A movie star’s image is ever-evolving, with adjustments often thrust upon it according to the celebrity’s parallel life off-screen. Actress Jennifer Garner is no exception and accordingly, she has learned to roll with the punches of a well-examined life.
With almost alarming regularity, we see Garner photographed with her three children in tow – in “private” moments at the playground or with a cart of vegetables at the local farmers market. But long before tabloids coined her “Hollywood’s reigning supermum,” for carrying out such perfunctory maternal tasks as pushing her children on a swing without the assistance of a nanny, she was synonymous with sexy femme fatale Sydney Bristow, super spy from the TV series Alias.
From 2001 to 2006, audiences were in awe of Garner’s character’s take-no-prisoners attitude. She was a human lethal weapon of sorts, a CIA agent with the prowess to rival the likes of Lara Croft or Jason Bourne without breaking a sweat.
She needs no alias
“Yes, my job used to be to kick people’s butts,” Garner laughs. These days, along with her Hollywood actor-writer-director husband Ben Affleck, she’s knee-deep in tending to the beloved behinds of their three children: Violet, 7; Seraphina, 3; and Samuel, born in February.
Although her days of high-kicking in skin-tight leather and spandex are a distant memory – for now – it’s quite likely her inner action heroine may emerge again. “I could still do that,” she asserts triumphantly. As if on cue, stirrings from the adjoining room signal that her youngest child has woken up. She smiles. “But it won’t be for a while. It’s like the way you feel a sneeze for a long time before it happens … I think there’s another action movie in my future.”
Raised in Texas, Garner is the middle child in a family of three daughters. Until her latest arrival, she was the mother of two girls. “It’s absolutely shocking that we have another baby at all, much less that he’s a boy,” she says of adding Samuel to the mix. “Ben says I’m crazier about him than I’ve ever been about a baby, but I don’t think that’s true. I think I always have baby love. You’re just nuts about your baby, and genetically, evolution meant for us to be crazy about them. They’re so loud that otherwise you’d leave them on the street.”
Despite her chosen profession in the glare of the spotlight, Garner doesn’t seem ego-driven, and her family is clearly her priority. Her refusal to dress for the paparazzi usually results in a make-up-free face, the casual attire of loose jeans and T-shirts, and hair pulled up in a ponytail.
A jeans and t-shirt mum
“I think to myself, For the love of Pete, let me dress in a practical, mumlike way without photographing me,” she says of striving to attain a level of normalcy. “It’s brutal – to you and to me. No one needs to see me. I look like I picked up the closest thing to put on. And often that’s exactly what I did.”
In spite of the intrusive attention forced on her family, remarkably, her children always appear happy in each unwanted photograph. “I’m very ambitious for my children’s happiness,” Garner says. “They take all that mayhem in stride and have a pretty sophisticated understanding of why it’s happening. They’re able to ignore the paparazzi much more successfully than Ben and I do.”
Whether as individuals or as a couple, Garner and Affleck bring their normal to Hollywood. Like her husband, she’s a natural charmer. Unlike her husband, Garner usually peppers her conversations with “gosh,” or, as you read above, “for the love of Pete.” In spite of her folksy manner, there’s an authentic earnestness about her that doesn’t come across as phoney.
“The joys of parenting go on and on,” she says of being a mother. “In particular, when you see a moment of bravery in your child, or when you see them make a connection with another person, or when you hear them from another room solve a problem together when they were about to get in a fight but they figure it out. It’s humbling to be a parent. There are humiliations that go along with it. You screw up when you’re trying your hardest.”
A day in the life
She feeds the baby around 4am. (Back in the day, she would rise at 4am to endure hours of laborious physical training. She didn’t know then it would put her in good stead for motherhood.)
“Then comes the raging battle I have with myself,” Garner sighs. In continuing to demystify any misperceived glamorous lifestyle that comes with being a movie star, she regales me with an endless litany of motherly duties. “I struggle with, Do I stay awake and have a moment to myself, make coffee, talk to my mum on the phone, and get a jump on the day, or go back to bed? I’m so tired from having a newborn that I need three alarms set on my phone. On the last alarm, I wake my daughters for school and start making pancakes. I pack their bags, do their hair, then nurse the baby. After that, I try to do a quick workout. Then Ben says, ‘Hey, I haven’t had breakfast yet.’ So, I make him breakfast, feed the baby again, shower, and then I got ready to come here.”
But she’s quick to point out: “I have it easier than most women, and Ben is an incredible dad.”
Although in her day job she must often exude beauty and sophistication at premieres and red-carpet events, she confesses, “I have no idea how to put an outfit together; I just don’t have that gift.” Aware of her so-called weakness, she employs the help of stylist-to-the-stars Rachel Zoe when the occasion calls for it.
“I don��t think anyone would ever call me a trendsetter,” Garner laughs. “Nope. I don’t think anyone would make that mistake. I just don’t really have a great relationship with clothes. We fight. That’s not to say I don’t like dressing up, but I’m grateful to have help in that department.”
Garner’s romance with Affleck began in 2004, after they starred together in the film Daredevil, although they first met on the set of Pearl Harbor in 2001. She has led her romantic life as a serial monogamist. Garner was previously married to actor Scott Foley from 2000 to 2004, with whom she costarred in the TV series Felicity. She also dated Alias costar Michael Vartan following her separation from Foley. As for Affleck, he was reeling from the negative fallout from his relationship with one of the world’s most famous women, Jennifer Lopez.
“Clearly, I think I am not the person that should have this job,” Garner muses. “Although I like nice things, of course … I’m not someone you’ll see trying to pull off something super fashion-y and out of the ordinary because that’s just not me. I even find shopping to be overwhelming.”
Another trait that seems to set Garner apart from other, more diva-esque celebrities is her truthfulness. “It’s much easier to be honest the older I get,” she says. “When I first learned to really have a voice and say what I felt I needed to say, I wasn’t always graceful about it. I think it’s something I’m getting better at.”
For example, Garner doesn’t pretend to keep in shape merely by “running after the kids,” like many of her peers claim. “Oh no,” she says. “I have a fabulous trainer, but some days I can literally just go 20 minutes. I don’t go crazy, but I’m fighting the battle. It’s easier for me than for a lot of women because my trainer shows up at my house, and I have somebody watching my children when I do it.”
Speaking of children, Garner next stars opposite Joel Edgerton in the whimsical and heartfelt family movie The Odd Life of Timothy Green, the story of a couple unable to conceive a child. After seeking a baby through the regular channels of adoption, a 10-year-old child mysteriously appears in their life – albeit under unorthodox circumstances.
In her real life, Garner never struggled with conception. “I’m a baby machine,” she says. “I’m really lucky that that’s never been an issue for Ben and me. Otherwise I would have adopted, or, if I had been a single woman, I would have done so, too, and I applaud the women that do. But you never know that six years from now, Ben and I won’t look at each other and say, ‘yeah.’ But right now, our house is pretty full of our own crazy maniacs.”
Seeing how together she is, you might assume that Garner’s homemaking talents rival those of domestic diva Martha Stewart. “Oh, our house is messy,” she asserts of the family’s home in the toney suburb of Brentwood, California. “When I had my own house, it had a lot of colour, a lot of stripes, and some flowers. Then, when Ben and I moved in to together, that’s always such a test for a relationship. We had to find something we could both agree on. So the result is not as modern as his taste, but it’s not as traditional as mine.”
Garner likes to spend a lot of time outside. “I love gardening and growing vegetables,” she says. “There’s something wonderful about being responsible for your dinner. It’s the best feeling in the world. My mum did it with us, and my kids and I always plant a big garden, too. We have corn, tomatoes, green beans, asparagus, and melons.”
On camera and off
Recently, Garner has followed in her husband’s footsteps and has tried her hand behind the camera, as producer and star of the upcoming independent film Butter. “It was a labour of love,” she says.
Like Affleck, she’s also politically and socially aware. “I put my energy into childhood education with [relief organisation] Save the Children,” she says. “I work with them extensively; the work is in rural America for children growing up in poverty. We do at-home visitation programs from birth all the way through elementary school with literacy and health,” she says. She’s practical about her philanthropic efforts with the time she has to spare. “You can have all kinds of concern, but it’s where you put your time and energy. And for that, that’s what I do.”
She has described her own childhood as happy and “normal.” Her mother was a teacher and her father a chemical engineer. But Garner claims she always felt a little off-kilter. “I was incredibly odd as a kid,” she says. “I was not part of a pack, and I lived in my head a lot.”
For example, she claims she was in love with her librarian, with whom she still keeps in touch. “She brought a box to school, and I painted it, and my teachers would let me go and sit in the box and write stories – that’s not normal,” she says, shaking her head. “They called the box, ‘Jennifer’s Office.’ If you can extrapolate from that, you can imagine that I was not exactly a cheerleader.”
Of hitting the 40 milestone, an age many actresses fear, Garner says, “It was actually painless, or maybe I just haven’t felt it yet. Maybe I’ll panic at 41. Seriously, turning 40 wasn’t a bump in the road for me.” She gets up to tend to Samuel, signalling the end of our interview. Pausing for a moment, she says, “I have nothing to panic about. What more could I really ask for in my life than what I have?”