Jennifer Garner: ‘I want joy in my life and in the world’

Her new family comedy suggests otherwise but the actor insists she’s not always a fun mom

As anyone who has ever alighted on Jennifer Garner’s Instagram can tell you: the woman moms – to make up an ugly verb – like a pro.

A protective mother to daughters Violet (16), Seraphina (12), and Samuel (8), for almost a decade Garner has campaigned for laws to protect her children from paparazzi. Speaking to E! prior to lockdown, she described “a solid decade where there were five or six cars minimum, and easily up to 15 or 20 on the weekends, outside of my house at all times” and school runs characterised by the “seven or eight” photographers who routinely wait outside her children’s classrooms hoping to photograph them from a distance.

Mostly, however, Garner's mothering style looks impossibly fun. Between proud demonstrations of her kids' science experiments, in recent weeks she surprised her 10.3 million followers with a 13 Going on 30 reunion with co-star Mark Ruffalo. Over lockdown – and beyond – she sawed, hammered and knocked together a homemade dunk tank and she baked and chopped and kneaded through her wildly popular Pretend Cooking Show segment.

Today, on the campaign trail for her new family comedy Yes Day, she promises she’s not always a fun mom, even if Instagram suggests otherwise.

In a career spanning more than two decades, Yes Day is only Garner's second project as producer and star

“My mom tells me that as a mom you should say yes as much as you possibly can,” says Garner. “And I said: ‘Mom! So I should say yes when my son wanted to wear ninja clothes to church with plastic swords on the back? I can’t! It’s church!’ And she would say: ‘Don’t argue; who cares?’And she’s right. But I’m definitely very strict about bedtime and homework and teeth and vegetables – all the boring stuff.”

Action heroines

Garner scored a series of supporting movie roles in the late 1990s. She appeared in Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry, Washington Square and Dude, Where’s My Car? before coming to prominence as the star of JJ Abrams’s spy series Alias (2001-06). Her big screen action heroines – notably Electra and Peppermint – have never been as popular as Alias’ CIA officer Sydney Bristow. But she’s enjoyed plenty of success with roles in Juno, Dallas Buyers’ Club and Love, Simon.

In a career spanning more than two decades, Yes Day is only Garner’s second project as producer and star. It was a very personal project, she says.

"I developed this movie and it comes straight from my life. Directly from my life. My daughters and I read the book Yes Day by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and we loved it. My kids all loved it but my middle daughter especially. She loved the idea of the book. So we started doing Yes Days based on the book.

“A couple years ago I posted some exhausted pictures of myself in the aftermath of one of my Yes Days on Instagram  and the wife of Ben Everard, one of our producers, said this should be a movie. So I developed this film with an intention. A purely happy, uncynical family movie that’s funny and relatable– and that isn’t too treacly – is kind of hard to come by. But I want joy in my life and I want joy in the world.”

Yes Day concerns Alison and Carlos (played by Garner and Edgar Ramírez), busy parents who decide to give their three children a Yes Day, where for 24 hours the kids make the rules. Much ice-cream is consumed. Rollercoasters are dutifully boarded. And frazzled Alison gets to have fun again.

‘Disparate people’

“Like that character in the movie, so many of us were spontaneous and adventurous and up for anything,” says Garner. “And then you have kids and in order to get this group of disparate people of disparate ages with disparate interests and temperaments from point A to point B all day every day – with the soccer cleats and with the homework and with the right snack in the right bag – you kind of become a slave to the schedule.

“Which is why the sensible mom is a little bit of a trope. But it’s something I know very well. And I think we can do better. Sometimes we can just take a day off from it. I think we learned that in the last year. Just say: oh well, what can we do? Let’s just do the best we can today.”

She nursed her ex-husband Ben Affleck through his alcohol addiction even after they had divorced

Back on Instagram, Garner, an energetic fangirl, loves Hamilton so much she’s been known to burst into tears on camera while talking about it. She enthusiastically binged Normal People alone, but swears by reruns of The Office and Schitt’s Creek as comfort viewing for all the family. She’s as sunny in person – or at least via Zoom – as she appears online.

"Jennifer Garner is a very special human being," says Yes Day director Miguel Arteta. "I'm sure you've noticed that when you met her. She's genuine and authentic and a very grounded person. Especially for somebody that famous. She's present. She really cares about people. Something I realised when making this movie was that she's in this for the right reasons. She is not just trying to make entertainment. She's trying to give people a feeling of hope."

Alcohol addiction

Sure enough. Garner is an ambassador for Save the Children and a sponsor for the new Los Angeles women's football team. She attends weekly Methodist services. She nursed her ex-husband Ben Affleck through his alcohol addiction even after they had divorced.

And there are not many actors who take the time to wax lyrical about their stunt doubles the way Garner does.

"My stunt double of 20 years is now an award-winning stunt co-ordinator," says Garner proudly. "Shauna Duggins makes everything fun because she's not afraid at all. And she's not afraid for me either. She doesn't care that I'm 48. She doesn't care that I'm more fragile than I used to be. She'll just put me on a wire and tell me to flip."

Yes Day is on Netflix from March 12th

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