Jennifer Garner may be one of the nicest people in Hollywood.
I first met her on the set of “Daredevil,” where I attempted to carry on a normal conversation with her even as a wardrobe assistant used a rag to buff every inch of her shiny skintight leather costume to a high shine. The fact that she didn’t file a restraining order against me is a testament to just how well I was able to maintain my professional focus, but come on… I’m only human. Even as she gets older, even after having kids, Garner still exudes a simple sweetness in person that is about more than her coltish cheerleader-next-door looks. There’s something decent about her, something almost reserved. She seems just plain too nice to be a Hollywood professional.
Out of all the people I interviewed on the set of “The Invention Of Lying,” she was the one I had the least time with, but even with only 15 or 20 minutes to talk, I still got a full dose of that sunshiney sweetness that made her the perfect person to star opposite Ricky Gervais, delivering hard, awful truths right to his face about his looks, his weight, and the genetic unsuitability of them as a couple.
Drew McWeeny: I have to say… the first time I read this, it seems to me like actor bait. To be able to come in and do something that nobody’s ever done… this world that they’re created is so unique, and I think such a great challenge for an actor. Was it an automatic response for you when you read it?
Jennifer Garner: Yup. Well, I did have a moment to pause with would my parents think it was blasphemy, you know?
Drew: Okay, then…
Jennifer Garner: And then I talked to them about it, and they said, “We have a sense of humor. We’re not humorless, you know? What do you think?” They were just like, “If it is important, do it. Do whatever you want.” But that was it.
Drew: And the cast is amazing. It’s dense with talent.
Jennifer Garner: It’s kind of crazy to be a part of it, yeah.
Drew: Did you guys talk about specifically how you would all get to that tone or what the tone was, or was it Ricky and Matt came in and had a very clear idea?
Jennifer Garner: I mean, really the first scene that we did was… the first line that came out of my mouth was, “Hi, you’re early. I was just masturbating.” And so I didn’t know what that was going to be, but we didn’t really talk about it that much in advance. We just went for it, you know? We just kind of came in and went for it.
Drew: So it was a process of discovery then?
Jennifer Garner: And also when you’re working opposite your director, he such a clear idea of what he wants that you take your cues from him.
Drew: Right. Were you a fan beforehand?
Jennifer Garner: Of course, yeah. And I have been for a long time, because J.J. Abrams was such a ridiculous fan, and so “The Office” was always playing somewhere on the “Alias” set in the first season when it was brand new, and J.J. actually talked Ricky into being in an episode of “Alias”, which was great.
Drew: Which was great. I agree.
Jennifer Garner: Yeah, we tortured him. Yeah. He was in hell. He’d never worked like that in his life. And now, after working on his set, I see how that was so not his cup of tea. So I knew him. I was a fan of his. I had loved working with him before. There was nothing that was going to make this not happen for me as far as I was concerned.
Drew: I can’t really think of a film to compare it to, which is unusual. Like normally you have a touchstone that you can refer to. I really can’t think of anything that this is like. The world itself is so different.
Jennifer Garner: Yeah, it’s the world, because there are elements like “Liar, Liar” or that sort of thing, but that’s different because everyone else… it was unusual here. No one has an edit button. Everyone says what they think, so it’s completely accepted.
Drew: And they were saying it’s even things like slang or metaphor or simile. It’s anything that deals with sort of…
Jennifer Garner: Any sarcasm. Anything where you’re not saying the actual… the thing that I realized in doing this is there’s no subtext.
Drew: That’s what I loved.
Jennifer Garner: You’re never spinning it at all. You’re never… never ever are you… you can feel things as you’re saying it, but you have to be feeling what you’re saying, really.
Drew: So I would imagine that this kind of makes you… as you then go back into daily life, you’re very aware of dropping back into our normal mode of conversation, because this really takes you completely out of it.
Jennifer Garner: Um-hum. Right. Even little things like you can’t really say gosh, because that’s a derivative of God, which you’d never use because he didn’t exist. You know, it’s stuff like that. It really touches your language and the way you use language in a million different ways.
Drew: It’s very layered. It’s not like any comedy I can think of. And has it been… it’s sort of mentioned that it’s a kind of a lot of improvisation in this, too. This is something where’s it’s fairly rigorously…
Jennifer Garner: Yeah, we kind of… look, if a script is this good you’re so grateful. You memorize it and you say every um and every the and every, you know? I was telling them over the weekend I would work on… last night, I couldn’t sleep I was so excited, because you just never have a scene, an 8-page scene that you love to do. I mean…
Drew: It’s a huge scene.
Jennifer Garner: Yeah, you just never have that. And I had worked on it so much over the weekend that I was like, “I get to do it. What’s it going to be?” like a little like, you know, before my first day of school.
Drew: In terms of preparation, they said they don’t do a lot of rehearsal for it, so it was literally just jump in and figure it out on the fly.
Jennifer Garner: Mmm-hmm.
Drew: Now how’s it… because it’s an unusual situation, having two directors.
Jennifer Garner: Mmm-hmm.
Drew: How has it been? Do you find they’re of one mind?
Jennifer Garner: Seamless, yeah. That’s never been an issue. They both have great ideas, and they seem to finish each others sentences, and I’ll take a note from anyone if they give good notes. So the more the merrier.
Drew: It’s always strange that the DGA is so down on the idea of dual directors.
Jennifer Garner: I know.
Drew: You have to fight to be able to do it. Not quite sure how they accomplished this, but…
Jennifer Garner: It’s not a DGA movie.
Drew: Well, that would definitely make it easy. But it seems to me, especially if they wrote it together, that they’d be a very unified front.
Jennifer Garner: Yeah, definitely. There is. I’ve never even thought about it.
Drew: Coming off of… because this is the second sort of stylized, in terms of verbal approach, comedy you’ve done recently. Obviously “Juno” was very particular and it’s Diablo Cody’s voice. By the way, I think you were the soul of that movie.
Jennifer Garner: Thank you. That’s nice of you to say, but thank you.
Drew: What I loved in that is that you took something that could very easily have been the character that you hate in that film, and she ends up… it’s such a nice reversal.
Jennifer Garner: It’s written that way. I mean, you know, it is written that way.
Drew: It’s still hard to play that sympathetically up front at all, because it’s certainly set up a certain way.
Jennifer Garner: I don’t think that because you are a perfectionist that that makes you necessarily automatically unlikable.
Drew: So often in Hollywood….
Jennifer Garner: It’s such a stereotype, yeah. But I have a lot of type A friends that I laugh at but adore.
Drew: And working with Jason [Bateman] again… do you have scenes?
Jennifer Garner: We shared one shot.
Jennifer Garner: We made sure that we were in at least one shot again.
Drew: It cracks me up that in “Juno,” he and Michael [Cera] have no scenes together, which is like… how can you do that? How can you pass that one up?
Jennifer Garner: And he and Jeffrey Tambour in this have no scenes together.
Drew: Of course, yeah.
Jennifer Garner: And he just did “State of Play” with Ben, and he did “Smokin’ Aces” with Ben, so in the past couple years, we’ve done… between the Affleck family and Jason, we’ve done five movies together.
Drew: Oh, that’s awesome.
Jennifer Garner: Yeah. Isn’t that crazy? It’s like we can’t get rid of him.
Drew: I’m thrilled that he’s working as steadily as he is again.
Jennifer Garner: I know, because he’s so good.
Drew: Yeah. And he has really… I think that finally everybody finally gets it and they’ve been using him right.
Jennifer Garner: Yeah. Yeah.
Drew: Well, this whole cast is like that. With Tina and with Jonah and with Louis C.K. How is Louis C.K.? Because he’s not…
Jennifer Garner: I have a little bit of a crush on him.
Jennifer Garner: Mmm-hmm.
Drew: My wife is very proper, very kind of shy and retiring at first. Doesn’t like a lot of live comedy. I take her to see a lot of live stuff. Louis, though, kills her. Destroys her.
Jennifer Garner: Really?
Drew: And it blows my mind because of how blisteringly dirty some of his stuff is.
Jennifer Garner: See, I’ve never seen his actual stuff. I’m sure I would be red-faced and….
Drew: Honest. That’s the thing… it’s so real. If you’re married, you can not help but identify, and sometimes you may not want to.
Jennifer Garner: Right.
Drew: But he doesn’t come from really an acting background. He’s a very traditional standup, but I keep hearing people say he’s really phenomenal.
Jennifer Garner: Oh, he’s great. You know, because that’s what this is. It’s just real. You just say the lines and you are real and he can do that, you know?
Drew: And with guys who are such strong comics, though, this isn’t being played like as a comedy in terms of… it’s not like overtly ha-ha funny. It’s more in the situation and the reality of the characters.
Jennifer Garner: It’s one of those things where you… it’s very hard to make sure you’re not pushing too hard to find the comedy. Kind of like “Juno” in that way.
Drew: Was that a balance that you guys had to strike as you kind of got comfortable with it?
Jennifer Garner: Mmm-hmm. Well, yeah we’re still… I mean, you know you still are finding it all the time. Finding out how far can you go? Where should you push, or not push but where should you go for funny? And really kind of always you just err towards truth, you know?
Drew: Well, sounds like with the production designer or the D.P., or with anyone I’ve talked to today, it sounds like that’s always a concern… making sure they’re not pushing funny over real.
Jennifer Garner: Right. Yeah.
Drew: Have you seen any footage that they’ve edited yet?
Jennifer Garner: No.
Jennifer Garner: Yeah.
Drew: Is that because while you’re working you don’t like to watch, or…?
Jennifer Garner: No, not really.
Drew: I know everybody has different approaches.
Jennifer Garner: I think it’s educational sometimes. I like to watch playback occasionally but no, I just haven’t.
Jennifer Garner: Have you?
Drew: Ah, no. I’m wondering if maybe before I go I might sneak a peek at something. If they show me something, should I let you know? Maybe try to sneak you in?
Jennifer Garner: [laughs] Definitely. I’ll be here. Let me know.
I see that they moved the release date for “The Invention Of Lying” to October 2nd now, and the film will also be screening at the Toronto Film Festival, where I hope to lay eyes on it.