Jennifer Garner is one celebrity I have been wrong about many times. I took her earnestness and enthusiasm as a PR tactic, which it clearly isn’t because no one could pretend to be this kind for this long. Social media was also a real turning point for her public persona because it moved her away from the tabloids (even the flattering ones, like PEOPLE) and into a more casual space where she could entertain us in her own way, without the constraints of a junket or having to promote a movie.
In this interview with Lacey Rose, Jen speaks candidly about fame, Ben Affleck, and raising children in Los Angeles. They get into the early days of dating and examine the outsized attention on them, particularly because of what Ben had come out of with the original Bennifer. He and JLo were a cultural lightening rod and the interest in him has never waned. She is quite clear-eyed about his public appeal, "People are in awe of him. He's done incredible things, he's six-four, he's … him, and they treat him with a kind of reverence” and that is exactly it. He is a movie star, period.
Her take on fame now that the children are a bit older is complicated; she worries about stories they could hear in the press (particularly as Ben has had bumps in his recovery and messy stuff, like Chrissy O.) as well a bit of mourning for the things they lost when they were younger, like family photos (she said the kids are terrified of cameras). She describes their younger years like this, "We lived down a street that was chock-a-block full of actors, much more successful and famous and decorated than me, including Ben, and they'd all go by one by one, no problem, and then I'd go do a school run and it'd be 15 cars going with me. I never had a day without them, and if I did, if I made it to a park by hiding in the bottom of the pool man's truck or something, then a nanny would see me there and call a number and they'd swarm."
That was her experience, no doubt. In 2013, the celebrity ecosystem was very different than it is now because tabloids still ruled, paparazzi dominated the scene and social media wasn’t a factor. It was also during that time that celebrities often worked with the paps and things were maybe not so black-and-white. The audience (us) was becoming savvier to the machinations behind the photos. It’s a specific time in gossip history. This isn’t to say Jen was in the car calling paps (she would never have needed to) but it does raise questions about the x factor of celebrity. Ben’s best friend and long-time collaborator Matt Damon is as famous as Ben is. How many kids does Matt Damon have? What are their names? Where do they live? I can’t tell you. Most of the photos I see with Matt are when he’s with Ben. Is this his path by design, a conscious choice by Matt to not be that kind of famous, or did the stars just align differently for Ben who, I agree with Jennifer wholeheartedly, is inherently charming? And how much did Ben contribute to the fame, the headlines, the tabloids and the trickledown effect on his family? That’s a much sticker conversation to have.
But Jen is more than Ben! This interview is about her career, which she is rededicating herself to. And her friends show up to cheer her on: JJ Abrams talks about her breakout role on Alias (Scott Foley is mentioned) and so does Peter Berg, focusing on her dedication to the physical aspect of her work, while Jason Reitman spoke about her emotional depth on the set of Juno. Rom-com legend Judy Greer shows up to remind us how wonderful her friend is.
But beyond this, there’s a deeper conversation about her struggling (my word, not hers) with taking on work with young children at home. Making a movie takes an intense time commitment. When shooting, you aren’t just working long hours, you are largely unavailable to your family. Combine that with a running a house where both parents are working and it’s a lot of plate-spinning and a lot of pressure.
After having her third child, she said her then-agent approached her about Dallas Buyers Club. "He said, 'This is going to be a call about one of two things: It's going to be a call about you doing this little movie, or it's going to be a call about you retiring,' " she says. "And I knew I'd asked enough of my representatives, who'd been working their tails off for me and I had said no to everything and kept getting pregnant. But I was truly overwhelmed by a third kid. Ben was making Argo and I was just trying to keep the plates spinning. I also knew that I didn't want to be done acting, so I said, 'OK, I'll do it.'"
This is not a knock-down, drag-out conflict or even the kind of “tea” that makes headlines, but it’s a frank assessment of where she was at and how she kept a bit of herself alive while managing a full home life.
And then there’s the guilt of neglecting a business that people revere. She says, "It's a very hungry, greedy career and a very unforgiving one," she tells me, "and for someone who has chosen family way more often than I probably should have, I can't believe I'm still here." That’s a different kind of internal struggle, her asking if she deserves to be there when she already has a whole body of work behind her. That’s part of the mindf-ck actors go through; they never stop worrying about their next job and if they do, they feel ungrateful for not worrying about it.
Jennifer has the financial privilege of making those choices to step back and re-enter the workforce on her own time but even so, there’s value in a woman saying it out loud. Speaking about posing with her children at the Walk of Fame ceremony in 2018, Jennifer noted, "I don't have two Oscars on my mantle, I've raised them," she says, "and I think every little kid has a dream that their mom will have a moment where people applaud her so that they can say, 'That's right, I knew it,' and my kids got to have that and for that I'm grateful." It’s no secret that Ben has two Oscars on the mantle. To me this doesn’t read as regret, but an acknowledgement of their family life. What she did at home enabled Ben to accelerate his career, to direct, and be a superhero.
If she wanted a fluffy cover story about her family she could have gone to PEOPLE and if she wanted a glossy promotional piece she could have gone to InStyle. This interview wasn’t done to drum up public attention and it isn’t just about her family or her former marriage, it’s about her future. That’s why she chose to make this announcement in a trade magazine: Jennifer Garner is back in business.