Jennifer Garner may epitomize Hollywood femininity, as she arrives to be interviewed wearing a short, black and chic Jenni Kayne outfit, but she is as equally at home kicking butt with the boys in the new action thriller The Kingdom.
Yet, despite the plethora of physical scenes she has in the film, she says that motherhood does not necessarily determine the kinds of roles she takes on. "If my stuntwoman, Shauna, says something is safe, I'm going to do it, but at the same time I'm not going to be killed for a couple of bruises," Garner says, with that perennial smile that lights up a room.
"We did have a rule in the film's climatic fight scene, because I was breast-feeding, and the actor I was fighting with had to stay away from my boobs, which he did. That was the one sacred kind of thing: He could go for my head, pull my hair, just not the boobs, so the motherhood did kind of have something to do with that but, other than that, what are a couple of bruises? She doesn't care, because she's just a kid and I'm fine, but, there is a natural priority and there never has been before, so I probably would have worked straight through this year because lots of great, fun things came up. I just can't bear to do something that I don't have to do because she's so delicious."
Garner refers to her nearly two-year old daughter, showing signs, she says laughingly, of the dreaded terrible twos. "We've seen glimpses of terrible, but for the most part, it's pretty smooth. We haven't hit two yet, but we are very into pretend." In The Kingdom, a terrorist bomb detonates inside a Western housing compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, causing an international incident to be ignited. While diplomats slowly debate equations of territorialism, FBI Special Agent Ronald Fleury [Jamie Foxx] quickly assembles an elite team and negotiates a secret five-day trip into Saudi Arabia to locate the madman behind the bombing.
Upon landing in the desert kingdom, however, Fleury and his team, including Garner's Janet Mayes, discover Saudi authorities suspicious and unwelcoming of American interlopers, into what they consider a local matter. Hamstrung by protocol--and with the clock ticking on their five days--the FBI agents find their expertise worthless without the trust of their Saudi counterparts, who want to locate the terrorist in their homeland on their own terms. Fleury's crew finds a like-minded partner in Saudi Colonel Al-Ghazi, who helps them navigate royal politics and unlock the secrets of the crime scene. With these unlikely allies sharing a propulsive commitment to crack the case, the team is led to the killer's front door.
The film features a climatic fight scene involving Garner, a scene witnessed by husband Ben Affleck, who apparently was non-plussed at his wife's on-camera propensity for violence. "He was visiting the set the day that I shot that fight scene and I thought it would have made him a little bit nervous to see the actor chucking me against the wall harder and harder with every take but he was a little too calm about it. Between us, I thought he could have been a little bit more, 'my wife! You'd better be careful with her', but he was just like 'go! Go for it, babe! Harder!'"
It seems nothing seems to phase the consistently good-humoured actress, even a fight scene that wasn't strictly choreographed. "It was so down and dirty that we had scratch marks that we had to cover up on my face for the next few days where he tried to grab me and pull my face off. He had a scab on his ear 'cause I bit his ear and I just yanked and got his ear and went 'yuk'". Garner may be one of Hollywood's major stars on screen, but even film stars want to try something genuinely scary, as she makes her Broadway debut later this year opposite theatre veteran Kevin Kline in Cyrano De Bergerac.
Terrified or not, the actress could barely hide her genuine excitement, "because it's always been my absolute dream of all dreams and all of this stuff that I've done has been accidental. I always meant to be on stage and I only ended up even auditioning for television and movies because I was understudying a Turgenev play on Broadway. I was so broke that, when I got a mini-series, I had to take it and was so ashamed because I was such a snob. Now, every time they talk about theatre, it's kind of like 'welllll' but this I couldn't pass up; working with Kevin Kline, being in New York in the Fall, doing this role, getting to say these words, so just thinking about it, I get so excited."
Garner will next be seen in the ensemble comedy Juno, from director Jason Reitman, as different a film from The Kingdom as one can get. "I have to say, if actors or actresses had every kind of script in front of them at all times, maybe you would think, 'oh, I just did this big movie; maybe I should do a little independent'. It's not that way. It's part what comes to you and, a huge part, is what you respond to and that's kind of always how I've worked." As for working with hubbie Affleck, now getting early praise for his directorial debut Run, Baby Run, the actress hedges her bets. "I don't think I would ever star in a movie that Ben directed because somebody has to raise the kids but he'd better, eventually, find a little something for me or he'll pay for it," she says laughingly.
As for what we can expect from Garner post-Broadway, mum's the word. "I do have a couple little things, but I don't think they're anything I can talk about yet, but they're fun with no fights."