Her new movie centers on football, but Jennifer Garner prefers baseball.
“I’m so addicted,” the actress said. “I dream about what happens for the Red Sox.”
She didn’t grow up following baseball, but since marrying Ben Affleck — a famously devoted Red Sox fan — Garner has become every bit as big a fan.
“Give me a baseball game,” she said. “To me, sports are like the ultimate soap opera.”
Draft Day, opening nationwide on Friday, casts Garner as Ali, a lawyer who is among the key people in the Cleveland Browns administration.
She is a “capologist,” a specialist in the arcane rules that govern the National Football League’s salary cap.
In theory, the rules ensure that all teams spend the same amount on players, enabling less-affluent teams to remain competitive with the richest franchises.
In reality, the rules have endless details and loopholes, and a team with skilled capologists has advantages.
Ali also is the secret girlfriend of Sonny Weaver (Kevin Costner), the Browns’ embattled general manager, whose future with the team might depend on his success in landing the league’s No.?1 draft pick. Amid the chaos of draft day, she has to inform Sonny that she’s pregnant.
“This movie has football as a backdrop,” Garner said, “but by no means does that make it inaccessible to someone who doesn’t watch football. But, if you do watch football, I can say that you’ll be really, really happy. If you’re not a football person, it’s about a relationship and a story.”
She took the part, Garner said, not only because the sports setting intrigued her but also because she relished the chance to play the character.
“I love this character and wish I was as smart as Ali, even for a day. She’s a woman in a man’s world and does her job seamlessly, too.”
To prepare for the role, Garner spent time with Megan Rogers, a real-life capologist who is director of legal affairs for the Browns.
“I stole everything from her, including how she dressed and carried herself,” Garner said with a laugh. “I also learned that she’s very womanly, but, if necessary, she can bring the hammer down with the same force as a man.”
Garner, 41, would like to see more women involved in the off-the-field aspects of the NFL.
“Let’s face it,” she said, “it’s a fast-paced atmosphere, and women are great at doing a million things at the same time.”
Playing the love interest in a sports film can be a thankless job, but Garner emphasized that Ali has her feet in both sides of the story.
“Ali is trying to find the balance between being vulnerable and honest,” she said.
A native of West Virginia, Garner grew up as the middle of three sisters. She spent her childhood in dance classes and in the school band.
At Denison University in Granville, she quickly changed her major from chemistry to drama and, after graduating, headed to New York, where she worked as a restaurant hostess while auditioning.
Her breakthrough came with the TV series Alias (2001-06), on which she donned a multiplicity of guises as undercover spy Sydney Bristow.
She quickly parlayed that success into big-screen stardom, including her role last year in Dallas Buyers Club.
Garner — who recently completed the children’s film Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and will be seen alongside Adam Sandler and Emma Thompson in Jason Reitman’s upcoming Men, Women & Children — said she didn’t immediately find her voice in Hollywood.
“Now, I’m a grown-up in the movie business,” she said. “On a set I will say: ‘Hold up. Girls don’t talk like this. Moms don’t talk like this. You’re really putting my character in a weak position.’”
Garner said she and Affleck prefer to spend time at home with their children — Violet, 8; Seraphina, 5; and Samuel, 2 — rather than attending premieres or seeking their next hit.
“It’s still a thrill to have Ben come home from work and have the kids run out to throw themselves into his arms.”