Jennifer Garner on Catch and Release

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In Columbia Pictures’ new comedy-drama Catch and Release, Gray Wheeler (Jennifer Garner) thought she had it all. She was about to marry her seemingly perfect fiancé and couldn’t be happier. However, when he’s killed in a ski accident right before their wedding, his friends come together to offer Gray support and she learns of secrets that make her realize the man she was going to marry just wasn’t quite so faultless.

ComingSoon.net talked to the lively and sparkling actress about her new role.

ComingSoon.net: This movie waited so long for release, partly because of your commitment to “Alias” and family. How do you approach having this movie caught in suspended animation? Does it make any difference?
Jennifer Garner: I hope not. I think it’s still a great story. I don’t think it matters when it comes out. It was never certainly for lack of anyone’s enthusiasm. It was I think because of certainly my enthusiasm that I wanted them to wait because I knew that if this had come out when we first talked about last April, they wanted it to open the last week I’d be shooting “Alias” which couldn’t be moved because of our air date, which was so emotional for me. And even talking about it in the meetings when they first started talking about it, I said, “Well, it’ll be my last day…” and [blubbering crying]. So it would have been that and I had a two month old baby. It would by then be a three and a half, four month old. I just knew and I was kind of pulled to the brink just by going to work at all, which at “Alias” they were being very kind to me. I was working eight hour days. I was with her most of the time. She was at set with me. But traveling with her when she was that new and I was a first time mom, the whole thing kind of overwhelmed me and I didn’t want to short-shift “Alias” and I didn’t want to short-shift the movie. So that’s kind of how my part of the decision was made and now I’m just so happy because I can be here and feel good. I had a good night’s sleep, I can talk to all of you guys.

CS: Why this story? Did it mean something to you personally?
Garner: Well, there are always hooks that kind of draw you in, but Susannah Grant’s writing is so beautiful. The first time I read it, I knew I had to do it. She asked me to do it. I was beyond excited and something happened where we had to wait a year. I just said, “I can’t let anyone else play this role. It’s my role. Please wait for me.” And she said, “Okay,” and they waited for me. So this has been interrupted a couple of times. But so the writing itself is just so beautiful and speakable and playable and real. It’s something you just don’t get to do. You either are doing a comedy where you’re really pushing for the comedy and finding the funny, or you’re doing a drama where everything is really maudlin. This is the balance that kind of follows our own life patterns. It just felt to me like something that was true. And the things that attracted me to the character were things, for example, that she had seen her fiancé as this prince on a white horse and the idea of black and white and that she only saw good in him, even when at some point he tried to say, “Hey, there’s something I need to talk to you about,” she didn’t want to hear it. She wanted to live in her fantasy. And in going through the hardest thing in herself, she grew up and she was able to learn about the gray, which p.s., it’s her name, so I’ll give you a little hint.

CS: Isn’t this also about the process, stages of grieving?
Garner: Yes, you can lose someone, you can lose your idea of someone which I think was as hard for her as losing Grady himself, was losing her idea of Grady. So she had to grieve doubly, not just for the loss of her wedding. The very beginning of the movie, her wedding flowers are being brought up to the house and she’s standing there at his funeral looking out just imagining herself in that dress and all the things that were supposed to be happening that day, just on a girl level alone. And then the fact that the man himself, her partner and her best friend, her boyfriend and forever the only way she knows life, that he is gone and then her idea of who he was, that he was this straightforward straight and narrow guy who only loved her and never cheated on her, that that has to go away too. But you can go through all that and with the help of friends and with your own introspection, whatever, growing, you can come out better and stronger. That is something that interested me very much.

CS: How tough was it to leave Sidney behind? What were the challenges to find a character as strong but not a different version of her?
Garner: Well, I was ready. Five years of something, I think we all felt exactly the way we were supposed to feel at the end of “Alias.” We were all heartbroken. You’ve never seen a closer cast or a group of crew. It really was the best place to work, and we all say that now when we see each other. So there was that loss but at the same time, we really felt like we had told the story. We didn’t know what else there was to tell. We felt like we had done it justice so it wasn’t like oh gosh, we wish this was going on another year but it was still, I still get emotional about it. J.J. just gave all of us for Christmas this huge leather bound book of pictures starting with the pilot. I can hardly even talk about it. I can’t look at it without crying because there are our lives, especially when the crew, he put some of the crew in there. And I miss them, I talk to them a lot.

CS: Did you keep any wigs or costumes?
Garner: I just don’t care about that stuff, so I don’t know where all those wigs are. There are hundreds of thousands of dollars of wigs that only fit my head that are floating around Los Angeles but no, I’m sure they’re in a Disney warehouse.

CS: And finding another character, you never answered?
Garner: Oh, well, that’s because I forgot. I got interested in my own story. [laughs]. Will I find another character? Yeah, the lucky thing is there are great writers out there and it’s just finding the character that fits you and then you have to get the job. There are a lot of things that have to happen but this was definitely a character that I felt as strongly as I felt about Sydney.

CS: Is it a female sensibility? In the golden age, women film directors were gay. Is there more of a female sensibility with people like Susannah Grant?
Garner: Yeah, not just with Susannah. I mean, J.J. certainly isn’t gay but he can write women like nobody’s business. There are just people who get a female vibe and Susannah without a doubt, that was one of the things I loved about making this movie. We just had girl heaven. There was Jenno Topping, this wonderful producer who was smart and to the point and no bullsh*t. And then there’s Susannah who is this incredible writer who in the middle of the scene, if it wasn’t working, you could kind of say, “What I feel like I should be saying, Susannah, is this and what I’m trying to get across is this.” And she’d say, “Oh, well, you’re right. Let me just take a minute.” And she would literally, you’d think she’d just gone to the bathroom or something and she would come back and have reworded it in such a way that it was all clear and there, so that’s kind of magical to have somebody who has that ability right there every day all the time. And just her warmth and kind of her calmness and her stillness. I mean, normally sets, at some point, there’s a blow up. Like the director will be like, “Come on guys! We’ve got to go!” That never happened with her. It could not have been more just zen and chill. I’m sure you got from talking with her.

CS: Being the girl in a mostly guy cast? Did the relationship mirror what’s in the film?
Garner: There’s nothing better than being a girl in the middle of a group of guys, you know what I mean? It’s true. And for women, as hard as it is because there are so many more men’s roles than there are women’s, typically that’s the way it is. Once you get there, you have this big group of guys to play with and they treat you as one of them so I loved it. Did my relationships with them mirror the ones with the characters? No, not really. It’s hard to say that because there was romance and intrigue and tension [in the film] and there was none of that certainly. But was there banter and friendship and them treating me like a dude? Yes, and that was heaven. Although I have to say I think my favorite, well, Kevin Smith is so great but my other favorite, favorite thing about the movie was Juliette Lewis. Is she a genius or what? She is so funny. And the first day of rehearsals she came in and she was like, “I can’t do this. This doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t think I should be doing this, I can’t do this.” And then she would start to talk, and I would just be like, “Oh, here she is and I think I love you.”

CS: Does motherhood determine the types of roles you’ll take?
Garner: It’ll determine what I do in that just timing-wise. I don’t think I can do two huge things back-to-back anymore. I couldn’t do a single lead on a one hour drama anymore. So just on a practical level and then I have to really love something a lot to be willing to not be with my little girl every day. I will have had six months straight with her before I go back to work and that is heaven on earth. But it’s great because I have it just so good right now I’m afraid if I even tell you, it’ll get screwed up because I’m home with her and I get filled up with her. I’m definitely the primary caregiver all the time but I do have enough meetings for my production company that I find really fun and fascinating and they use my mind in a different way that I do get out of the house.

CS: Biggest surprise about motherhood?
Garner: I thought it would be easier. I thought the pull from her would not be as huge as it is. I thought it would be easier for me to work, that I’d be like, “Oh, it’s fine, she’s here, she’s happy.” And that actually isn’t the case. She is fine. I am the one who is a wreck if I don’t get to be with her.

CS: How difficulty was doing “The Kingdom” offshore? Didn’t you have to go to the Middle East?
Garner: I was here. I was in Arizona. They did go but I wasn’t in that scene.

CS: Who do you play in “The Kingdom”?
Garner: I play Janet Mayes. She is an FBI agent and she’s one of four. There’s Chris Cooper, Jamie Foxx, Jason Bateman and myself and it is so much fun to be with those three guys. We’re going to Saudi Arabia to investigate a terrorist attack against a western civilization within the kingdom.

CS: When it comes to emotions, are you more open about yours?
Garner: Yeah, more than Gray definitely. I just cry more.

CS: Are you a talker?
Garner: Sometimes. Sometimes it’s harder and sometimes you can’t help but babble away about how you’re feeling about something but Gray, one of the things that I liked about her was that she was going through this hard time and I don’t think she let herself have a ton of emotions. So she’s trying to figure out how to go through the grieving process without it being too messy and in the end, it kind of is. It’s just a little messy.

CS: What roles are you seeing as a producer that you didn’t as an actor?
Garner: We are having a blast with our production company. My producing partner Julianna and I. And we’re just amazed at the development process and how much you can be a part of a script changing and how much you can be a part of a story, waking up in the middle of the night and thinking, “Well, what if in the third act this happens?” And we had three meetings this week, each of them are three hours long, about one script that wouldn’t happen forever but we’re just kind of in this really intense stage with it. I think I’ll look at every script that I do differently from now on because I’ll see that it’s not just set in stone. I’ve never really tried to affect a change on a script that I’ve been given. I’m a good little girl. You give it to me and I go and say my lines. Now I’m going to be a terror.

CS: You’re reactive in this movie. Is that a different acting process than the proactive characters?
Garner: It makes it much more, not that it isn’t always, but you have to pay more attention to the part of you that’s listening to your cast. In the scene, you become the listener. What you do is much more about what they do, if that makes any sense. It is kind of the truth. You’re at the mercy of the actors that you’re working with and luckily Tim and Sam and Kevin, kooky Kevin, and Juliette were all great.

CS: Kevin Smith is best friends with your husband, Ben. How involved is he with your day to day life?
Garner: I think they mostly just write hateful e-mails back and forth. From what I can tell.

CS: Do you read them?
Garner: No. I just hear Ben laughing to himself when he’s returning one, maniacally alone.

CS: Is Ben as profane as Kevin is?
Garner: That’s probably why I don’t read them. He isn’t around me but I have a feeling with Kevin, yes.

CS: What’s it’s like to work with improvisational Kevin?
Garner: It was good for me and it was a blast. He never once said the lines that were on the page. I don’t know if Susannah told you this, but she would say during a scene, “Please just once do it like I’ve written it.” I mean, she’s an Academy Award nominated writer. Do what she wrote. But he couldn’t. Every now and then he’d do it and he blatantly would say, “Just give me a line reading. Just tell me how you want me to say it because your line doesn’t make sense to me.” And she would be like, “Ugh, Kevin.” And she’d do the line for him which that’s the no-no of directing and acting and he would do it and he’d be hysterical. So he was a novelty on set.

CS: Can you keep a straight face?
Garner: I’m bad about keeping a straight face anyway. I very rarely keep a straight face the whole day so no, I can say that I did not keep a straight face with Kevin Smith nor did I with anyone else.

CS: Do you miss the action?
Garner: I do like it. I do think it satisfies this part of me I didn’t even know was there, and I like the physicality of it in general. I like roles that are physical. I like physical comedy. I don’t really care but the action per se, not necessarily but the roles that tend to have action in them, if they’re well done, I like. And I love my stunt double so much that I’m always enthused by getting to be with her.

CS: Do you still train like you did for “Alias”?
Garner: At first, when in finished “Alias,” I didn’t work out for a long time. And I didn’t lose my baby weight for a long time. It was just kind of annoying because I just didn’t want to. I didn’t want to take that hour away from her and work out. Or if she was sleeping, I was exhausted or wanted to just sit and veg or take a nap or something. And then finally this summer, I noticed my own energy had shifted because I wasn’t taking care of myself the way that I’d become really accustomed to. So then I just got on a treadmill and started getting back in shape. And I still am, it’s slower than I thought it would be because there’s something bigger in my life now so I might do 20 minutes where I would have done 45 before.

CS: Would you work with Ben again now that you’re married?
Garner: A big part of it is somebody’s got to raise the kid, so if we’re both at work, that’s a bummer for her. But yeah, there’s no rush. We’re not looking for anything to do together.

CS: Was there a moment you realized you were famous?
Garner: There was a defining moment where I realized that. I went shopping. This was a long time ago, I’ve told this story before but it was a big moment in my life. It was the year “Alias” had come out and I hadn’t been out in the world once since July when it started, and it was December and I went Christmas shopping. It was freaky and terrifying. In July, I could have gone shopping and nobody would have seen me or said anything. It wouldn’t have been a big deal at all, but in December, in that short amount of time, I couldn’t even take a step without somebody stopping me and picture and da da da. I had just never been, it never happened to me before.

CS: How have you coped with fame since then?
Garner: Well, I keep my knickers on. [laughs] I have a strange relationship with it. I think most people do. It’s not a comfortable way to live your life. There are great things about it and it’s also one of these things, but my life is really great so I find it hard to complain too much.

CS: Two actors in the house, how do you keep Hollywood out of your daily life? Is there a rule, don’t talk about work?
Garner: Yes, we have a rule! [laughs] That would be awesome. “Don’t say that. Don’t tell me about your day. Ah, stop.” No, it’s pretty easy when there’s a baby. You basically talk about the baby.

Catch and Release opens in theaters on January 26.