Garner was born in Houston, Texas and raised in Charleston, West Virginia. She studied ballet for nine years before enrolling as a chemistry major at Denison University. After realizing that she loved the stage more than science, she changed her major to drama.
She currently stars as the character of Sydney
Bristow in the TV show
Male action stars are, of course, ten a penny. The
world never seems to tire of beefy guys in sweaty vests
pulping their victims with no concern for the Sixth
Commandment. Kick-ass females, though, are harder to
come by. Beyond the B-movie likes of Cynthia Rothrock,
we find that top-notch stars really only dabble in the
genre. Michelle Pfeiffer made a great Catwoman, but that
was a one-off. Uma Thurman threw her weight around in
Kill Bill and Paycheck, but that would not last.
Berry would press her claim in Die Another Day, the
X-Men franchise and, again, as Catwoman, but her best
work was clearly done in dramas.
Step forward Jennifer Garner. Having suffered a series of false starts and painful cancellations, she would finally break through in 2001 in the cult TV show Alias as hard-hitting Agent Sydney Bristow, a college student caught up in a sinister world of counter espionage, a mistress of disguise and sudden violence. This was no Scully, usually terrified and pulling a pistol when the going got rough. Bristow was the real action deal, a blistering update of Luc Besson's Nikita, her every body-part a lethal weapon. When Garner then won the part of Elektra in Daredevil and was so successful she spawned her own spin-off, her muscle was undeniable. That she also carried the comedy 13 Going On 30 meant that an impressive new talent had arrived.
She was born on the 17th of April, 1972, in Houston, Texas, the second of three girls, Melissa being older and Suzannah younger. In 1975, when Jennifer was three, her father, Bill, moved the family to Charleston, West Virginia, where he would work as a chemical engineer for Union Carbide and the children's mother Pat would teach English at a local college. Charleston was state capital but, with an urban population of just 53,000, was still a small town isolated in the hills west of the Allegheny Mountains. The Garners lived in a middle class area but, Pat would claim later, due to her babysitting exploits Jennifer would be well-known by half the town's population.
At elementary school, Jennifer discovered a talent
for performing, being a perennial winner in the school
talent show. It was also noted that, when performing,
she had an abnormal hold over her peers. One teacher
recalled how once, clad in green overalls, she read a
folk tale to the other kids. Whenever anyone became
restless, she drew them back in by dropping one of her
shoulder-straps. A canny kid.
Her main prompting, though, came courtesy of sister Melissa. Extremely good-looking, class valedictorian, maths star and piano prodigy, Melissa was a tough act to follow, so Jennifer had to put in extra effort to gain the attention she desired. And there would be no hiding from her sister's accomplishments as, with the family often hosting foreign exchange students, the pair would share a room. All three girls were encouraged to learn piano and ballet. At Charleston's George Washington High School, Jennifer would also compete from the swim team and take up the saxophone. So numerous were her extra-curricular activities that she'd eat her evening meal in the car between lessons.
But her speciality was really dancing. Once Melissa had given up, Jennifer really began to take it seriously, seizing the chance to succeed where her sister had not. She would study it for nine years in all. Her teacher Nina Denton Pasinetti would recall her weeping in the class-room when she couldn't master a move. She also noted that the girl was unusually cultured. On the day before she left for college, Jennifer visited Pasinatti's house to say thanks and goodbye, then stuck around to watch the 1987 Oscar-winning classic Babette's Feast. This was surely due to her parents' efforts to widen their children's parameters with European vacations. Another sign of Jennifer's academic intensity lies in a photo from one of these. Sat in the midst of a spectacular garden she sees nothing, her nose being buried in a copy of Alex Haley's Roots.
As a teen, Jennifer has described herself as "a happy nerd". She wore thick glasses, worked at Kelly's Men's Store and, for one whole year, sported a purple hooded sweatshirt bought on holiday (her mum was forced to assure the school that it was indeed washed every day). The Garners was a conservative household and the kids were not permitted to wear makeup or nail varnish, or to have their ears pierced. Uninterested in fashion or popularity anyway, Jennifer hung out with similarly nerdy kids and would stay in contact with most of them even after world fame arrived. Charleston is just that kind of town. Jennifer would later say "I felt very protected and loved by the whole community and I still do".
And there was the theatre. During the last three
years of High School, Jennifer would involve herself in
local summer stock. She sold tickets, and helped build
the sets and make the costumes. As an apprentice, she
would only occasionally perform - she really just wanted
to be involved. Her parents recognised this interest
and, though Jennifer believed herself to destined for a
practical life in science (like her dad), they saw in
her a performer and encouraged her to continue. It would
come as no surprise to them when, having graduated from
High School in 1990 and gone north to Denison University
in Granville, Ohio, she would quickly change from a
Chemistry to a Theatre major.
At college, Jennifer would not let up in her blinkered pursuit of excellence. She joined a sorority but was not one for parties. Wholly driven, she didn't drink or experiment with narcotics or have very much fun at all - something she later claimed to regret. In the summer vacations, she worked in regional summer stock, on one occasion, in Atlanta, suffering a cruel blow to her confidence. Approaching a veteran New York stage actress for career advice, she was told to forget acting and train for a paralegal degree. Considering how many actors really make a decent living, this was actually sound advice, but Jennifer was not one to be turned from her goal.
Graduating in 1994, it was thought that Jennifer would continue her drama education at Yale. Instead, keen for experience, she visited a friend in New York City in 1995 and decided to take her chances in theatre-land. Almost immediately she won a part as understudy in a Broadway production of A Month In The Country, starring Ron Rifkin (who'd later play her evil boss in Alias). Earning $150 a week, she wasn't getting rich, but she was learning. While the other understudies played poker out back, she stayed rooted to the stage-side, watching every performance without fail, eight shows a week. For extra money, she would work as a hostess at Isabella's, a Mediterranean restaurant on the Upper West Side, famed for its clientele of hipsters and stars.
With her eye on bigger prizes, Garner simultaneously aimed at TV and film. Once again, work came quickly, this time with the TV movie Zoya, based on a Danielle Steel novel and the first of several films Jennifer would make for the Hallmark company. This would follow the fortunes of Zoya Ossipov, played by Melissa Gilbert, a young Russian girl who flees the Bolshevik Revolution, finds success in Paris as a ballerina, loses everything in the Wall Street Crash and then wins out again in the fashion industry. Jennifer would play Gilbert's daughter who, feeling ignored in favour of mum's career and second husband, takes up with a fortune hunter and becomes estranged. Years later she reappears, resolves her problems with Gilbert but then suffers a car crash, Gilbert having to turn off her life-support machine. Typical Hallmark stuff, then. But it was a reasonably classy debut, considering Garner had co-starred with David Warner and Diana Rigg.
After brief spots in TV series Swift Justice, Law And
Order and Spin City, Jennifer would now pop up in
another Hallmark production, Harvest Of Fire. Taking its
cue from Harrison Ford's Witness, this would see Lolita
Davidovich as an FBI agent investigating arson attacks
on an Amish community. Staying with (and gradually
befriending) Amish woman Patty Duke, she would both
solve the case and come to understand the religious folk
around her. Jennifer would appear as Duke's eldest
daughter in this thoroughly unexciting production.
Her next project would be another Hallmark show, yet far more prestigious. This was Dead Man's Walk, written by Larry McMurtry as a prequel to the enormo-hit Lonesome Dove. This would see David Arquette and Jonny Lee Miller as Gus McRae and Woodrow Call (Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones in the original), in their early struggles as Texas Rangers in the 1840s, battling with bears, Apaches and the Mexican army. Jennifer would appear as Clara Forsythe, a young woman Arquette meets and falls for in Austin. As she had to become the love of his life, a love so strong that, even though lost, it captivated him into the the later years of Lonesome Dove, she really had to turn on the charm. And she did - her reviews were excellent.
The next year, 1997, would bring a rush of projects. First came her fourth Hallmark role, the western Rose Hill, based on Julie Garwood's novel For The Roses. Here four orphaned brothers in Boston find a baby girl in the trash and take her with them as they go west to build a ranch and a life on the frontier. The girl grows up to be Jennifer, and family life becomes a rollercoaster as she falls for a man who kills one of the brothers and then returns to Boston to discover her roots. Again, typical Hallmark fare.
What came next most certainly wasn't. First came a very, very brief part when she appeared in an elevator in Woody Allen's inventive and autobiographical Deconstructing Harry. Then came the historical drama Washington Square, based on a Henry James novel, directed by Agnieszka Holland and earlier filmed as The Heiress, with Olivia De Havilland. This was a stark examination of values in 19th Century New York with Albert Finney trying to prevent daughter Jennifer Jason Leigh from marrying gold-digger Ben Chaplin. Jennifer would have a peripheral part as Leigh's cousin but once again, sharing the bill with Leigh, Finney and Maggie Smith, she'd be on an impressive cast-list.
The year ended with something infinitely more
light-hearted - Mr Magoo. Directed by Jackie Chan cohort
Stanley Tong, this was a Disney attempt to bring to
real-life the famed near-sighted and eccentric
millionaire cartoon character, with Leslie Nielsen in
the title role. Here Magoo, a benefactor of the Natural
History Museum, would show up at the unveiling of a
giant ruby, the Star of Kuristan, and attempt to pair
his naive nephew Waldo off with Kuristan's beautiful
representative, Stacey Sampanahoditra (Jennifer). But
the ruby's stolen, Magoo is accused, and everyone's off
to Brazil to find the stone and catch the crooks,
enduring, as you'd expect, many, many accidents and
near-misses along the way. Like most one-joke movies, it
wasn't a hit, but it was excellent exposure for Garner.
Having appeared alongside Orlando Jones in the short In Harm's Way, Jennifer now returned to TV in Significant Others, a new series from Chris Keyser and Amy Lippman, the creators of the hugely popular Party Of Five, a pre-Dawson's Creek show where the Salingers, a family of orphaned kids, deal with teen s--, drugs, menstruation, death and the like. This would feature an ongoing love triangle between Scott Bairstow (an aspiring writer now hacking out p---), Eion Bailey (a wannabe producer of children's videos) and Jennifer, as the hugely talented Nell Glennon, so afraid of falling into a rut she resigns as soon as she's promoted. It was all set for a long run and Jennifer was garnering (ho ho ho) great reviews. She was praised for her "enchanting tragi-comic performance" and for being "almost larger than life". She even reminded one reviewer of "Golden Age stars like Jean Arthur and Ginger Rogers". Unfortunately, it was aired by Fox in Party Of Five's slot while that show was "temporarily" shelved and, in protest, PO5's fans refused to watch it (or so the producers claimed). The first three episodes were screened in March, 1998, then the show was pulled, leaving a further three episodes unaired. Jennifer's first big chance was gone, but connections had been made.
More would be made soon. But first would come 1999 which saw a group of 20-something New Yorkers partying their way into the new millennium while discussing their lives and their futures. Dan Futterman would have the central role as a self-pitying neurotic who dumps his smart and pretty girlfriend (Jennifer) in favour of office s--pot Amanda Peet. It was good indie experience, but it had nowhere near the effect of Jennifer next effort - a brief appearance in the hit TV series Felicity (earned after five rounds of auditions). This saw Keri Russell star as Felicity Porter, an 18-year-old from Palo Alto who disregards Stanford in favour of following her High School crush (Scott Speedman) to New York. Here she engages in a bitter/sweet/funny voyage of self-discovery, chasing after Speedman while dipping into a relationship with admirer Scott Foley. Jennifer would show up in three episodes in 1998 and 1999, playing Hannah Bibb, Foley's out-of-town girlfriend who unknowingly foils his plots to get it on with Felicity.
Two major pluses came from these showy guest spots.
Firstly, she began an affair with Scott Foley which
quickly turned serious, leading to marriage in October,
2000. It was an odd relationship to begin with, Foley
playing the gentleman and holding off the first kiss for
a long while, even though the couple had already
stripped off and made out on the show. Secondly, she
managed to impress Felicity's creator Jeffrey Abrams.
Actually, when she next worked for Abrams the results
were so spectacular, they would strongly contribute to
her eventual break-up with Foley, the couple divorcing
in March, 2004.
Before this, though, her earlier connections were to keep her in employment. Party Of Five producers Chris Keyser and Amy Lippman were launching a spin-off series, Time Of Your Life, based around Jennifer Love Hewitt who'd played the girlfriend of one of the Salinger boys. Here she'd left San Francisco to find a more challenging life (and the father she'd never met) in New York City, the small girl in the Big Apple theme being similar to that of Felicity. Jennifer would play her wannabe actress room-mate, Romy Sullivan, and would see plenty of action, engaging in a misguided relationship with neighbour JB, having an affair with a married theatre critic, losing a soap job to a rival who sleeps with the director, having to eat spam-stuff for a TV ad and having her life taken over by a friend from back home.
Again her reviews were good and the promotion was heavy, but Time Of Your Life was doomed from the moment Fox disliked the pilot and sent it back for reworking. As with Significant Others, the show would be dropped with episodes left unaired.. A second shot at TV stardom had failed.
Jennifer Garner was back at base camp, but still persisting. Next came the superior TV movie Aftershock: Earthquake In New York which, as the title suggests, was a throwback to the disaster movies of the Seventies. But, being yet another Hallmark production, it concentrated on the human emotions stirred up by the seismological carnage, drawing together several separate stories. In one, fire chief Tom Skerrit battled with mayor Charles Dutton, in another a lawyer was trapped in the subway with a possibly murderous client. Jennifer would play a ballerina hitting on her rich father for money. During the quake she's protected by and falls for a ditzy Russian taxi driver played by Frederick Weller.
And now the cinematic success began. In Dude, Where's My Car?, two stoners try to work out what happened the night before - why they were waving wads of cash, why a freaky cult thinks they have a machine that can transport you beyond the solar system and, obviously, what happened to the motor. The Beavis (ie. less lame-brained) of the pair was Ashton Kutcher and Jennifer played his girlfriend, frustrated by his low libido, his lack of attentiveness and the general havoc he inadvertently causes. Landing somewhere between Wayne's World and the work of the Farrelly brothers, it was a big hit, taking more than three times its $13 million budget at the box office.
Jennifer Garner would follow it with another big
money-spinner, Pearl Harbour. This saw Ben Affleck and
Josh Hartnett (who beat Ashton Kutcher to the part)
competing for the affections of nurse Kate Beckinsale in
1941 Hawaii, before and after the stunning Japanese
assault. Jennifer would play one of Beckinsale's fellow
nurses, a slightly geeky, very serious bookworm who's
the least mentally prepared for the sudden flood of dead
and dying. Despite being panned for its concentration on
head-spinning action the movie was still among the
highest earners of 2001.
Stepping briefly back into the indie world, Garner could now be seen in Rennie's Landing (called Stealing Time when re-released in a longer form). This saw her once again play Scott Foley's girlfriend (this time an ex) as a group of college grads reunite in LA, discuss their dimming hopes and get drawn into a crazy bank robbery.
And then it happened. When writing for his show, Felicity, Jeffrey Abrams had often wished he could expand and energise the plot-lines by having Felicity involved in some major crime, or alien conspiracy, something more fun. If only she could be a spy on the sly. Now the idea came to fruition with a new show, Alias, where the heroine Sydney Bristow would be a college student who moonlights for the CIA. At least, she THINKS she moonlights for the CIA - she's actually working for SD-6, a shady group attempting to take over the world.
Abrams naturally remembered Garner from her spots on Felicity, but she wasn't a shoo-in for the part of Sydney Bristow. Before the first audition she took up her Yellow Pages and started Tae Kwon Do lessons with a Master Yu, a punishing schedule that saw her running up and down stairs and saw Yu screaming at her "Hit the tiger, Jennifer, hit the tiger!" When she saw five-year-olds who were more advanced than she, she came close to quitting, but kept on. And it paid off. By the time of the final audition, she was ready to show off a few hot moves. Abrams wanted an actress who could do girl-next-door and ninja assassin. Jennifer was in.
Alias was not an immediate smash, but its
intelligence, complexity and high quality action saw it
grow into a major cult hit. We discovered that Sydney's
father was a CIA agent claiming to be fighting SD-6, and
that her mother (Lena Olin) was a KGB operative who
might be a double agent for the CIA OR for SD-6. We saw
Jennifer is a crazy variety of wigs and costumes,
dressed as a naughty maid or cyberpunk, infiltrating and
double-crossing, straddling and battering big thugs (and
Quentin Tarantino), getting tortured and half-drowned,
having her teeth pulled like Dustin Hoffman in Marathon
Man and rushing hither and thither to a thumping techno
rhythm, much as Franke Potente did in Run, Lola, Run.
How could it possibly fail? From 2002 to 2004 she'd
receive consecutive Emmy and Golden Globe nominations,
actually winning a Globe in '02. The show also made her
a rich woman. For the first two series she received
$45,000 per episode, from then on it was $150,000.
Beyond this, in the wake of the September 11th attacks,
she'd be asked to appear in a promotional video for the
Now her projects were consistently top-class. In Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can, Garner added glamour in a brief role as a call girl who enjoys an impassioned liaison with Leonardo DiCaprio's Frank Abagnale Jr, a brilliant con-man on the run from Tom Hanks's FBI agent. Then came Daredevil where she was reunited with Ben Affleck, Affleck playing the title role of Matt Murdock, the blind lawyer whose other heightened senses allow him to take on mega-crims like Kingpin and Bullseye. Jennifer would feature as Elektra, spirited, spunky and out to avenge her dead father. With Affleck battling the same villains, they're drawn to one another, using kicking and swiping as a kinky form of courtship.
Daredevil would take over $40 million in its first weekend but its takings fell drastically away and it only just scraped over the $100 million mark. Both Spider-Man and X-Men had spawned successful sequels, but Affleck's appeal was now doubted. Instead, the producers looked to the movie's two stand-out performers - Jennifer and Colin Farrell, who'd delivered an appropriately manic Bullseye - and saw Jennifer as the most likely figurehead of the franchise. So, 2005 would see her headlining in Elektra, combatting the villainous Typhoid Mary and finding trouble with The Order Of The Hand, the sinister organisation of ninjas that trained her and have ordered her to assassinate a man she comes to care for. All those years of ballet and her ongoing experience in Alias would combine to make her, as said, the most impressive action heroine in years.
Beside the kicking, the pouncing and the punching, Jennifer would also prove her comic abilities in her first headlining role, as Jenna Rink in 13 Going On 30. Here a young High School girl attempts to win favour with the popular crowd but is cruelly rejected. Wishing her traumatic youth away, she wakes to find she's skipped 17 years and is now the sophisticated editor of a fashionable New York magazine called Poise. Now we see her attempting to come to terms with the adult world, with s-- (gross!) and with Mark Ruffalo, an old classmate she betrayed in her search for popularity and to whom she hasn't spoken since she was a kid. There had been many similar movies made before, most notably Tom Hanks's Big, but this one had a charm of its own, Jennifer putting in a sterling performance, and debuted at Number 2, behind Denzel Washington's Man On Fire.
This Jennifer Garner Biography Page is Copyright © 2004 - 2009 Chuck Ayoub