Jennifer Garner Interview, The Kingdom

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline caught up with Jennifer Garner at the Los Angeles press day for her new movie, "The Kingdom,” directed by Peter Berg. Garner joins an all-star ensemble in a timely thriller that tracks a powder-keg criminal investigation shared by two cultures chasing a deadly enemy ready to strike again.

When a terrorist bomb detonates inside a Western housing compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, an international incident is ignited. While diplomats slowly debate equations of territorialism, FBI Special Agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) quickly assembles an elite team (Oscar winner Chris Cooper and Golden Globe winners Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) and negotiates a secret five-day trip into Saudi Arabia to locate the madman behind the bombing.

Upon landing in the desert kingdom, however, Fleury and his team discover Saudi authorities suspicious and unwelcoming of American interlopers into what they consider a local matter. Hamstrung by protocol—and with the clock ticking on their five days—the FBI agents find their expertise worthless without the trust of their Saudi counterparts, who want to locate the terrorist in their homeland on their own terms.

Fleury’s crew finds a like-minded partner in Saudi Police Captain Al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhoum), who helps them navigate royal politics and unlock the secrets of the crime scene and the workings of an extremist cell bent on further destruction. With these unlikely allies sharing a propulsive commitment to crack the case, the team is led to the killer’s front door in a blistering do-or-die confrontation. Now in a fight for their own lives, strangers united by one mission won’t stop until justice is found in The Kingdom. For the evidence response team’s sole female role, Berg chose an old friend: Jennifer Garner, the Golden Globe winner who took four consecutive Emmy nominations for her starring turn on the ABC thriller Alias (a show on which Berg played the recurring character of SD-6 Agent Noah Hicks during the series’ debut season).


Garner found the script to be "compelling, visceral and terrifying,” and was quickly drawn into the world of Special Agent Janet Mayes, the team’s linguistics and forensics expert. Of Mayes, Garner explains: "One of her best friends from Quantico, Fran Manners (played by Kyle Chandler), is killed in this explosion in Saudi Arabia. When she and her colleagues are initially told that they cannot go and investigate Fran’s death and find who is behind it, it makes her crazy.”  Sporting a sexy dress by designer Jenni Kayne, here’s what the lovely Jennifer Garner had to tell us about her new movie:

Q: People cheer at your fight scene in this movie. You’ve done a lot of amazing fight work but this may be your best. How did you feel about the intense fight scene at the end of the movie?

Jennifer: Well, to be honest, I thought it wasn’t going to be much of anything. I kept saying to my stunt double, Shauna Duggins, who I’ve worked with for six years, who’s really my partner in crime and one of my best friends, I said to her "When are we gonna have rehearsal for this fight scene?” We go in a hundred and ten percent prepared. I could still do the fights from Daredevil in my sleep and a bunch of the Alias ones. Those went by like that [she snaps fingers]. I kept saying, "When are we gonna rehearse? I’m getting nervous. Isn’t there a fight?” And she said, "They keep saying to me we don’t need to rehearse.” And that day, I showed up and her eyes were this big and her hair was out to here and she had just learned the fight and she said, "This is unlike anything we’ve ever, ever done. Get ready. We’re just going to try to beat the shit out of each other.” Which is so Pete Berg.

Pete Berg was a guest star on Alias the first season and he and I had a fight and his idea of doing a fight was to improvise. I’m a girl. I don’t really want to be punched and he thought, "Hey, once we get in it, let’s just see what happens.” He started trying to actually hit me so I shouldn’t have been surprised. They yanked me out of that fight scene so fast. I remember my camera guys were just like "We’re gonna kill him. If he hits you again, we’ll kill him.” They put Shauna in who takes all my bruises and she was in there biting Pete Berg. So, I should not have been surprised when she said to me, "This is just a fight where you try to kill him and he’ll try to kill you.” So, it turned out to be an amazingly real scrabble. We loved shooting it. We had a blast. Did I answer your question or did I just talk a lot?

Q: You did. So it was more down and dirty than choreographed?

Jennifer: It was so down and dirty that we had scratch marks that we had to cover up on my face for the next few days where he tried to grab me and pull my face off. He had a scab on his ear ‘cause I bit his ear and I just yanked and got his ear and went ‘yuk’ [she indicates spitting out part of an ear]. It was nasty. It was great.

Q: What does your husband think when you do these fight scenes? Does he know how tough you are?

Jennifer: I wish he felt that way about real life. He was visiting the set the day that I shot this fight scene and I thought it would have made him a little bit nervous to see him chucking me against the wall harder and harder with every take but he was a little too calm about it. Between us, I felt like he could have been a little bit more, "My wife! You’d better be careful with her.” He was just like "Go! Go for it, babe! Harder!”

Q: Does motherhood determine the kinds of projects you take on and is it fun going from something like this to a Juno which is more character-based?

Jennifer: I don’t take or not take a role based on the physicality. If Shauna says something is safe, I’m gonna do it. I’m not gonna be killed for a couple of bruises. We did have a rule in the fight, because I was breast-feeding, he had to stay away from my boobs and he did. That was the one sacred kind of thing. He could go for my head. He could pull my hair, just not the boobs. So the motherhood did kind of have something to do with that but, other than that, what are a couple of bruises? She doesn’t care. She’s just a kid and I’m fine. But, there is a natural priority and there never has been before. I probably would have worked straight through this year because lots of great, fun things came up, but I can’t bear to do something that I don’t have to do because she’s so delicious.

Q: And going from this to Juno?

Jennifer: I have to say, if actors or actresses had every kind of script in front of them at all times, maybe you would think, "Oh, I just did this big movie. Maybe I should do a little independent.” It’s not that way. It’s part what comes to you and, a huge part, what you respond to and that’s kind of always how I’ve worked.

Q: Did you go to the United Arab Emirates?

Jennifer: I wasn’t in those scenes so I didn’t go to Abu Dhabi.

Q: How was it shooting out here in the desert?

Jennifer: Since I’ve already discussed it, it’s not new news but I spent two nights in the hospital. That was entertaining. Out of all the stuff I’ve ever done, I had never gone down before. I’d never had to go to the hospital. I’d worked so many more hours than this and I just couldn’t believe... I never fainted or anything like that. It was always "Jennifer Garner collapsed on set.” Never at all. I just was dizzy and I didn’t feel right. When we were on our way home, I said, "I feel not right enough that I don’t know if I can pick up my child so let’s just go get me checked out” and it turned out that, basically, after all was said and done, it was too hot and I was in the heat for too long every day to still be breast feeding for my body. So I flipped myself into heat stroke and I wasn’t willing to give that up and my body wasn’t really that into it, so I had a couple of nights where I didn’t feel so good and they gave me a [she makes a noise indicating a shot] and then I felt better.

Q: I’ve just seen Gone Baby Gone. It’s pretty fantastic.

Jennifer: It’s pretty great, right?

Q: Are you putting in a bid to star in Ben’s next movie that he’s going to direct?

Jennifer: 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.

Q: Are you making your Broadway debut with Kevin Kline?

Jennifer: Yes, I am. I’m gonna go to New York in a week and start rehearsals and I’m freakin’ out and so excited.

Q: Is that because your child is in bed at night and you don’t have to worry because you are on stage six nights a week?

Jennifer: No, it’s because it’s always been my absolute dream of all dreams and all of this stuff that I’ve done has been accidental. I always, always meant to be on stage. I only ended up even auditioning for television and movies because I was understudying a Turgenev play on Broadway and was so broke that, when I got a mini-series, I had to take it and was so ashamed because I was such a snob. Now, every time they talk about theater, it’s kind of like "Welllll” but this I couldn’t pass up; working with Kevin Kline, being in New York in the Fall, doing this role, getting to say these words. Just thinking about it, I get so excited.

Q: Your run ends December 23rd. Any chance you would carry through the Holidays?

Jennifer: I don’t think so. I don’t think there are any plans to, no.

Q: What was the play you were understudying?

Jennifer: A Month in the Country with Helen Mirren and Ron Rifkin. I watched every performance. At the time, when I was living in New York, I went to everything Victor Garber did. I saw him in four things. I was such a fan of his and, when they told me that in Alias, it was going to be Victor and Ron, I was so nervous the first few times I met them, I couldn’t even…. Ron remembered me as being the little kid understudy who is in the back of the theater so eager, but I was so starstruck around them.

Q: How did you prepare yourself mentally for the fight scene in this movie?

JENNIFER: I wouldn't say that I really prepared myself mentally. I think I should have more. We prepared ourselves for the roles. And Pete was a huge help in that. Instead of having rehearsals where you're kind of faking your way through scenes that you're going to re-rehearse and re-write anyway, our rehearsals were practical. We just joined a class out of the blue with this group of FBI officers who were in evidence response training from all over the country. They were in LA learning about bombs. And we just walked into their class, me and Jamie and Jason Bateman, and they were all kind of like, "Huh? Sydney Bristow is in our bomb class?" [laughs] And it was great. We learned a ton.

And because we improvised so much of the movie, it made it really easy to kind of...We all had this common dialogue of high explosive vs. low explosive vs. you know...all different kinds of detonators. And then we spent a day with them also learning about fingerprinting and all kinds of evidence response, or retrieval kinds of things. And then we did another day. Oh, we did a day with this Harry Humphries, who I'm sure you guys have heard about, who teaches actors how to use guns properly. And so we did a day with that and we ended up going through...You know, when they shoot...Oh, paint guns. We did a paint gun thing where the actors simulated the kind of mission that we would actually be on in the movie. And it terrified me. I was so grateful. I just remember, that day, being so grateful that I don't have to do that in my life, and that it's pretend. And I just couldn't believe that we send these kids over there to do that.

Q: Did you talk to any female FBI agents?

JENNIFER: So many.

Q: Did you learn about how they had to act in an Arab country?

JENNIFER: I talked to so many. It was great. The FBI was so incredibly helpful in the making of this movie. And the women...I mean, I would just be around them, and looking at them. What was their hair like? What was their make-up like? And saying, my main thing was, "What's in your pockets? What do you have in your pockets?" "Well, I always have these gloves, I always have one set. I always have candy for a stressful situation." So I stole that. "I always have something to write with." And so my pockets in the movie, whether I used that stuff or not in the scene, I was always going to the prop guy, "Okay, I think I need some more gloves, and I think I need some more lollipops." And they were just like, "Okay, Jennifer's pockets, let's fill 'em up." But that was really fascinating. And those women are incredible. They are real women in the middle of the country that are armed and ready to go into a really hairy situation. And they have kids at home, and they go home most nights, but every now and then they have a bank robbery to deal with. And they were amazing.

Q: Tell us about improvising.

JENNIFER: When you're talking about improvising and speaking off the cuff, you're working with the best when it comes to Jamie. And Jason Bateman, he never stays on book once. [laughs] He's incredibly deft at coming up with stuff right in the scene. So you did feel like you needed to be really prepared so the scene could kind of go anywhere, you know what I mean? But it's also Pete sitting at the monitor listening to Christina Aguilera saying, "Yo, Jen! Say this!" You know, you're just kind of like looking over, "Really, Pete?" "Yeah, say it! It's funny!" So you say it and then you see it in the movie, and he was right. It was hysterically funny. But at the beginning, on television, you don't improvise. At least, in any experience I've ever had. You stick to the script, the script is Bible. Of course, I had been trained in that stuff and I had done it a lot growing up, but it had been a while. And it was great to, bit by bit, every day, be a little more comfortable. And it was so good for me. I was really happy.

Q: Can you talk about the tone and walking the fine line involved between dealing with a very real political situation in the Middle East and making a big action film out of that?

JENNIFER: Well, I think another thing to throw in there is what makes this movie great to me is that it really is...You see everybody in the movie 360 degrees. Our Saudi Arabian counterparts, you see Ali's character at home helping his father kneel into prayer position. He's humanized to you. You see Ashraf's character at home with his kids and his wife, and at the end of his day, and what his life is like. And so there's no judgment put on anyone. The film very much says, "We are all the same." And that's what I loved about it. I loved that there are no solid heroes. It's not like the US is coming in there with guns blazing and "We'll take care of this!" My favorite line in the movie is when Jamie Foxx says, "Look, I'm not saying the United States knows everything, but this is something we're good at." We're not pretending to be perfect. And I loved that. It kind of took the onus off of us kind of just being like, "We'll take care of it!" But we are good at investigation as a country. And so that is a fair thing to say. Did I go so off point? What was the original question?

Q: How much research did you do about Saudi Arabia? We get that great little history lesson in the opening credits.

JENNIFER: Right. Wasn't that cool?

Q: Yeah. Has the film sparked more curiosity in you about the Middle East?

JENNIFER: I did read several books and do some research just to be as familiar with it as possible. But I am not a particularly outwardly political person. I leave that to the other half of my family. [laughs] And so I focused as much, if not more, on Janet Mayes, and being a forensics expert, and what it would be like for her in that circumstance as much as what our relationship is overall.

Q: Have you lined up anything for after you wrap on Broadway?

JENNIFER: Thanks for asking. I do have a couple little things, but I don't think they're anything I can talk about yet.

Q: Any clue?

JENNIFER: No, but they're fun. There are no fights.

Q: Small indie movies?

JENNIFER: Nope. No, mama's gotta go to work. [laughs]

Q: Genre stories?

JENNIFER: Yes and no.

Q: Peter Berg compared you to Jodie Foster as one of the few actresses who can be feminine and strong.

JENNIFER: That's nice of him.

Q: Do you find you're typecast as the kick-butt Alias woman?

JENNIFER: I don't mean to jinx myself, but no. I don't find that. I feel like I get a wide range of things that come my way, and I'm really, really lucky for that. I would love to go back and do a great action movie as long as the story is as good as this one at some point. But I love doing other stuff, too.

Q: There was a rumor they might resurrect Alias as a feature film.

JENNIFER: Yeah, I heard that, too.

Q: Would you consider that?

JENNIFER: I don't think it's really up to me. If J.J. (Abrams) were writing it and directing it, then absolutely, I think we'd all sign on. I mean, it's all in his crazy brain. But I haven't heard. He certainly hasn't mentioned that to me. But I'd be there.

Q: Are roles with strong female characters hard to come by?

JENNIFER: Look, think of any movie that you see. Think of this movie. How many men are there? How many women are there? One. That is every single movie. I mean, any time an actress gets to work with another actress, it's like, "Oh, there are two of us in a movie! How are you? Let's sit in the hair chair together!" We're lonely, women. Women get screwed in this industry. But yes, it is hard to find roles at all, much less strong females.

Q: Are you cynical about that?

JENNIFER: No. I mean, look, I'm lucky. I'm working. I've made a living for a long time. I'm not a cynical person anyway.

Q: You're not in The Jane Austin Book Club.

JENNIFER: What is that? Where's my manager? What was that movie? Why am I not in the movie?

Q: How are the terrible twos going? What kind of stuff is going on at home?

JENNIFER: We've seen glimpses of terrible. [laughs] But for the most part, pretty smooth. We haven't hit two yet. We are very into pretend.

Q: What is she watching?

JENNIFER: She hasn't watched TV yet.

Q: Nothing?

JENNIFER: No. I want all the attention! [laughs]

Q: If J.J. were to ask you to do a bit part in Star Trek, would you?

JENNIFER: Absolutely. Anything J.J. asked me to do ever, that's a clear, don't even worry, the answer's yes. I owe him.

"The Kingdom” opens in theaters on September 28th.

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