One role just isn't enough for Sarah Michelle Gellar.
On her freshman CW series "Ringer," she co-stars in two of them, both identical twins and both in serious trouble.
But that isn't all for Gellar, who also plays a leading off-camera role as an executive producer.
Even so, the demands on her weigh lighter these days than during "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," where she labored for seven seasons.
"I work shorter hours on this show — everybody does — than I did on 'Buffy,'" she says with satisfaction. Efficiency reigns on "Ringer." Her actors and crew members are fellow pros who help get the job done smoothly. She's having fun.
Meanwhile, she's keeping work in healthy balance with her private life, enjoyed with her husband of 10 years, actor Freddie Prinze Jr., and their 2½-year-old daughter, Charlotte, as they give their roles as parents top priority.
"When Charlotte was born, Freddie was on '24' and I didn't work for two years," says Gellar. "I had asked him, 'When I'm ready to go back to work, will you stay home with her then?' He was like, 'Fine!'" She laughs. "He loves it. I think I've created a monster!"
That's not to say her "Ringer" routine, however moderated, isn't hectic. Interviewed one recent morning at her Manhattan hotel during a whirlwind publicity visit, she presents herself in sweat pants, a "Ringer" hoodie she grabbed from her L.A.makeup trailer "as I was walking out the door," and sandals borrowed from the hotel spa. She explains that, in her haste to leave for New York, she neglected to pack clothes or shoes other than the ensembles chosen for her TV appearances.
On "Ringer" (which airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. EST), Gellar plays Bridget Kelly, an ex-stripper on the run after witnessing a mob hit, as well as playing her troubled New York socialite twin sister, Siobhan Martin, whose own brewing problems compel her to fake her own death. With Siobhan's apparent death, Bridget sees no choice but to claim her ritzy life and handsome husband in an effort to hide in plain sight from mobsters and the law.
Portraying two characters (plus Bridget masquerading as Siobhan) isn't so hard, according to Gellar.
"It's a group effort — hair, makeup, wardrobe," she says. "Besides, as identical twins, Bridget and Siobhan have characteristics that are inherently very similar. So you don't have to worry — they HAVE to be able to be confused for each other."
Her biggest challenge: "keeping in mind who knows what and who doesn't know what."
As an executive producer, Gellar knows everything (far more than her fellow cast members, who, operating on a need-to-know basis, include Kristoffer Polaha, Ioan Gruffudd and Nestor Carbonell). She notes that the seemingly convoluted story line has been charted out for three full seasons. There will be no false moves or narrative blind alleys tripping up the writers as they turn out weekly scripts.
"I realize viewers have gotten really frustrated with shows that set up a lot of questions but never answered them," says Gellar.
On "Ringer," revelations come weekly, with a major reveal scheduled for the March 13 episode: Viewers will find out why Siobhan went on the lam.
"We would never set up a question if we didn't know the answer," Gellar vows. "You have to take my word for it — even my husband doesn't know — but WE do know where it's going."
Although the job is grueling, Gellar's added responsibilities as producer reduce rather than increase the burden, she says.
"I don't have to waste time worrying about what they're doing with my character and my story line. I get to make the show I want to make," she explains. "And since I'm on-set most of the time, if there's a decision that has to be made while we're shooting, I can make it, as opposed to calling upstairs. So I can help keep things moving along."
At age 34, Gellar is a show-business veteran. Discovered at age 4 in a Manhattan restaurant, she made dozens of commercials as a youngster. She spent a couple of memorable years on the daytime drama "All My Children" playing Susan Lucci's 15-year-old daughter, whose multiple marriages, seductions, attempted suicide and coma all helped Gellar score a 1995 daytime Emmy award.
Then, in 1997, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" premiered with a bang.
With that high-profile performance by an overnight star in her late teens, Gellar could have fallen prey to prying reporters and, perhaps, tabloid-savoring misbehavior. But Gellar, with nothing to hide, chose to keep her tidy private life private, and, she says, her huge fan base understood, respecting the boundaries she set.
"But that can get tricky in the age of reality shows and Twitter," she acknowledges. "I think what happens is, you give an inch, and then you kind of owe people a mile. For instance, you can't do a reality show and then claim the right to privacy — it doesn't work that way."
So don't look for a show like "Gellar Family Values" or "Freddie Loves Sarah Michelle" on future TV schedules.
Gellar chortles at the idea. "It would have to be on the Fish Channel — you know, that channel where they show fish swimming in an aquarium. Or the Yule Log Channel."
She simulates a scrap of sample dialogue:
"Are you picking Charlotte up from school today?"
"No, you're picking her up."
"Can you go by the Whole Foods?"
Gellar, clearly pleased to be sticking with "Ringer," laughs again at going the reality route. "That would be THE most boring reality show!"
EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier