Jennifer Garner sits on a plush sofa wearing a dark-green dress and a pair of very spiked designer shoes. The sight prompts a question that all of us who watched her madly dash about for five years as a spy on “Alias” wondered: How could she run like that in high heels?
“You just have to have faith, and you just have to go,” laughs the actress, who is starring in the romantic comedy “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” which opens Friday. “It was more scary to run in high heels than it was to jump off a building.”
Despite the heels, the 5-foot-8 Garner – who gave birth to her second child with husband Ben Affleck in January – looks remarkably fresh-faced in person, like the West Virginia girl she grew up as, taking ballet lessons and playing the saxophone in the high-school marching band.
On this day, which happens to be her 37th birthday, she wears little makeup, no stockings and no earrings. (Her father wouldn’t let her get her ears pierced growing up.) Around her neck is a muted gold necklace, but she seems uncomfortable with the heavy gold ring on her right hand, and fiddles with it during the interview. Her diamond engagement ring and wedding ring stayed firmly in place – in case you’re wondering.
As for birthday plans, the actress is circumspect. (“I’ll celebrate it one way or another.”) Since she first burst on the scene in “Alias” in 2001 – winning Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards as well numerous Emmy nominations – Garner has grown cautious about talking about her private life.
“When I first started out, my natural inclination was just to tell you everything that you could possibly want to know about me, my husband, my kids, my family, my childhood, any dark scene that ever happened to me. I’m an open person that way; so it has taken me years to learn. And I still say more than I want to.”
Garner was already a star and a sex symbol before her marriage to Affleck in June 2005. Now, the couple’s every move is targeted by the paparazzi. (“Hate it, hate it, try not to see it. Try really hard not to see those pictures.”)
Asked if her life has become a bit like her character in “Alias,” she responds.
“I do have a double life. Everybody’s in the public eye has some kind of double life. But I’m comfortable to the point of talking to you because I know what I’m going to tell you what I’m not going to tell you. When you really have that figured out, you don’t feel so panicky.”
Panicky is probably not the word you would associate with Garner, who seems pretty levelheaded. Over the years she has carved out a versatile career despite juggling marriage and motherhood (her older daughter Violet is now 3). Garner and Affleck co-starred in the 2003 “Daredevil.” Since then she has done indie films like “Juno,” romantic comedies (“13 Going on 30” and “Catch and Release”) and headlined on Broadway as Roxanne in “Cyrano de Bergerac” with Kevin Kline.
“That was kind of a dream come true for me. I can’t wait to do it again – except it has to be with Kevin Kline, always,” laughs Garner, who says while growing up everything was about going onstage (“I was a total snob”) and she had no ambitions to be on-screen until as a struggling actress she got a job offer for a television show and a paycheck proved the better part of valor.
In “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” she plays opposite Matthew McConaughey, who plays a celebrity photographer and committed bachelor named Connor with a host of female conquests in his wake. Garner’s character, Jenny – a doctor – is a childhood flame of Connor but has grown immune to the photographer’s charms over the years. Still, she believes the playboy isn’t really the cad that he has become.
As for guys like that in Garner’s own life, the actress says no.
“Never had a problem resisting somebody I knew would break my heart.
“Going after the bad guy has not been a real issue for me. … I’ve seen girlfriends go through very similar things. I’ve known guys like Connor, but I’ve been lucky and smart enough not to tangle with them.”
Part of that sensibility comes from her fairly strict upbringing. A few months ago she and her older sister finally did have their ears pierced.
“And I actually, immediately, let mine grow back in – after all that time. I had waited and waited my whole life, and we had finally said, `Hey, Dad can’t tell us not to. Now that we’re total grown-ups we can pierce our ears.’ And we went, and I didn’t like it,” she says, her voice growing quiet.
As for how she’ll raise her own kids, the actress says, “I don’t know. You take it one day at a time. … I want them to be happy.”
Right now life is “happy chaos.”
Besides having a new baby – Seraphina Rose Elizabeth – Garner and Affleck are moving to a much larger home in Pacific Palisades. “I wasn’t sorry to leave the house this morning. It’s a little messy.”
But she’s quick to dismiss the idea that being an actress and a mom is any harder for her.
“Every working woman in the world has a difficult balancing act. As a matter of fact every mother in the world has a difficult balancing act. … I’m certainly not special because I’m an actress. In fact it’s probably easier for me than it is for most women. … In this case I just had nine months off with my family, and it’s been absolute bliss.”
You’ll next see Garner in “The Invention of Lying,” a comedy from Ricky Gervais, whom she seems to adore.
“I love to do smaller movies because the director is usually given authorship of what they’re doing without the studios messing around too much. And Ricky is someone who wants to have control of what he’s doing and he’s really good at what he does. It’s smartly written. It’s a little movie with a the big idea that you don’t see very often.”
And Garner expects to go to work again this summer in a small film she’s producing called “Butter,” about a woman whose husband is the reigning butter-carving champion in the Midwest.
“It will be a week or so of chaos with everybody readjusting and hating it for a while, but that’ll work for couple months and I’ll be done again.”
The actress says that the commitments to stage or television don’t fit into her life right now, though she doesn’t rule them out eventually.
Motherhood is the priority. As far as juggling her projects with her husband’s schedule, Garner says, “We just figure it out.”
And by the way, while Garner was wearing heels for the interview, “I don’t wear them in my own life because I like to be able to move quickly. I just loathe them. I wore them for too long on the show. … I’m into comfort,” she laughs, “practicality.”