When Jennifer Garner spoke to Loaded in January, all seemed perfect.
The star only got flustered when talking about protecting her three children from stalkers and her hatred of the hackers who perpetrated Hollywood’s ‘fappening’ scandal of leaking celebs’ nude photos.
Five months after her Loaded interview, she’d split from husband Ben Affleck, but rumours about the seemingly on-off status of their relationship have been rife since.
Garner and Affleck were interviewed in the same issue of Loaded – the last time they have spoken publicly about their marriage and family.
Interview by Tom Mitchelson
When being interviewed, Hollywood actresses are likely to spend the entire time dodging interesting questions and heaping praise on their co-stars, wittering about the pressures of fame or the difficulties of getting under the skin of their latest character.
Jennifer Garner, though, is a breath of fresh air.
She’s most enthusiastic talking about sex photos. Well, last year’s Hollywood hacking scandal to be exact.
In a town that controls the flesh on display to the point it’s common practice to put in a contract precisely how many seconds of a nipple are allowed in the final edit of a movie, it was a shock to the system of screen sirens including Jennifer Lawrence to find photos of their most intimate moments splayed across the web after last year’s ‘fappening’.
It’s time, Garner argues, to fight back against anyone who tries to violate women. Her gloves are well and truly off when it comes to hackers.
“It’s an invasion. It’s violent. It’s a violent abuse of women,” she snarls. “They’re not just doing it to any women. These women know when they’re walking down the streets that so many people have seen them in this way. It just makes me want to hurt somebody.”
Fortunately for Garner, she seems to have resisted the temptation to pose for steamy photos and store them on iCloud, which was the downfall of J-Law and Kirsten Dunst, to name a couple of the dozens of stars who had their naked pictures pilfered from their Clouds.
Garner didn’t just fly into a rant against hackers on a whim. The dangers of the Internet are the subject of her latest film, Men, Women & Children.
Garner plays Patricia, a domineering mother obsessed with monitoring her teenage daughter’s online behaviour in an effort to keep her safe from Internet predators.
“I totally connected to the role,” she tells me. “She made perfect sense to me. Don’t judge her at all.”
At first this is surprising. Garner’s character Patricia not only installs a GPS tracker on her daughter’s computer, but also intercepts and deletes messages on her phone and social media accounts.
It’s a dilemma familiar to any parent: how do you begin to control an online world that your child understands so much more completely than you do? How much freedom is enough? Is Garner as fiercely protective in reality over the three kids she has with Ben Affleck?
“Patricia makes a lot of sense,” Garner nods. “It is scary out there. What I understand about her on a cellular level is that we would all do anything to keep our kids safe.
“To her, rightly or wrongly, it’s a black and white issue that the Internet’s evil and all of that kind of communication is evil, and she’s going to save her daughter.”
Garner can’t be blamed for identifying with the protective mother. The actress had a stalker so extreme he was locked in a mental hospital in 2010 and is under orders to stay away from her and her family for 10 years.
So does Garner subject her kids to an Amish-style lockdown?
“Sometimes as a parent, it’s when you’re trying the hardest,” she says. “It’s when you’re trying to do the most on their behalf that you’re fucking up the most.
“And so, every day is just an opportunity to get it wrong as a mom. It’s so painful when you realise you did. Sometimes you realise that night, sometimes you realise a week later. Sometimes you look back and you think, ‘Oh my gosh, I drove that poor kid crazy trying to help’.
“But every day is a chance to start again as a parent too. In the movie you do see her realise she’s going to be a different mom after this and I just love her for that.”
The problem with being one half of the ‘Bennifer’ super-couple is that ‘normal’ is an elusive quality.
“Photo hacking is an invasion. It’s violent. A violent abuse of women. It just makes me want to hurt somebody”
“You go to all these parenting classes, especially in LA,” Garner says.
“There are so many people who are really helpful and so you take advantage of it. This one teacher said to me, ‘You prepare your child for the road, not the road for your child’. So, if your kid is having a problem at school, you don’t go to the teacher saying, ‘This has got to change’. You actually go to your kid and have the kid learn to advocate for themselves.
“This is a prime example of that. We’re on this road. The train has left this station, there’s no way we’re going to grow up and my kids aren’t going to see things they shouldn’t see online.
“They maybe already have, for all I know. So you have to just look at it and say, ‘Okay, I have to get in front of this as much as I can and prepare them’.”
But would Garner take such extreme measures as her character Patricia to monitor her kids’ online activity?
“I might be tempted,” she laughs. “I’d like to think that I would set things up in a way where there are boundaries that are gradually opened up bit by bit and trust is earned, and that there’s enough of an open line of communication that if something goes on then that is discussed. But I don’t know, I really don’t.”
Garner is careful to balance the work she does with the needs of her family.
“I’m more selective as time goes on, I’ve realised that it’s been good for me,” she says. “There used to be a lot that I would do, but now it has to be something where I can’t say no. It has to fit for my family.
“That does have to happen, unfortunately, otherwise there are some things that I would have probably taken a chance on. If you have a director that you believe in that much, then there’s really no question.
“I was on my way back to Cleveland and Jason (Reitman – director of Men, Women & Children) was on his way there to meet his dad.
“He kind of passed up his iPad and said, ‘Will you read this? I’ve been working on it’. I read it and it blew me away.”
“You can’t just decide, ‘I’m not going to be famous anymore’. We’d move away and you’d be the weirdo in town”
The indiscriminate publicity machine in Hollywood is such that looking through an actor’s back catalogue sometimes turns up little-known gems, even though it’s the well- funded turkeys that can unfairly hog the limelight. Garner says one of her underappreciated flicks was her recent film Butter. “Nobody even saw it,” she laments.
“It was just released as video on demand. It breaks my heart to think about it. People come up to me saying, ‘I was at that first screening and it was magical’, but you just have to give it up.
“Everything’s not going to pan out. Last year the fact that Dallas Buyers Club, which was one of the smallest films, truly, and that I got to be a part of a movie and part of those boys’ performances that rode the wave that it rode – I’m not going to get that every time.
“You can kill yourself over the rough times, and they do hurt, but it’s like, come on, let’s keep a clear eye on your landscape. But I do wish that people would see it because I love it.”
Also, it has to be said, Garner produced Butter, a political satire based in the world of a butter sculpture contest.
Garner does, however, see a difference in what she’s prepared to give to one of her projects and the type of dedication her husband Ben Affleck is increasingly having to give to his.
There’s a feeling her approach is more 9-5 for the sake of their kids, while her husband’s is more immersive.
She’s not going to talk about Batman, but hinting about the workload her husband is about to take on by becoming the caped crusader, Garner says, “What he does when he directs something, it’s so personal to our family. It’s such a commitment for our family.
“As invested as I am, it doesn’t compare to a two-to-three year investment of him directing, writing and starring in something.”
Perhaps Garner’s flexibility is responsible for the strength of her and Affleck’s nine-year marriage, which by Hollywood standards, is deserving of some kind of award for longevity.
The actress may be conscious about steering clear of the celebrity world and protecting her kids. But she is realistic about the price of fame, saying she’s skipped too far down the Hollywood Boulevard to ever be able to look back.
“It’s too late. You can’t just decide, ‘Oh, I’m not going to be famous anymore’,” she says. “It really doesn’t work that way. We would decide we were leaving LA and we’d go and look. We would find a school somewhere, find a house. Then you’re the weirdo in town.
“I’m sure that eventually that would chill out because we would be so aggressively normal. But then some fool buys a camera and starts following you around.”
The story of Greta Garbo, who managed to opt out of the Hollywood rat race, has obviously passed her by.
The star famously announced, “I want to be alone” in the film Grand Hotel – and in reality packed up movie stardom and did just that.
Still, that was before celebrities were routinely snapped and tweeted while having an “aggressively normal” lunch, as Garner puts it, so maybe she has a point. She adds the paparazzi are currently a day-to-day work hazard the couple seemingly have to accept.
“I have a job I love and my kids. I’m so lucky”
She says about one run-in with an aggressive snapper, “We’d been living in Boston for work. Eventually a professional paparazzo shows up, but some dude was in a minivan with his kids strapped in car seats in the back just following us around, running out of his minivan and running out in front of us in traffic. And we’re just like, ‘Dude?’”
She knows her ‘job’ has plenty of upsides. Garner stresses again, “You can’t just say, ‘I’m going to be done with this’. We have jobs we love. I have a job I love to do and still have my kids with me, and it fills me up. I’m so lucky.
“There are some negatives that come along with that, but it’s too late for those. Those weren’t even around when we first started out. We had the luck to luck into a time when all of that stuff – kids of celebrity marriages, etcetera – became the forefront of what people were selling and reading about.”
Perhaps cautious of sounding a little too hard done by, 42-year-old Garner (she’s just four months younger than her husband) adds that she’s going to have her feet well on the ground when Affleck’s caped crusader takes off on screens.
“We’ve had these incredible opportunities,” she says. “There’s not a day when we’re not grateful for that. We have it all in perspective.”