Jennifer Garner reckons the truth is over-rated. Unlike her character in Ricky Gervais’ new comedy The Invention Of Lying, the 37-year-old actress has no problem telling porky pies.
In fact, she considers fibs to be a part of the very fabric of society. “Can you imagine teaching a child to play cards and every time they play you say, ‘You lose. You lose again. You’re a big loser. You won’t win until you’re 12!’ ”
Garner admits a case can be argued for the sort of brutal honesty that vacuous beauty Anna McDoogles practises, without compunction, in the film. But not very often.
“Without lies, there’s no potential. We don’t tell ourselves that we can grow up one day and be president … or an actor,” she says. “It’s a very black and white and, I think, rather bleak world.”
Not surprisingly, Gervais agrees.
“This movie comes down on the side of lying,” Garner says.
“(Co-writers and co-directors) Matthew Robinson and Ricky Gervais very much believe in the polite lie and the little white lie and then the slightly grey lie to save someone’s feelings.”
Of course, lies do have a tendency to snowball – a tendency fully exploited by the two filmmakers in their screenplay.
By the time Gervais has finished with his character, Mark Bellison, he’s become a rich but lonely recluse who bears striking physical similarities to Jesus Christ.
“But ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ ‘I’m fine’, rather than ‘How are you doing?’ ‘Well, actually, if you want to know the truth I can’t find my keys and I’m mad at my wife … ‘ – that’s just the oil on the wheels of society,” Garner says.
The Invention Of Lying is set in a parallel universe where the inhabitants speak the truth so compulsively, the effect is a bit like Tourette’s syndrome on truth serum.
It’s a set-up rich in comic opportunities for someone like Gervais, who not so much relishes an awkward moment as positively feeds off it.
“It’s not just honesty, it’s people who have no edit button,” Garner says.
“They can’t help themselves. If there’s an elephant in the room, they have to get it out there right away.”
A scene that perfectly illustrates her point is an excruciating first date, during which McDoogles lists all the personality traits and physiological flaws that make Gervais’s loser her genetic inferior.
Given the film’s eloquent defence of face-saving falsehoods, the actress decided not to let the English comedian know that he isn’t nearly as physically unappealing as he believes himself to be on screen.
“Ricky makes a very good living out of making fun of the way he looks, so we try not to point out to him that he’s actually quite handsome and he has a great smile and bright blue eyes,” she says. Garner admits she felt a good deal of discomfort at being cast as a self-absorbed singleton who considers herself in a whole other evolutionary league.
“It was ridiculous to imagine I was above him genetically in any way, shape or form, but what are you going to do? That’s the movie,” she says.
The actress is so genuinely horrified by the underlying inequity of Gervais’s comic thesis, it seems almost churlish to point out to her that there might in fact be a grain of truth to it (as the filmmakers believe).
After all, Hollywood is full of beautiful couples. And she and Ben Affleck, who might well be considered her perfect genetic match, happen to be one of them.
“He does look a bit like my brother,” Garner says, before adding that she didn’t marry her husband only for his looks.
The actress was pregnant while filming The Invention Of Lying. Daughter Seraphina is now eight months old. Seraphina’s older sister, Violet, is almost four.
After taking 12 months off, Garner recently shot the Garry Marshall rom-com Valentine’s Day, which boasts a star-studded cast including Julia Roberts, Jamie Foxx, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel and Shirley MacLaine.
That’s three rom-coms in a row because immediately before filming with Gervais, Garner made Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past with Matthew McConaughey.
“It’s such a fun genre to work on, because they are movies I love to see. They speak to women, which, you know, I am one,” Garner says.
“But The Invention Of Lying is an exception because it’s a comedy first and foremost. Usually in a romantic comedy there’s a little bit of comedy and a lot of romance. This is a lot of fun, a little bit of romance, and a lot of philosophy.”
Garner, who made her breakthrough in J.J. Abrams’s TV series Alias as CIA agent Sydney Bristow, says she isn’t the least bit worried about being pigeonholed.
“I’m happy with the roles I have had so far. I feel like I have had a wide range of scripts – from drama to comedy to action,” she says.
“But I do think that my best work lies ahead of me.”