13 Going on 30: An Interview with Jennifer Garner
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By Todd Gilchrist
13 Going on 30: An Interview with Jennifer Garner
Actress Jennifer Garner is probably best known as Sydney Bristow, the chameleonic secret agent star of the hit television series "Alias", but on April 23rd, audiences worldwide will see her in a new and altogether different role: a teenage girl. In "13 Going on 30", Garner plays Jenna Rink, an insecure 13-year old whose birthday wish to grow up magically comes true. Waking up to a lifestyle she only dreamed about, Jenna seeks out childhood pal Matt (Mark Ruffalo) to help sort through the details of her 17-year leap, and discover the person she has become at 30.
Garner recently sat down with Blackfilm for a conversation about her latest project. The film, which was written by Cathy Yuspa and Josh Goldsmith (the team responsible for "What Women Want") and directed by "Tadpole" helmer Gary Winick, is being released nationwide by Columbia Pictures on April 23.
Do you approach a comedy scene similarly to an action scene?
JG: Yeah, in that you have to commit to it. You can't hide in an action scene. You can't think, "Oh, I'll halfway do this." And you can't hide in a comedy scene either. You have to give into the scene and commit.
How did you take risks in the film?
JG: The risk is always being over the top in my mind. That was something that Gary and I worked really hard on together was to try to walk a line of having fun with it but also be honest and truthful. And because something isn't funny if there isn't a bit of honesty, but at the same time, it has to be funny. Honesty is also kind of sitting and staring into space. You don't want to do that either.
How tricky was it getting into the 13-year-old mindset?
JG: If you were to hang out on the set of Alias, you would very quickly agree with the cast and crew that I'm 30 when the camera is rolling and 13 when they say cut. Actually, I kind of used my own- - if I were just alone with a friend body language and the mindset- - I think all of us have our inner 13-year-old a lot closer to the surface than we're willing to admit even to ourselves. I think we can all pretty quickly, if put in the right situation, go back to feeling like oh gosh, I don't know, should I have worn this, should I be- - I feel like I shouldn't have eaten that. Whatever it is, and she, for me, is pretty close to the surface so I drew from my own life, my own experience and also of course, I know you've heard about the sleepover and that was more of a reminder that 13-year-olds and particularly these girls that I was hanging out with are smart and sophisticated and capable of absolutely having any kind of adult conversation and then they flip and surprise you by being children and goofy and dramatic. So it was constantly making sure that I didn't go too far in any one direction.
Were you more Jena or Lucy growing up?
JG: Oh, Jena for sure. I'm more like Jena except that it wasn't important to me to be part of the cool crowd. It didn't upset me greatly that my group of friends were not considered the coolest or hippest.
JG: No. If you have pictures of my eighth grade birthday party, we were really, really a motley crew. But we were happy. I don't think we- - maybe- - no, it didn't bother us. We thought we were cool.
Did you have a friend like Matt?
JG: I did actually. I did. I grew up next door to this guy named Danny Moore. He is now married with a couple of kids. He still lives in Charleston and I still see him every time I go home. And Dan and I had this ritual, we called it porch talk where every night when we got home from our various things, and then through high school it would be from dates or whatever it was, he would throw rocks or pennies at my window if my light was on, or I would at his window. I would come downstairs or he would and we would sit on the front porch of either house and talk about, go through everything. And we were absolute sweetest best of friends and it was always innocent, but I think we probably both did have crushes on each other but we never- - he set me up with all of his friends instead and I talked him through his various relationships.
What's the meanest thing you ever did to a guy?
JG: I'm not sure. I know they're there. We all have things that we're ashamed of but I don't really see any point in dwelling on it or making it public. Luckily, I think it probably happened when I was about that age, whatever it was.
How difficult were the dance sequences?
JG: They were just fun. I mean, they were pure joy and fun. I grew up doing musicals and so to me, it was the perfect marriage of what I had grown up loving and doing and what I do now. And there were huge cranes and cameras and great backup dancers that were full of energy. Mark was sure that he was gonna die on the spot when we were rehearsing. He took a lot of pep talks but he so got it and so nailed it, so we just had a blast. I mean, we really did. We had so much fun.
Was he not a dancer?
JG: He was not a dancer, but he worked really, really hard and he more than got it down. He was groovin'.
Is it harder to learn dancing or fighting?
JG: They're very similar. They're actually very similar and I love doing both. It doesn't matter. I love being physical and acting at the same time.
What were your favorite musical roles?
JG: Gosh, I love everything. I love being in the chorus. I was in the chorus of Little Abner in Summerstock once and it was so fun, the dancing and finding the harmony, being part of a big group. I loved- - I played Gypsy when I was younger and I loved, loved, lu-hu-hoved Gypsy. I think that's such a beautiful musical. I loved- - I was Dream Laurey once in Oklahoma and that is such a beautiful ballet. I love Cabaret. I did that in college and I love them all.
Did you once look more at a musical career?
JG: Musicals were just what I did. They were what was available to me in my home town. We had a great- - and still have a really great, strong community theater. This is the Charleston [SOUNDS LIKE: Night Opera Guild] in Charleston, West Virginia. And I was beyond involved. I was a ballet dancer and that kind of bled into musical theater and I was constantly in rehearsal for one thing or another. You would've thought that I was trying to be a professional in Charleston, West Virginia but I just loved it so much and I was happy to be backstage. I was happy to have a role of any size or no size at all. And I still feel that way. I was just happy making Pearl Harbor and having four lines and I was doing this. Really, it's just kind of like I'm kind of good to go with whatever.
How much acting is involved the dancing?
JG: We just had fun with it. Just because I love it doesn't mean that I take it so seriously and think that it's the end-all be-all. It's fun. It was just fun.
What were your favorite musicians at 13 and now?
JG: I'm always the disaster of the group when it comes to this. I always feel like ask Mark Ruffalo. He's always like, "Yeah, I love The Stingers." I'm like, "Who the hell are the Stingers? When I was 13, I was pretty much top 40. I have to say, I didn't pay a lot of attention. I just listened to whatever. I remember taping a couple of songs off the radio, You're My Inspiration by Chicago. That kind of thing. And now, I still really don't care that much but now I have music playing all the time at home which is a first for me. Whatever. Everything from Ani DiFranco to Dave Matthews to Jack Johnson and Nora Jones. Keith Garrett and- -
How gross was it walking barefoot on New York streets?
JG: It didn't bother me. I just washed my feet at the end of the day.
How long will you stay with Alias?
JG: We are finishing the third season. We have two episodes yet. There are some big surprises coming up and we are picked up for a fourth season and then we'll see where it goes, but I'm along for the duration. I don't know how many actors get to have security that I have in having a solid job and get to go out and play. It's a pretty happy combination.
When it comes time to renegotiate, will you try to beef up your deal?
JG: I already renegotiated and I did beef up my deal, so I was happy before and I'm even happier now.
How many more seasons?
JG: I'll pretty much be around for as long as the show's on the air.
How has Sydney changed?
JG: I think she's lonely. I think she is living- - before she lived an isolated life but she had a flip life that was with friends and she was involved in what they were doing and they thought they were involved with what she was doing but obviously they weren't. And I think this year has been about her isolation.
Is it hard to find a worthwhile film during hiatus?
JG: So far, I mean, I think that I've just been really lucky. I think everything that I've worked on outside of the show has been something that I've learned a lot from and that has been a great experience and so far so good.
Did they come to you or did you go after this?
JG: They actually came to me which was new for me.
Do you keep in touch with your friends from your teens?
JG: Oh, of course. Yeah, a couple was just staying at my house that was one of my friends when I was little. Yeah, my best friend is somebody that I grew up dancing with. She lives in Atlanta and I talk to her. Oh yeah, of course. I'm still really close with everyone at home and their parents. And their brothers and sisters. I was so, so, so lucky to grow up as part of a community and I don't take that for granted. I try very hard to stay part of it.
At what age did you start dance?
JG: Three. I mean, just like a little kid in a ballet class. It's not like my parents sent me to New York City and said, "Go take class." They just stuck me in class.
Jazz as well?
JG: I took jazz but I was always a disaster at jazz. I've never had rhythm.
Did you want to be a classical ballerina?
JG: No. To become a classical ballerina, you have to move to New York when you're 12 or 11 and that becomes your life. I just wanted to be good in my company in Charleston and I wanted it to always be part of my life.
Has anyone approached you for Broadway or musical film?
JG: No, they haven't, but that certainly is my end game. That's eventually if I can do anything, it would be to be on Broadway or to do a big movie musical. I can't think of anything I would love more.
What role would you love to play?
JG: I don't know that there's one that I wouldn't love to play.
How have kids changed since you were 13?
JG: They were sophisticated but they still were incredibly innocent. I hung out with girls in West Virginia as well that were 13 because I went home right before I started the movie. And, I think that they have so much available to them now. They can stay in constant contact with each other. They can get on the internet and find anything out. I mean, all the obvious things, but at the core, I think they still pretty much feel the same. I feel bad for them that there are such an overwhelming amount of options in sitting on your butt entertainment. It makes it harder and harder I think to rev up and be part of a soccer team or be on the swim team or whatever it is, the stuff that actually builds who you are.
Is love a battlefield?
How hard is your current arrangement?
JG: You don't know the arrangement of my personal life and I'm not about to tell you.
Is there an instant in childhood you wish you'd made another choice?
JG: So many. There were so many classes at school that I didn't take seriously. There were so many times where- - I can think of a couple of times where I spoke to a girlfriend, in trying to make myself understood, said the wrong thing and you can't really wish to go back and fix them because then you wouldn't have learned anything from them. But at the same time, if I could just erase anything bad that had ever happened and still have learned from it, then of course I would.
What relationship advice would you give to young girls?
JG: I would tell them just to keep in mind who they are and what they're about, how they see themselves and what they want. And not to give that up for some idea that some man is going to fall in love with what the guy wants because the guy doesn't know. Doing Elektra?
JG: I am. I'm starting in May.
Take place after Daredevil?
JG: It is. It's not a prequel. It's a sequel to her story in Daredevil and I've been training for the past couple of months. I trained after the junket last night and got up this morning and will go again tonight and I'm loving it. I love that aspect of it. I don't know if it's because of dance or but we've added in pilates because I need to add the flexibility. I'm just loving that.
What will be different?
I think she has such a rich storyline of her own and we're really mining that storyline in this movie. A lot of the Frank Miller stuff for Elektra, really using it. It's quite dark. I mean, her story is quite dark. She's an assassin. She's an assassin for hire, she's a woman for hire although we don't go there in this movie. But as far as what would be different, I don't know. I think it will be its own thing naturally.
Any wardrobe surprises?
JG: I think that the wardrobe so far seems to be more reminiscent of what people associate with Elektra, although what I wore in Daredevil, she wears all kinds of different things. She's known mostly for this red outfit that you can't seem to wear any underwear underneath, so we could never quite figure out how to make it work. But she also wears a lot of black, so when we did Daredevil, we were kind of slammed for the wardrobe, but actually it was something taken directly from one of the comic books and now what I'm wearing will be a little more familiar to people who like the comic books.
What happened to Jena between 13 and 30 to turn her into a bitch?
JG: We talked about it so much. We talked about specific incidents with Matt or with Tom Tom, Judy's character Lucy or times that separated her more and more from her family, that pulled her away more and more from her relationship with Matt. I just think she did what is so easy to do and the more- - she probably made a couple of bad decisions right after her 13th birthday party where she shunned Matt and wouldn't talk to him again. And where she shunned her parents and latched more onto the Six Chicks as her family and I think once she did that, she probably became ashamed of her behavior. And so once she was embarrassed, it became easier and easier to separate herself from that instead of going back and apologizing and getting closer again to who she was. And the next thing you know, she started to believe that she really was this girl and then she became her.
How do you make sure fame doesn't change you?
JG: I think that change is part of life.
How do you deal with fame since the show took off and you've been in the spotlight?
JG: Well, you can't be trying to achieve success of any kind in this business without accepting that there's going to be a flip side to it. For me, the downfall of success was always going to be that side if that's what happened. It was never my goal to become famous or to walk a red carpet for that matter. It was always my goal to get the next job and then once this was in sight, it became my goal just to try to have more choices. And of course, I'm competitive enough to want to do well at what I do, but I didn't get to this part of it without knowing what came along with it. So all of us have parts of our jobs that we don't like. And I knew what the part was going to be before I got there and I was right. And you just try not to pay too much attention to it in either direction. You try not to get too heady about the perks and how crazy it can be and you try not to take any of the other stuff too seriously or too much to heart. Because who cares?
You'll never ditch your roots?
JG: No. I can't imagine that anyone really would. I think that that is a- - I don't know anyone who would give up- - I mean, maybe I'm just lucky that I came from a great place, but I'm so glad and so relieved to see people that I've known forever and to just sit down and talk about our dogs and gardening and normal real life and our parents and siblings. I think I would feel that way if I worked on an oil ship somewhere and only got home every nine months. I think that it's not as crazily different, my job, from anyone else's, as people let themselves believe. I think people get wrapped up in their own idea of what it is, but it's really not that.
How many hours a week do you shoot Alias?
JG: It's every day, all day every day and then some. But it's not as intense as it was the first two years, the first two and a half years. The middle of this year, it kind of took a turn toward being a little more human.
Were you cast before Mark?
JG: I was and the movie took a leap for me when Mark Ruffalo was cast.
Did you have a part in choosing him?
JG: The second they breathed his name, I said please, please, please, yes, yes, yes. If you would've said five years ago, if you could work with five actors, who would they be? He would've been number one. So the fact that I could wish that and then it could happen-
Was it as good as you thought?
JG: Absolutely. He's a dream of a person. He's a fantastic actor and he's just so fun to hang out with. Talk about grounded, he's really the beez-nees.
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