Showing a noticeable baby bump, Jennifer Garner is at the Telluride Film Festival for the world premiere of her Middle America satire, ‘Butter,’ in which she plays a Michele Bachmann clone. The actress opens up about her pregnancy, her new movie, her conservative West Virginia upbringing, and how she balances acting and raising two daughters with husband Ben Affleck.
In the five years since J. J. Abrams’s spy show Alias ended its run, quite a bit has happened in the life of its former star, Jennifer Garner. While the actress did rack up four consecutive Golden Globe nominations as ass-kicking CIA agent Sydney Bristow, she’s since had two girls with husband Ben Affleck (whom she married in 2005), starred in films ranging from action-thriller The Kingdom to indie dramedy Juno, made her Broadway debut opposite Kevin Kline in Cyrano de Bergerac, and is currently expecting her third child.
Showing a noticeable baby bump, the youthful-looking Garner is at the Telluride Film Festival for the world premiere of Butter, which she also produced. Garner plays Laura Pickler, a conservative Iowan with a screw loose whose husband (Modern Family’s Ty Burrell) is the “Elvis of butter sculpting.” When he’s forced into retirement, Laura wants to continue the family legacy, but a 10-year-old black girl—and butter-sculpting prodigy—stands in her way for the county title. In this screwball satire of Middle America, Garner’s character—who lashes out against “the liberal media” and claims that God speaks to her—seems to bear a major resemblance to current presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, despite the fact that the film was shot more than 18 months ago.
“Sometimes the times catch up to satire, and it’s hard to even be satirical in a culture or society that gets more extreme in real life every week,” says the film’s Oscar-nominated producer, Michael De Luca (The Social Network).
In an exclusive interview, Jennifer Garner opened up to The Daily Beast about her pregnancy, her conservative upbringing, whether she wants to star in a Ben Affleck film, balancing motherhood and acting, and early signs of chemistry with her future hubby while promoting Daredevil.!
This film festival is so unique because the actors bring their families.
It’s been a really great vacation. We’ve really missed Ben because he’s full-on shooting Argo right now, but it’s been great.
Do you and your two daughters visit him on set?
We go and visit all the time, but [the girls] are noisy. We go for a quick visit, craft services, hug, and we’re outta there!
So let’s talk Butter. You grew up in West Virginia, so were you privy to any Midwestern quirkiness?
What I was privy to was that people were such characters that if you saw them in a movie, they could seem outrageous, but that’s who they really were. I think in small towns your character really has a chance to bloom, for better or for worse.
And you had a very conservative upbringing in West Virginia.
My dad is very conservative, but my mom is quietly blue, and my sisters and I all buck my father’s trend, so we have some very lively discussions when we try to go that direction at dinner. Most of the time we’re very polite, though. We were very conservative in that we didn’t have our ears pierced; none of us ever had layers in our hair or a perm or color. We were the Garner Girls, and we were very “appropriate” at all times.
Did you rebel?
I rebelled by not getting straight A’s and not following the path that my elder sister did. She was valedictorian and is very exemplary in her way. I look a lot like her, so I just had to do the opposite. Not that I got bad grades, but I was all about performance and just finding any way that I could to be involved in any kind of production. That was a lot for my parents to swallow, but even when I told my parents I was changing my major to theater, my dad was working so hard to send me to college and he didn’t bat an eye.
Do you still have that Midwestern gal in you, and how does it manifest itself?
I have a bit of a “golly gee” thing to me, for sure. I was just born happy, so I have my moments. I’m not drinking right now for my accent to come out, but it doesn’t take much!
I’m not sure if you’ve seen our Newsweek cover of Michele Bachmann…
The one with the eyes?
Yes! Many are comparing your character in Butter to Bachmann.
Clearly that’s serendipitous for us, because we made this movie almost a year and a half ago. We weren’t pointing to any one person, but it’s definitely [serendipitous].
You’ve gone through phases, from the ass-kicker on Alias and in Daredevil to good-natured rom-com lead, and now to a bit of a nutcase in Arthur and Butter.
I feel lucky, though, because even when Alias was popular, I was still sent scripts against type. I’ve never felt like the world only sees me one way. But yes, it’s been really fun to be bad. There’s plenty of dark in [me]!
Your character in Butter is in many ways a foil to the caring mother-to-be you played in Juno, which also made its world premiere at Telluride.
For sure. She’s the anti-mother. She has zero maternal instincts and happens to be the worst stepmother in the world to the beautiful Ashley Greene.
You’re producing and starring in films, your husband is a famous actor-director, and you’re a soon-to-be mother of three. How do you manage?
I don’t work that much. We shot Butter really quickly and there have been a lot of meetings since then, but I have a few part-time jobs and a very full-time home life and a very busy husband.
How’s the pregnancy going?
So far so good! I feel good and I’m still pretty early, but I’m at the point where it’s clicking along without thinking every day, “Oh, my gosh, I’m only this far!”
Back in the day, I saw a very fun episode of Jon Favreau’s IFC show Dinner for Five … [Skip to 6:30 mark]
God, I was hoping you weren’t going to say that! [Covers face with hands]
Is this like … a thing?
No, go ahead. Go ahead.
It was right after Daredevil came out, and there was you, Ben, Colin Farrell, Favreau, and Kevin Smith having a discussion. And this was, of course, before you and Ben had officially gotten together. And Kevin Smith was just ripping into Ben the entire time, and you kept coming to his defense. At the time, I just thought it was really cute that you guys had such great chemistry, but then you two ended up together.
[Laughs] There was really no significance to that. We were not together. We had not been together. But Kevin is so harsh and relentless, and anyone who’s worked with Ben has seen that he’s so kind and generous to anyone that he works with—and certainly had been nothing but a gentleman to me, for the record. I couldn’t bear it—the injustice of it all! And Kevin and I still, if I see him, he spends the whole time tearing him down and I’m like, “Well, wait a minute! I think he’s great!”
Your husband’s become this A-list director now, following The Town. How’s it been witnessing his creative evolution?
It’s nice to hear you say it! It’s not like you sit around and read each other’s box office; it’s just life. He seems confident and happy, and I think he’s doing really good work right now, and I’ve always had every confidence that he would be great at what he did, so the fact that it’s turning out to be true makes sense to me.
Do you want to star in a Ben Affleck film, or are you worried about a potential Shanghai Surprise situation?
I think he’s such a great director, and whenever I read his writing I’m just so happy for whoever gets to say his lines, but no. Unless it’s something that’s specifically a project we were doing together, but that wouldn’t happen for a long time because he’s not someone who shoots for 10-hour days and then lets you go home and be with the kids, and I think that would cause a conflict! [Laughs] And his movies should be a vehicle for him, because they take years of his life. He and I can’t work together. We can’t because people don’t want to see it, and I would feel ludicrous being in a scene with him at this point.
How do you feel when you look back on your career and the way it’s taken shape?
The most exciting moment that happened for me at this festival was there was this big photo call with all the directors and actors, and this woman came up to me and said, “Jennifer, do you remember me?” And it was Agnieszka Holland, and she had given me my first movie job when I was 23 [in Washington Square], and I knew immediately who she was. But just seeing her and looking back and thinking, “Wow, I’ve had this incredible luck and I’ve gotten to work all this time.” It really gave me a moment’s pause.
All that your character in the film has is butter, but you’re a star actress, you’re a soon-to-be mother of three, and your husband is a star director. What’s left for you to accomplish?
I’m only 39! [Laughs] For me, I look forward to having my kids grow up happy and healthy—and being very much a part of that with them; I look forward to looking back on 10 years of service with Save the Children; and I’m looking forward to trying to figure out how I can still do what I love with three kids, ’cause I think I can. I don’t see why I couldn’t! I’ve [breast] pumped on every sound stage and airplane and senator’s office, and I can do it again!