THIS GOLDEN GLOBE AND SCREEN ACTORS GUILD AWARD WINNER IS IN THE MIDDLE OF ONE OF THE BUSIEST TIMES OF HER LIFE PLAYING A SERIES OF POWERFUL MOTHERS WHILE BEING AN ORGANIC BABY FOOD ENTREPRENEUR
BY MATT SCANLON, WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JOEL KELLER
Ever since her former husband, Ben Affleck, told 30 million viewers that “marriage is work, but it’s the best kind of work” when accepting his Best Picture Oscar for Argo in 2013, Jennifer Garner has lived in a decidedly strange world, one in which she is continually hounded by the press (with all the depredations upon privacy it can muster), yet dependably described in ensuing articles as a victim of varying degree. When the couple separated, she was praised after reporters found out that she allowed Affleck to live in their guest house in order to keep their family unit intact (they have two daughters and a son). The couple was shown on vacations celebrating birthdays together, too. Even as their divorce was in the last stages of finalization in 2018, she was seen next to Affleck in the back of an SUV taking her soon to be ex to rehab.
Not surprisingly, she never wanted this brand of attention, and pushes back against it strategically. In 2017, for example, she took to Facebook to slam People for having a cover story that suggested she was pregnant with twins lightheartedly wanting to clear things up “before my mom’s garden club lights up her phone.” Over the four years since the couple’s decision to call it quits, she’s handled the ensuing media frenzy with just that brand of grace.
And, in the midst of all this, Garner has been enjoying one of the busiest periods of her 24 year career. Since the beginning of 2018, she has had on screen roles in the films Peppermint and Love, Simon, and voice roles in the Netflix children’s series Llama Llama (based on the books by author and illustrator Anna Dewdney) and Paramount’s just released Wonder Park. Then there’s her starring role in the HBO series Camping, along with various long term endorsement deals (perhaps you saw the Capital One ad she was in with her father, William “Bill” Garner, to celebrate “Bring Your Father to Work Day”). Last year also saw her snagging a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In non Tinseltown news, Once Upon a Farm, the organic baby food company Garner co-founded with food business guru John Foraker (along with Cassandra Curtis and Ari Raz), expanded its product line and became widely available, now sold in chains like Publix, Whole Foods, Walmart, and Target. Many of the fruits and vegetables the company uses are grown on the family farm in Oklahoma where her mother was raised a place that informs life lessons Garner teaches her own children.
“We believe that when babies and kids have access to fresh, nutritious food, they’re better prepared for a lifetime of health, happiness, and meaningful contribution to the world,” reads part of Once Upon a Farm’s mission statement. One ancillary goal was to become the first “fresh baby food maker” to be accepted by the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which provides federal funds to states for food distribution an aspiration that has been achieved. The company is also a supporter of The Ron Finley Project and its mission of “making South Central LA into a well-balanced fruit and veggie oasis,” in part through “guerrilla gardening” seeding abandoned sites and other areas not otherwise being cared for.
“Growing up in West Virginia and with a mom who grew up poor in Oklahoma, I knew and saw the disparity between kids those who grow up with nothing…what their education looked like,” Garner said at last year’s Natural Products Expo West, where she was a keynote speaker, adding that it took her almost 12 years to find the right company to affiliate with. “And the first thing I said to John [Foraker] is, ‘We can’t just think about feeding the top 10% of kids, we have to think about how we’re going to bring up nutrition for the bottom rung of the ladder.’ John and I were so all in…so passionate about the same things. I work with government all the time, and let me tell you something, not a lot gets done. I’ve made several trips to Washington…testified in front of Congress [a Save The Children Trustee, she has testified in subcommittee hearings on the issues of food scarcity and early childhood education]. What does effect change is the consumer. The consumer and business can change the world, so to be part of that from the ground up is what gets me fired up.”
Garner’s food company is certainly synergizing with her screen identities. Whether in the revenge fueled Peppermint or the bittersweet Love, Simon, in which she plays a mom whose 17 year old is coming to grips with the fact that he’s gay, being a strong maternal figure has been a central script component.
“[Love, Simon] is about a number of things, including family,” Garner said in a Twentieth Century Fox studio interview. “The family you are born into and the family that you create for yourself with friends. Especially that precious group when you are in those teenage years and they mean everything to you. You think you know everything about them and they think they know everything about you. It’s also about having the courage to really stand up for yourself and say what you need to say.”
Nearly as central as familial bonds to the 46 year old has been a lifetime’s devotion to fitness. Lean and strong throughout her career, Garner buffed out particularly for the 2001 to 2006 ABC series, Alias (for which she won a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award), the 2003 film Daredevil, 2005’s Elektra, and most recently for Peppermint.
“Jennifer worked her booty off,” said Shauna Duggins, the actress’s stunt double for nearly 20 years, in a Variety interview about Peppermint, adding that Garner performed the overwhelming majority of her own stunts and fight scenes for the film.
Born in Houston, Garner’s family moved to Charleston, West Virginia when she was three, so the South is in her blood. So was acting; she was in stage productions through high school and majored in theater at Denison University in Ohio (she’ll be giving the commencement address at her alma mater in May). During college years, she engaged in a little bit of wholesome fun with classmates that involved being in her birthday suit.
“I was never a big party girl but I…um, I streaked,” she told Conan O’Brien in 2014. “I just was in a naked frame of mind! I don’t think I was the only streaker, but I think I might have been the leader of the streakers and we just streaked…all summer.”
After graduating from Denison in 1994, she moved to Los Angeles and had a series of small parts in movies and TV shows, including 2001’s Pearl Harbor, during the production of which she met and became friends with Affleck. Her breakthrough role was as secret agent Sydney Bristow in Alias, where series creator J.J. Abrams used Garner’s versatility to some advantage, having her portray Bristow as a number of undercover personalities, as well as having her kick tail when needed.
“Playing Sydney defined me for so long, and it redefined me to myself. It made me strong and more confident,” she told Variety in 2018. “It even changed the tenor of my voice. Talk about language I literally had to learn different languages.”
During the run of Alias, Garner took on another career defining role, that of teenager turned 30 year old Jenna Rink in 13 Going On 30, considered the female equivalent to Tom Hanks’s part in Big.
Another pivotal role, opposite Matthew McConaughey, was in 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club, in which she played a physician who gradually realizes her opposition to the drug trials being used to address HIV/AIDS. Playing Dr. Eve Saks couldn’t have been easy, as the task was to essentially mirror and respond to the suffering of McConaughey’s Ron Wood roof. The performance was remarkable for its subtlety and dimension.
In Garner’s latest turn, she voices “Mom” in Wonder Park. Her daughter, the main character, is an adventurous girl named June (Brianna Denski), who helps bring a dilapidated theme park back to life. Co stars include Matthew Broderick, Mila Kunis, Kenan Thompson, and Ken Jeong. In addition to Paramount, production companies include Nickelodeon Movies, Ilion Animation Studios, and Midnight Radio, and Wonder Park is the first of two Paramount Animation Films to be released this year, the other Sonic the Hedgehog.