There was a time when, between “Alias” on the small screen and myriad projects on the big screen, Jennifer Garner seemed to be everywhere. Now, married (to Ben Affleck) and a mother of two, she’s a bit less ubiquitous, but no less charming. In “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” (opening August 15), she and Joel Edgerton star as Cindy and Jim Green, a married couple who very much can’t wait to start a family but can only dream about what their child would be like. When young Timothy (CJ Adams) shows up on their doorstep one dark and stormy night, however, the Greens and the rest of their small town learn that some of life’s greatest gifts can come from the most unexpected places. Garner recently sat down with press at a Beverly Hills hotel to discuss her role, what she looks for in projects now that she works a bit less frequently, and to talk about on-set rap battle free-styles that she did not take part in.
Question: So how much of Jennifer Garner do we find in Cindy, and her overprotective, fussbudget-y, “Do not put too much pressure on the child” philosophy?
Jennifer Garner: Well, first-time-mom-Jennifer, you’d probably see quite a bit of (overlap). I’m not nearly that way now, and neither would Cindy be. I feel like, though, with this character juxtaposed against Laura Pickler in “Butter,” which is coming out this fall, you get a kind of a real sense of my sensibilities, mixed in there – kind of naughty, kind of nice, and, uh, blended together. Yup… that sums it up right there.
Question: Was being the mom in this, and what they go through and all the expectations beforehand of being a parent, were those things that you related to?
Jennifer Garner: Of course. I mean, I was so lucky. I did not have any fertility issues, obviously. But I could definitely relate to the longing, and relate to how much once you’re ready for a baby you are really ready right then, and you have this enormous fear that it isn’t gonna work. For me it did, about eight days later. (laughs) But I could relate to – or at least understand — how shocking and crushing that would be.
Question: And there are a lot of high highs and low lows in the movie. It’s so emotional. Did you find that exhausting, delivering (those ups and downs)?
Jennifer Garner: Yes. I mean, whenever with a movie (where) you feel like, “Oh, this is a sweet comedy kind of thing,” you end up crying more than if it was the biggest tragedy in the world. (laughs) I mean, you could play Lady MacBeth and not have to be as emotional as in a sweet little comedy. And this was definitely an example of that. You know, we did some digging for this, for sure, and had a lot of conversations about balancing it. Because you stop feeling if you just see people blubbering on screen the whole time, (so we wanted to make) sure that it was full emotionally (but) didn’t go too far, which usually means performance-wise, you get there, you go too far, and then in the editing process you figure out where it is that you want to hit those notes. And in my opinion, Peter (Hedges, the writer-director) did a pretty great job of balancing all that out. But I also had Joel, (who is) just bliss on a stick. I just adore him.
Question: And then you get to go home to Ben.
Jennifer Garner: Well, I mean, you know, life is unfair.
Question: Would you like to do movies with your own kids sometime?
Jennifer Garner: No, no, never, I would never want to do that. I mean, because it’s a really, really hard day, and it’s a long day. And, I don’t know — it’s impossible, for me to say without sounding judgmental so I just can’t. Because I don’t feel that way. I feel like this was a beautiful experience for CJ, and I think he loved it, learned a lot from it and was and is very suited to it, but it’s not always that way.
Question: Can you talk about your relationship with CJ and what it was like working with him on set?
Jennifer Garner: Oh, the (same) kind of magic that Timothy Green has, CJ has. He seems like he’s from another planet. And he seems to kind of have been plopped down here with his eyes wide open and his heart wide open. I can’t imagine another little boy playing that role. We all fell so totally in love with CJ, and with Odeya Rush, too. She’s just mature and measured and together, and has lived ten lifetimes compared to my little life. But Joel and I worked like parents with him. I mean, his parents were around all the time, and they’re amazing, and that says so much about CJ. But working on a film is hard. I mean, it’s not hard compared to ditch-digging. But it’s hard for a little kid, because as a grown-up you expect when you are wearing ten coats and a wool sweater and a scarf and a hat it’s gonna be 90 degrees outside. You know that. And you know you’re gonna be uncomfortable a lot of the time, but as an adult, you think, “Oh, okay, this is just the job, whatever. It doesn’t matter. This is the best job in the world!” As a kid, being caked in mud for, you know, eight hours at a time, under hot lights, and having to be sprayed down to keep the mud looking moist, that’s a bummer. That gets old. Having food on you all day while you shoot, that’s a drag. And being hot or being cold, those things matter to kids a lot. And he was a super trooper about it, but, you know, we worked with him a lot, and, and worked on making sure that he was as comfortable as he could possibly be. And I would say that Joel entertained him, and I made sure he had snacks and bathroom breaks.
Question: There are a lot of things about “The Odd Life” that are non-traditional. It’s a modern story in that the town isn’t recession-proof, that the family deals with infertility issues, that the child is non-traditional, he’s not from the mommy’s tummy.
Jennifer Garner: Well, whenever Peter makes a movie or writes a book, he has a lot of things to say. And the way that he weaves them into story, I think — he’s such a smart guy and such a passionate man, you can really see that in just his writing. And writing is the thing that I’m drawn to first and foremost — I mean, obviously, we all fall for a good script. But his writing has some extra juice to it. He really cared about making the point that we don’t make things in America anymore, that we outsource everything, and that you don’t have the joy of holding something up and saying, “I am responsible for this. I made this.” He really cared about what women are going through — having children later, and fertility issues, and how that reflects on you as a woman. And it mattered to him that this family was hit by the recession, that they were grappling with all of these things at the same time, because that’s what life is – life is messy, things don’t just fall in order the way you want them to. So those definitely were things that we talked about a lot. …And as far as the kind of magical realism in it, whenever you do a movie that has a little sprinkling of fairy dust, you are so conscious about the rules, you know? How and what does this mean? If you have leaves growing out of your leg, does that mean X or does that mean Y? Are you seen by a botanist, are you seen by a pediatrician? Those things just are a constant conversation on a film like this.
Question: What’s your most favorite moment being a mom and what is your least favorite moment being a mom?
Jennifer Garner: My most favorite moments were the moments that felt really true to me, like Cindy over-packing Timothy’s backpack. So you see her as if she’s a new mom with her first diaper bag, where you have, like, 16 diapers and five changes of clothes, one for each season, even though it’s summer, and a blanket and a diaper changing pad and two different kinds of wipes, and a different ointment for every possible rash. That was one of my favorite moments. But also my favorite thing, you know, when I see the movie, that I actually allow myself (to be) proud of is that I feel like the marriage is real. I feel like that is a marriage that I recognize, you know, among my friends. And there are elements of it that I think I haven’t seen on screen before. I’m happy to be part of that on-screen relationship.
Question: With Joel not being a parent, did you give him any guidelines in his performance, or any helpful hints with anything he had to do?
Jennifer Garner: No. You don’t have to help Joel. And besides that, Joel was so gifted with CJ right from the beginning that they had their own relationship before CJ and I did. I mean, CJ and I became incredibly close, but right away he was enamored with Joel – Joel with a soccer bowl, with magic tricks… you know, he’s a guy.
Question: You mentioned yourself when you came in it’s been a while since we’ve seen you here. And now it seems like you’re back to working three jobs at the same time almost. What kind of was the impetus of that? Is it just that the kids are old enough and that you can spend some more time doing movies and stuff?
Jennifer Garner: Well, I did this movie before I got pregnant with my baby two months after I finished this movie, so that was in the air. (laughs) And we thought this was a good time. Ben, you know, took a break from his work to come to Atlanta and be “Mr. Mom,” so that I could do this. And, you know, it’s just – it’s a lot to juggle. He’s doing more and more, and we have these kids. What are you gonna do with them? You have them. So I feel lucky to work whenever I get to work. I really, really value it, now in a different way than I ever have. I really feel like I am getting something back from it. It feeds a part of me that I didn’t realize needed to take care of before, and now I really don’t take a job unless there’s something in it that I need to do. And that is just not that often.
Question: What was your most memorable moment from the entire filming process?
Jennifer Garner: I have a lot of memorable moments on this movie, it turns out. It was super hot in Atlanta (where we filmed), and we had to add a couple of Saturdays. And the crew was tired. So we decided on a Saturday we were shooting this super hard scene to have a party during lunch. And I just found a local band to come and play, so when the whole cast and crew came out for lunch, there was just a band playing. We just sat and listened to music. But we had Common on the movie, and we had Lin-Manuel Miranda on the movie, and they’re obviously both rappers, and I didn’t think of that. They both happened to be working that day. So they did kind of a – what’s it called when they’re competing with each other… a battle? They did, like, a battle, but about the movie, freestyle. And little, you know, CJ was dancing, all the kids were dancing their asses off, and all the crew was dancing. I love making movies so much – the familial aspect of it. I realized that I love feeling like a part of this community, and helping to foster that sense of community is something I really love.