There’s some symmetry to the fact that Jennifer Garner took a two-year break from movies after the homespun comedy Butter.
“Yes, Butter was a movie with a very serious message,” Garner says with a laugh about the butter-sculpture tale, while promoting her work in the awards-season head-turner Dallas Buyer’s Club – a movie that marks her return from being a full-time stay-at-home mom.
“I was not in any hurry to get back to work,” she says of her state of mind before accepting a role alongside Matthew McConaughey in the story of abrasive ’80s AIDS activist Ron Woodroof.
“When this came along, I didn’t even want to read it, because I had a feeling that it was one I couldn’t say no to.”
But she was won over by Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee’s project – about a homophobic, carousing rodeo-rat who turns his worst nightmare, an AIDS diagnosis, into a global scheme to smuggle experimental drugs.
The decision was partly personal. ” I just lost a friend to AIDS not long ago, a really dear friend. I just think it’s so important that it’s brought back into the conversation. There’s a lack of education and a sense that it’s okay because there’s a cocktail (treatment).
“But the cocktail is not fun, and you will die before you’re ready to. It’s not the death sentence it used to be, but it’s not the flu.
“This movie woke something up in me. And my husband (director/actor Ben Affleck) has always said to me, ‘You’ve got to work, go to work, go to work.’ And I’ve said, ‘I should be home, this is confusing, how do I do this?'”
Affleck freed her up, staying home with their three children in a hiatus between finishing Argo and taking it on an Oscar-bound promotional tour.
“We figured it out with the schedules and schools. He was home while I was doing this movie, and after I was done he had to travel and was busy getting his movie up and out and travelling for award stuff.”
The schedule juggling was a wakeup call for the idle actress. “Doing this movie kind of reminded me that, ooh, I love my job!” she says. “I was really glad to go to work. I can see in my performance, I had a few days where I was creaky. It was hard for me to fully engage, my head was at home. But it all came back.”
Garner plays a composite character named Eve Saks, an AIDS researcher who becomes frustrated over the medical establishment’s embrace of the toxic AZT and heel-dragging over alternative treatments. She joins Woodroof’s cause after her trans-gendered best friend Rayon (Jared Leto) effectively becomes his business partner.
“When I first started, they told me it was a true story. And I researched and Googled and I thought, ‘Where was Eve Saks?’ But of course, she was fictional.
“There wasn’t a message. I just wanted to convey the arc of my character. She was part of the establishment and came from a black and white world. And her outlook changed.”
Dallas Buyers Club marks Garner’s return to the role of part-time mom. Since then, she’s filmed the upcoming Draft Day with Kevin Costner, Imagine with Al Pacino, and the family film Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day with Steve Carell.
Not surprisingly, they are lighter than Dallas Buyers Club.
“I don’t judge pop culture. It all has value,” she says. “The job in general is to reflect society back to itself.”