Gurney's Inn
September 26, 2007

Jennifer Garner: from the Silver Screen To Broadway

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Jennifer Garner knows how to take a punch.

That athletic prowess came in handy during a five-season stint as Agent Sydney Bristow on TV's "Alias." Garner still won't shy away from a fight, but the rules changed during the filming of director Peter Berg's The Kingdom.

"I'm not going to be killed by a couple of bruises, but because I was breastfeeding, my opponent had to stay away from my boobs. That was the one sacred thing," said Garner, who'd given birth to daughter Violet Anne in December 2005.

Otherwise, the scene was as realistic as it gets. "I had scratch marks that we had to cover up on my face for the next few days, from where he just tried to grab me and pull my face off. And he had a scab on his ear where I bit him. Oh, it was nasty. It was great," she added with mischievous glee.

Such spunkiness translates well onto the big screen in the high voltage political thriller sparked by a large-scale terrorist attack on a Western compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom was loosely inspired by the FBI's investigation of the 1996 bombings of Khobar Towers in Dhahran, but the incident serves as little more than a jumping-off point for rapid-fire action, peppered by Jamie Foxx's gallows repartee.

As FBI Special Agent Ronald Fleury, Foxx assembles an elite team (Garner, Chris Cooper and Jason Bateman) and sets up a secret five-day trip to flush out the madman terrorist.

A firm proponent of improvisation, Berg didn't waste time on rehearsals. Instead he packed his cast off to FBI school to master lingo, procedures and techniques.

"We did an exercise where the actors simulated the kind of mission that we would actually be on in the movie. It terrified me. I just remember that day being so grateful that I don't have to do that in real life. I couldn't believe that we send these kids over there to do that," the Golden Globe recipient for "Alias" explained.

When pressed further, Garner diplomatically insisted, "I am not a particularly, outwardly, a political person. So I focused more on Janet Mayes being a forensics expert and what it would be like for her in that circumstance."

"Another thing that makes The Kingdom great to me is that you really see our Saudi Arabian counterparts in the movie at a full 360 degrees. You see Ali's [Suliman] character at home helping his father kneel into the prayer position, and Ashraf's [Barhorn] character with his kids and his wife and what his life is like. So there is no judgment put on anyone. The film very much says, we are all the same. There are no solid heroes. It's not like the U.S. is coming in with guns blazing and a 'We'll take care of it' attitude."

Interviewing several female FBI agents, the 35-year-old Houston, Texas native became fascinated by the feminine touches – hairstyles, makeup, mannerisms and particularly what was in their pockets. She confessed, "Whether I used that stuff or not in the scene, I was always going to the prop guy, 'I think I need some more gloves. I think I need more lollipops . . .' and he was like, 'Ok, Jennifer's pockets. Let's fill them up."

For the next few months, the Big Apple will be home to the Afflecks. Jennifer is set to star as Roxanne, opposite Kevin Kline, in Cyrano de Bergerac premiering November 1 at Broadway's Richard Rodgers Theatre.

Excitement permeated her voice. "I am freaking out and so excited. It's always been my absolute dream of all dreams. All of this stuff that I have done has been accidental. I always, always meant to be on stage," she said, adding, "I only ended up even auditioning for television and movies because I was understudying for Month in the Country, with Helen Mirren and Ron Rifkin, and was so broke that when I got a miniseries I had to take it. I was so ashamed, because I was such a snob. This was something I couldn't pass up, being in New York in the fall, getting to say these words. Just thinking about it, I get so excited," she said.

Garner isn't the only one in the family trying something new. Husband Ben makes his directorial debut on October 19 with Gone Baby Gone. Based on Dennis Lehane's novel, it co-stars Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan as Boston private detectives investigating the case of a missing four-year-old girl.

"Have you seen it?" she asked. Not pausing for an answer, she added, "It's pretty great, right?"

Taking into account the couple's mutual admiration society, a joint project seems inevitable. Garner disagreed. "I don't think I would ever star in a movie that Ben directed because somebody has to raise the kids, but he'd better eventually find a little something for me. Or he'll pay for it," she said.

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