The features of a prom queen and the fighting prowess of an action hero merge to create the killer combination that is Jennifer Garner. The all-American starlet may have a weakness for her leading men, but has never let this, nor anything else, stand in the way of her steady climb to the top.
Jennifer Anne Garner’s wholesome upbringing in Princeton, West Virginia, is reflected in one very prominent feature: her ears. Born on 17 April 1972, the daughter of Methodists, Patricia Ann Garner and William John Garner, has never pierced her ears as she says her parents would disapprove. As the middle daughter between the older Melissa and the rebellious Susannah, Garner studied ballet from the age of three and went on to appear, but not always star, in local musicals such as ‘Little Abner’.
Yet, even these first ventures on stage did not instil in the George Washington High School graduate a desire to become a performer. The self-proclaimed “happy nerd” felt far removed from the world she saw on television and harboured no ambition to enter it. It was only whilst studying chemistry at Denison University that the Phi Beta Pi sorority member realised her love of the theatre and changed her major to drama.
In the course of earning her bachelor degree in fine art, the former dancer also enrolled in the O’Neal National Theatre Institute for the 1993 semester, presaging her future fame as an action heroine by studying fight choreography under the tuition of David Chandler. However, Garner did not capitalise on her combat skills immediately. Thinking she would “graduate, work in theatre, get married, have kids”, the aspiring thespian moved to New York and worked as a waitress whilst understudying for the 1995 Roundabout Theatre Company production of ‘A Month in the Country’.
Realising that her sojourn in the Big Apple would bear little acting fruit, the aspiring actress soon moved to Los Angeles, where she made her first forays into television. A small part in Hallmark’s 1995 TV adaptation of Danielle Steele’s ‘Zoya’ and guest appearances on popular shows in 1996 such as ‘Spin City’ (1996) and ‘Law and Order’ (1990) initiated Garner into the acting profession and kindled her relationship with the small screen.
That same year saw Garner adopt a multifaceted approach to the industry, supplementing her television appearances with movie roles. In addition to her return to the Hallmark Channel in ‘Harvest of Fire’ (1996), that year also marked her big screen debut with a small part in Jan Krawitz’s ‘In Harm’s Way’ (1996). Further roles followed in 1997 such as that of Stacey Sampanahodrita in Leslie Nielsen’s comedy, ‘Mr. Magoo’ (1997), yet the limelight still evaded the 25-year-old.
Garner finally seemed to achieve star status in 1998, earning a leading role as Nell in the television drama, ‘Significant Others’. However, her success was short-lived as the series was cancelled after only six episodes. It was in fact a recurring role in the Golden Globe-winning show, ‘Felicity’ (1998) that gained her the attention of Hollywood executives. Her performance as the girlfriend of Scott Foley’s character paved the way to her earning the supporting role of Romy in Fox’s ‘Party of Five’ (1994) spin-off, ‘Time of Your Life’ (1999).
However, the consequences of her appearance on the ‘Felicity’ lasted far longer than this later series and whilst ‘Time of Your Life’ was cancelled by the end of 2001, the effects of ‘Felicity’ continued to reverberate in Garner’s life for years to come. In a personal capacity, art began to melt into real life as Garner’s on-screen chemistry with Scott Foley progressed into their real life romance and subsequent marriage on 19 October 2000. The newly-wed returned to film and began to earn roles in major releases. She appeared as Ashton Kutcher’s long-suffering girlfriend in ‘Dude, Where's My Car?’ (2000) and was introduced to a young actor called Ben Affleck whilst playing the nurse Sandra in the blockbuster ‘Pearl Harbour’ (2001).
It was during this period that, unbeknownst to Garner, further professional implications of her stint in ‘Felicity’ were beginning to crystallise. The show’s producer, JJ Abrams, was in the process of creating a new television drama about a student who becomes a double agent for the Central Intelligence Agency. Searching for a girl who could portray a combination of innocence, sophistication and ruthlessness, Abrams immediately cast his mind back to Garner. After gruelling auditions where the combat-trained actress demonstrated her fighting prowess, he cast her as the lead character in what was to be named ‘Alias’ (2001). It was this incarnation as Sydney Bristow which would prove a culmination of her years of training and cement her as an icon of the small screen.
‘Alias’ premiered in 2001, instantly earning Garner strong reviews. Entertainment Weekly proclaimed that she was “exceptionally adroit” as the action star, whilst USA Today has compared her to Diane Rigg of ‘The Avengers’ (1961), declaring her the “sexiest spy since Emma Peel”. Unlike Garner’s previous endeavours, ‘Alias’ proved it could withstand both audience and studio scrutiny to evade the axe of cancellation. With ratings averaging 8.8 million viewers per episode, the show lasted five years and five seasons.
The success took its toll on the star’s marriage and, citing “irreconcilable differences”, Garner and Foley divorced in 2003. The tabloids were quick to blame the marital failure on Garner’s new relationship with actor, Michael Vartan. However, despite the fact that Garner had indeed become involved with her ‘Alias’ co-star, Foley was quick to defend his ex, issuing a statement confirming that it was the pressure of ‘Jen’ becoming a “huge celebrity” and not infidelity, which had ended the union.
By the time of its conclusion in 2006, ‘Alias’ had accumulated numerous awards, as did its star. In 2002, the actress won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Television Drama Series, followed the next year with a Saturn Award for Best Actress in a Television series and a Screen Actors Guild Award in 2005. She was also nominated for an Emmy four years in a row. Garner was quick to realise that the show’s popularity was her key to a wider audience and refused to rest on her laurels. She dedicated her time away from small-screen international espionage to infiltrating the world of film.
After a slow start with a cameo in Leonardo DiCaprio’s blockbuster, ‘Catch Me if You Can’ (2002), Garner began to reap the rewards of her television celebrity status. Following a hotly contested casting search in which she was reportedly pitched against actresses such as Jessica Alba and Natalie Portman, Garner landed the role of Elektra Natchios in ‘Daredevil’ (2003). This marked a reunion with Ben Affleck, who would star as the blind vigilante. The actress has described how she embraced the character’s “tenderness and the blissfulness of falling in love, and also her vengeful darker side”, despite admitting that the physical elements in the film were the hardest thing she has ever had to do.
Critics, including the BBC’s Nev Pierce, praised the movie, with Pierce proclaiming it a “solid, enjoyable actioner, which should please fan and philistine alike“. Indeed, with total worldwide takings of $179 million, the adaptation raced to number one on the films chart, staying there for three consecutive weeks. Garner’s physical and emotional dedication to the role was also rewarded with rave reviews and an MTV Movie Award for Best Breakthrough Female. Rumour was rife that, like her comic book counterpart, Elektra was due a spin-off movie. Even Variety, which derided the film as a “charm- and humor-free exercise in pushing commercial buttons“, commended Garner as having “no trouble holding her own” in the midst of the celebrity cast.
However, no higher praise was showered on the actress than by her co-star. Affleck gushed to MTV that "Jennifer's great, she's fabulous" and joked that she was a better fighter than him. Affleck’s esteem for the actress was clear for all to see, but with both actors involved with other people, the pair parted from ‘Daredevil’ as merely friends. Whilst Affleck went on to make film failures, such as ‘Jersey Girl’ (2004), Garner was due more box office success.
With her credentials as a screen fighter established, Garner’s next move was to prove herself as a comedic talent. Drawing on her wholesome childhood, Garner starred as a 13-year-old girl who wakes up as her 30-year-old counterpart after wishing it to be so, in the romantic comedy ‘13 Going On 30’ (2004). Harking back to Tom Hanks’s 1988 smash, ‘Big’, the film was well received. Whilst seemingly dwarfed by the $129,042,871 worldwide takings earned by its counterpart, ‘Mean Girls’ (2004), the film held its own with a respectable gross of $96,455,697. For Garner, the change of genre exposed her to a different audience, widening her appeal. Interviews with Teen Hollywood were accompanied by 2004 nominations for the Teen Choice Awards, People Choice Awards and MTV Movie Awards, signalling the arrival of a younger fan base.
That year also marked a significant step in Garner’s personal life. Following her split from Vartan and the demise of Affleck’s relationship with Jennifer Lopez, the pair were seemingly single by the time their second Marvel Comics adaptation was released on 14 January 2005. ‘Elektra’ (2005) confirmed the rumours of a spin-off for Garner’s character in ‘Daredevil’ and saw the actress reprise her role as the red-leather-clad heroine with a tragic past. Despite the film’s derision by critics, Garner’s talent shone through and she was awarded 2005’s People’s Choice Award for Favourite Female Action Star.
Even with its bad press, it is unlikely that Garner regrets her involvement with the ‘Daredevil’ project, for it brought with it some surprising off-screen developments. On 30 June 2005, after months of speculation, USA Today reported that Garner had wed Ben Affleck and was expecting his child. As Garner’s bump grew, Abrams incorporated his star’s pregnancy into the final season of ‘Alias’, insisting that she would play Sydney Bristow to the end. The hard working actress also honoured her filming commitments to the romantic comedy ‘Catch and Release’ (2007), continuing to perform whilst pregnant.
Garner gave birth to daughter, Violet Anne Affleck, on 1 December 2005. The proud parent immersed herself in motherhood and marriage, and fans may have been disappointed by her absence from the big screen in 2006.
The next year, Garner hit the ground running with three cinematic contributions. After receiving critical acclaim for ‘Catch and Release’, the energetic mother joined Jamie Foxx in the fast paced ‘The Kingdom’ (2007). Calling it the “perfect mom movie”, Garner was able to portray FBI forensic examiner Janet Mayes whilst nursing Violet between takes. The actress also found time that year to offer what the New York Times referred to as a “captivating” performance with Kevin Kline in a Broadway production of ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ (2007) as well as setting up her own production company, Vandalia Films.
Crowning her 2007 achievements was her role in Jason Reitman’s Academy Award-winning, ‘Juno’ (2007). Garner’s portrayal of the meticulous wife desperate for a child won her the glowing praise of a variety of publications, even melting the hearts of some of the toughest critics in the business. With The Wall Street Journal attributing one mall scene she shares with the film’s star, Ellen Page, as “the most exquisite scene in this exceptional movie”, Garner’s reputation as a credible actress solidified.
History repeated itself in 2008 with Garner and Affleck refusing to comment on the emergence of a bump on the svelte star’s stomach. It was Garner’s former ‘Alias’ co-star Victor Garber who accidentally confirmed that the power couple were indeed expecting their second child.
Jennifer Garner has launched a career which has seen her graduate from the innocent naiveté of her days on the Hallmark Channel to the highest echelons of Hollywood. Her 2008 standing as Forbes’ 70th most powerful celebrity surely reflects the successful, but understated manner in which Garner has oscillated from television to film in the piecemeal development of her reputation as one of the industry’s brightest stars.
The actress starred in romantic comedy 'Ghosts of Girlfriends Past' with Matthew McConaughey in 2009, followed by the 'Invention of Lying' opposite Ricky Gervais the same year. The film was set in a world where no-one lies.
Jennifer also gave birth to her second daughter with Ben Affleck at the start of 2009. They named her Seraphina. She then appeared in the romantic comedy 'Valentine's Day' in 2010 alongside Jessica Alba, Bradley Cooper and Jamie Foxx in the story featuring intertwining couples and singletons on the most romantic day of the year. In 2011, she appeared in 'Arthur' with Russell Brand.
The couple had their third child, Samuel, in 2012. Jennifer said of her third pregnancy: "Find ways to be as comfortable as possible and just go with it. It's not an illness, being pregnant. I'm in the easiest part of it."