Jennifer Garner is ensconced on a plush sofa in a fancy hotel suite. Although some actresses have displayed a lot of flesh during the Toronto International Film Festival, she is primly attired in a pastel sleeveless sheath. Her long dark hair is perfectly coiffed. Garner looks dressed more for a garden show than one of the world’s largest film festivals.
Although she and Ben Affleck wed almost five years ago and his made-for-the-National Enquirer romance with Jennifer Lopez seems in the distant past, it is still hard not to think of Affleck’s second Jennifer as the antithesis of his first. Cool, not hot.
Asked for the secret of their apparently successful marriage, Garner, 37, replies, “Partially that we don’t talk about it.”
“You mean you don’t talk to each other about your relationship?”
“No,” she says sitting even more primly. “It’s that we don’t talk to you.” It becomes clear that this interviewer is representative to her of “the press.”
“But the other — oh yeah, we talk to each other endlessly.”
Early on in their marriage, they decided they would be together even if it meant sacrificing jobs. So Affleck and their first-born, Violet, left their home in Los Angeles to accompany Garner to New York when she appeared on the Broadway stage opposite Kevin Kline in Cyrano de Bergerac. She calls the experience “the thrill of my life.”
Now Garner along with their two kids — the baby, Seraphina Rose, was born in January — are in Boston while Affleck directs and stars in The Town, a blue-collar heist that has been filming all over the area, including at Harvard Square and Fenway Park.
Garner’s going away for a few days to Toronto, where her new film, The Invention of Lying, premiered at the festival, struck the rest of the Affleck clan as unusual. “The family acted like I was going to the moon,” Garner says. “Even though Ben is there with the children and they will be fine, Violet was wondering, ‘Where is Mom going?’ We travel together all the time.”
The Invention of Lying is a comedy about a mythical place where nobody lies. Ricky Gervais, whom Garner knows from when he did a guest spot on her popular TV series Alias, wrote the film and directs and stars in it. She appears as Gervais’ friend — he would like it to be girlfriend — who is brutally honest about the disparity between her looks and those of her chubby pal’s.
“My character has absolute focus. She is looking for a physical match, and he is not it,” Garner says. Gervais, creator of the original BBC TV series The Office, would encourage her to improvise mean things to say. “He would tell me really go for it, really lay into me. Come up with anything you can. I would be so cruel,” she recalls, laughing.
“It was a really interesting acting challenge. You had to be completely straight. There is no irony. There is no subtext. You are saying exactly what you think and exactly how you feel it all the time.”
Unlike her character, Garner has a history of lying.
“When I was a kid, I lied all the time. I was the middle child, and I think it was a way to get attention. I told really ridiculous lies. Like when I was 9 years old and at summer camp I said that I had a camel in the basement of my home in West Virginia. I told everyone we had turned our basement into a Sahara.”
These days her lies are definitely of the little white variety. For instance, walking down a hallway to get to her room, she heard someone call out, “Jen, I can’t believe I’m seeing you.”
“I said, ‘Great to see you,’ although I had no idea who it was. But what are you going to do? Lying is the salve of society. It greases the wheels.”
Garner is absolutely straightforward about the reasons she wouldn’t want to be directed by her husband.
“I don’t want to because he is not the world’s fastest director, and I like to get in and do my work and go home and put the kids to bed. I’m afraid there would be this moment where I would say, ‘OK. You’ve got it. I promise you it is in the can. I’ve got to go home.’ But you know, life is long and I never say never. I think Ben is brilliant at what he does. I am so happy for him and proud of him.”
And maybe just a dab envious of her husband’s ability to dash off a screenplay. Garner talks about acting as “such a selfish career.” It’s true she is entertaining people, but it is hard to see the value of that when “people are out there doing research or actually doing something meaningful like teaching school.” To her the only serious part of the movie-making process comes in the writing.
“I think that is something worthwhile. But no, I’m not writing a script. I have no plans on being any less shallow in my work,” she added with a laugh.
Nor does she have any immediate plans to do another television series. “But I never say never to TV because it has been really good for me. I am not a snob about work. The great thing about TV is you can stay in one place. Eventually my kids aren’t going to want to be living all over the place. Television would allow us to settle down.”