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She’s 30-ish going on 13!
by Lynn B.
Hot-looking actress Jennifer Garner was a band geek! Okay, maybe not quite like the Alyson Hannigan character in the American Pie movies but, she wasn’t the prom queen. Yes, we’re talking about the Golden-Globe-winning, action-babe Jen of “Alias” and Daredevil’s “Elektra” and the soft sweet and funny Jennifer of the new romantic comedy 13 Going on 30. This friendly, ready-to-share actress remembers her teenhood quite well and told us all about how she made her own mental blast to her past in West Virginia to recapture her inner-13-year-old girl.
At the exclusive L’Ermitage hotel in Beverly Hills, Jennifer met with us to dish all about her fun movie, her upcoming return to the Elektra character, where her character Sydney is headed on “Alias” and a little about her personal life. We have class. We didn’t pump her for info on her painful divorce from fellow actor Scott Foley or whether or not her romance with “Alias” co-star Michael Vartan is on or off. We had much more fun things to chat about like her love of music and dance and her advice for teens and tweens. For our interview, Jennifer was wearing a cute white striped blouse, no jewelry, little make-up (like she needs it, ha!) and spoke in a sweet, small voice.
AGW: Do you keep in touch with your friends from your teens?
Jennifer: Oh, of course. Yeah, a couple was just staying at my house that was one of my friends when I was little. My best friend is somebody that I grew up dancing with. She lives in Atlanta and I talk to her. I'm still really close with everyone at home and their parents. And their brothers and sisters. I was so, so, so lucky to grow up as part of a community and I don't take that for granted. I try very hard to stay part of it.
AGW: You'll never ditch your roots?
Jennifer: No. I can't imagine that anyone really would. Maybe I'm just lucky that I came from a great place, but I'm so glad and so relieved to see people that I've known forever and to just sit down and talk about our dogs and gardening and normal real life and our parents and siblings. I think I would feel that way if I worked on an oil ship somewhere and only got home every nine months. I think that it's not as crazily different, my job, from anyone else's, as people let themselves believe. I think people get wrapped up in their own idea of what it is, but it's really not that.
AGW: How have kids changed since you were 13?
Jennifer: Now, they are sophisticated but they still are incredibly innocent. I hung out with girls in West Virginia as well that were 13 because I went home right before I started the movie. And, I think that they have so much available to them now. They can stay in constant contact with each other. They can get on the internet and find anything out. I mean, all the obvious things, but at the core, I think they still pretty much feel the same. I feel bad for them that there are such an overwhelming amount of options in sitting- and-watching entertainment. It makes it harder and harder I think to rev up and be part of a soccer team or be on the swim team or whatever it is, the stuff that actually builds who you are.
AGW: How tricky was it getting into the 13-year-old mindset?
Jennifer: If you were to hang out on the set of “Alias”, you would very quickly agree with the cast and crew that I'm 30 when the camera is rolling and 13 when they say ‘cut’. I think all of us have our inner 13-year-old a lot closer to the surface than we're willing to admit even to ourselves. I think we can all pretty quickly, if put in the right situation, go back to feeling like ‘oh gosh, I don't know, should I have worn this, should I be- - I feel like I shouldn't have eaten that’. I drew from my own life, my own experience and also of course, I know you've heard about the sleepover and that was more of a reminder that 13-year-olds and particularly these girls that I was hanging out with, are smart and sophisticated and capable of absolutely having any kind of adult conversation and then they flip and surprise you by being children and goofy and dramatic. So it was constantly making sure that I didn't go too far in any one direction.
AGW: Were you more Jena (her character) or Lucy (the ultra-popular girl) growing up?
Jennifer: Oh, Jena for sure. I'm more like Jena except that it wasn't important to me to be part of the cool crowd. It didn't upset me greatly that my group of friends were not considered the coolest, hippest. If you could see pictures of my eighth grade birthday party, we were really, really a motley crew. But we were happy. It didn't bother us. We thought we were cool.
AGW: In the movie, Jena is really not so nice when she is 30. What do you think happened to make her that way?
Jennifer: We talked about it so much. We talked about specific incidents, times that might have separated her more and more from her family, that pulled her away more and more from her relationship with Matt (her childhood friend in the film). I just think she did what is so easy to do. She probably made a couple of bad decisions right after her 13th birthday party where she shunned Matt and wouldn't talk to him again. She shunned her parents and latched more onto the Six Chicks (popular girls) as her family and I think once she did that, she probably became ashamed of her behavior. And so once she was embarrassed, it became easier and easier to separate herself from that instead of going back and apologizing and getting closer again to who she was. And the next thing you know, she started to believe that she really was this girl and then she became her.
AGW: That’s a really good explanation. Did you have a guy friend like Matt when you were a young teen?
Jennifer: I did actually. I grew up next door to this guy named Danny Moore. He is now married with a couple of kids. He still lives in Charleston and I still see him every time I go home. And Dan and I had this ritual, we called it ‘porch talk’ where every night when we got home from our various things, and then through high school it would be from dates or whatever it was, he would throw rocks or pennies at my window if my light was on, or I would at his window. I would come downstairs or he would and we would sit on the front porch of either house and talk, go through everything. And we were absolute sweetest best of friends and it was always innocent, but I think we probably both did have crushes on each other. He set me up with all of his friends instead and I talked him through his various relationships.
AGW: Jena has a lot to regret in this movie. Is there an instant in childhood where you wish you'd made another choice?
Jennifer: So many. There were so many classes at school that I didn't take seriously. I can think of a couple of times where I spoke to a girlfriend, in trying to make myself understood, said the wrong thing and you can't really wish to go back and fix them (mistakes) because then you wouldn't have learned anything from them. But at the same time, if I could just erase anything bad that had ever happened and still have learned from it, then of course I would.
AGW: What relationship advice would you give to young girls?
Jennifer: I would tell them just to keep in mind who they are and what they're about, how they see themselves and what they want. And not to give that up to fall in love with what some guy wants because the guy doesn't really know.
AGW: Who were your favorite musicians at 13 and now?
Jennifer: I'm always the disaster of the group when it comes to this. I always feel like ask Mark Ruffalo (her co-star who plays Matt). He's always like, "Yeah, I love The Stingers." I'm like who the heck are the Stingers? When I was 13, I was pretty much top 40. I have to say, I didn't pay a lot of attention. I just listened to whatever. I remember taping a couple of songs off the radio, “You're My Inspiration” by Chicago. That kind of thing. And now, I still really don't care that much but I have music playing all the time at home which is a first for me. Whatever. Everything from Ani DiFranco to Dave Matthews to Jack Johnson and Norah Jones.
AGW: Do you approach a comedy scene similarly to an action scene?
Jennifer: Yeah. You have to commit to it. You can't hide in an action scene. You can't think, "Oh, I'll halfway do this." And you can't hide in a comedy scene either. You have to give in to the scene and commit.
AGW: How difficult were the dance sequences in 13 Going on 30?
Jennifer: They were just fun. I mean, they were pure joy and fun. I grew up doing musicals and so to me, it was the perfect marriage of what I had grown up loving and doing and what I do now. And there were huge cranes and cameras and great backup dancers that were full of energy. Mark (Ruffalo) was sure that he was gonna die on the spot when we were rehearsing. He took a lot of pep talks but he so got it and so nailed it, he was groovin’. So we just had a blast.
AGW: At what age did you start dance?
Jennifer: Three. I mean, just like a little kid in a ballet class. It's not like my parents sent me to New York City and said, "Go take class." They just stuck me in class. I also took jazz but I was always a disaster at jazz. I've never had rhythm.
AGW: Did you want to be a classical ballerina?
Jennifer: No. To become a classical ballerina, you have to move to New York when you're 12 or 11 and that becomes your life. I just wanted to be good in my company in Charleston and I wanted it to always be part of my life.
AGW: Did you once look more at a musical career?
Jennifer: Musicals were just what I did. They were what was available to me in my home town. We had a great- - and still have a really great, strong community theater. This is the Charleston Light Opera Guild in Charleston, West Virginia. And I was beyond involved. I was a ballet dancer and that kind of bled into musical theater and I was constantly in rehearsal for one thing or another. You would've thought that I was trying to be a professional in Charleston but I just loved it so much and I was happy to be backstage. I was happy to have a role of any size or no size at all. And I still feel that way.
AGW: Has anyone approached you for Broadway or musical film?
Jennifer: No, they haven't, but that certainly is my end game. Eventually, if I can do anything, it would be to be on Broadway or to do a big movie musical. I can't think of anything I would love more.
AGW: Is it harder to learn dancing or martial arts fighting?
Jennifer: They're actually very similar and I love doing both. It doesn't matter. I love being physical and acting at the same time.
AGW: What were your favorite musical roles?
Jennifer: Gosh, I love everything. I love being in the chorus. I was in the chorus of “Little Abner” in summer stock once and it was so fun, the dancing and finding the harmony, being part of a big group. I played “Gypsy” when I was younger and I loved, loved, lu-hu-hoved “Gypsy”. I think that's such a beautiful musical. I was Dream Laurey once in “Oklahoma” and that is such a beautiful ballet. I love “Cabaret”. I did that in college and I love them all.
AGW: How do you deal with fame since “Alias” took off and you've been in the spotlight?
Jennifer: Well, you can't be trying to achieve success of any kind in this business without accepting that there's going to be a flip side to it. It was never my goal to become famous or to walk a red carpet for that matter. It was always my goal to get the next job and then once this was in sight, it became my goal just to try to have more choices. And of course, I'm competitive enough to want to do well at what I do, but I didn't get to this part of it without knowing what came along with it. All of us have parts of our jobs that we don't like. You just try not to pay too much attention to it in either direction. You try not to get too heady about the perks and how crazy it can be and you try not to take any of the other stuff too seriously or too much to heart. Because who cares?
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