse, I'm just stealing it. When you cook low and slow, the skin is crispy, the meat is tender, everything tastes just right. 

Freddie, I'm thinking maybe you should write a love book next.

FP: I'll write that next. Here's my best advice for the love book: If your hobbies are something that your partner makes fun of, then they're not your partner. I like video games, for instance. If my wife talked trash to me about playing video games or watching pro wrestling, she wouldn't be my wife. And the same way, when she watches show that I don't watch, if I bashed on her for watching those shows, I wouldn't be her husband, she would throw me out on the street.

The Prinze-Gellar familySource: Rodale Books
The Prinze-Gellar family  Rodale Books

Let's talk about your illustrious film work. My favorite FPJ joint is definitely House of Yes, but I'm curious Freddie Prinze Jr., what's your favorite Freddie Prinze Jr. film?

FP: We have the same answer. That was the movie that made me fall in love with acting and it was all because of Parker Posey. I fell in love with her completely. I don't mean like in a dirty way. I wanted to be around her. I was just a boy with no formal training whatsoever so it was emotion that I was willing to deal with. When I look back on it, there's probably one or two choices that I would have made the same as I did then compared with how comfortable I am with my life experiences now. But it's still my favorite movie.

I want to touch on She's All That very quickly as I know you probably get asked about it ad nauseum...

FP: That's okay, I love that movie!

So that cast was pretty stacked from Paul Walker down to Lil' Kim. What's one of your favorite memories from shooting the film?

FP: I don't like talking about Paul too much because it still makes me sad. We both did jiu jitsu and we had different philosophies on how to execute techniques because we had different teachers and we had constantly talked about getting together after filming and rolling together. And we never got it done. It was one of those things where you tell your friend "Oh, next week! We'll do it next week!" I learned a valuable lesson not to say next week, to get it done.

Paul Walker, Dulé Hill and Freddie Prinze Jr. in 'She's All That'Source: Mic/Miramax
Paul Walker, Dulé Hill and Freddie Prinze Jr. in 'She's All That'  Mic/Miramax

When he auditioned for the film, the other actor that auditioned for the role was very good, but Paul and I just connected. I had cast consultation, which basically means approval 'cause they don't want you working with someone you don't like. And so they were asking who I dug and I said, "It's Paul. I really like that guy's vibe." And I knew, because it was Miramax, that they were going to try and hose him on the deal and offer him like scale plus ten. So I ran downstairs down to the parking lot and was like, "Hey dude, dude," — I said dude because I was in my 20s — and I said, "Listen man, this role can be yours. They're going to offer you scale ten. They got 75 grand in the budget. Make sure you hold out. I promise you're getting the role." 

And so we make the movie, it's a great experience, and years later, a really good friend of mine who knows his family very well said he was talking to Paul's mom, and she told me the story that I just told you, and she said "Paul never forgot that, and he always appreciated you for that." And it made me cry — yes I cry — because it made me feel good. But it's saddening at the same time when anyone is taken too soon. I've already gone through it with a frickin' father, so I don't need to go through it with friends. But he was a really special guy — and that's one of my favorite memories.

Paul Walker and Freddie Prinze Jr. in 'She's All That'Source: Miramax
Paul Walker and Freddie Prinze Jr. in 'She's All That'  Miramax

I've never heard you talk about Buffy the Vampire Slayer before. Assuming you've seen the show, do you have a favorite episode?

FP: I've never seen the show. And people freak out when I say that. Years later, my wife had me watch the silent episode and the musical episode (because Hinton Battle is in it and she knew I liked Hinton, who I knew through Dulé [Hill]). Those are the only two episodes I've seen so you can pick one of those as my favorites. 

I'm pretty sure I wasn't the demographic for Buffy. I was a 22-year-old who was into martial arts and video games and surfing. But I was on the set a lot because we were friends and when we started dating I obviously would go and visit a lot. People sometimes say "how dare you" when they find out I've never really seen it, but she married me, not a fan; think about it.

You've appeared with SMG on screen thrice, the first appearance being in 1996's I Know What You Did Last Summer. You shot down the idea of a reboot in 2015 but times change, minds change. Would you reconsider today?

FP: It wouldn't be with me if they did that. If you liked Ray whatever-his-last-name-was in I Know What You Did Last Summer, I'm sorry, but I promise whatever guy they'd get to replace me would be awesome. 

The cast of 'I Know What You Did Last Summer'Source: Mic/Columbia Pictures
The cast of 'I Know What You Did Last Summer'  Mic/Columbia Pictures

In the audition it was either me or Jeremy Sisto — and I was terrified I was going to lose that role to Jeremy because he'd beaten me out on every other role we'd auditioned for. Of course I ended up getting it. But I didn't get Scream. Kevin Williamson really wanted me for Scream but Wes [Craven] didn't — he wanted Skeet [Ulrich]. 

Both films really helped change the landscape of horror films for that decade until the awesome and amazing James Wan turned torture porn into horror and everybody went "Oh my God, I'm uncomfortable, but I can't take my eyes off of Saw, this is awesome." And now he's changed the genre.

Any chance for more film work in your future?

FP: Let me explain it like this: If you grow up without a father, you go one of two ways: You either become the guy that wasn't there for you or you become the opposite. My goal was to become the opposite. And when my daughter was born, I had one foot out the door. The moment my wife and I were in a position where I could take my other foot out, I was gone, and I have never looked back. 

The Prinze-Gellar familySource: Ellen Silverman/Rodale Books
The Prinze-Gellar family  Ellen Silverman/Rodale Books

I do Star Wars: Rebels because it's six hours once a week — and I get to be a Jedi (and all the boys at my daughter's school think I'm a real one). I once flirted with the idea that if they ever made a Vince McMahon biopic I said I would play Vince because I worked for Vince. And then they just announced recently that they are doing it and somebody asked if I was interested and I said, "Nah," because I don't think that passion is there for me anymore. 

I love being at home with my family and that's the main reason why I stopped acting. I'm trying to be a good father — not an absentee one. That's what's most important to me.