Jennifer Garner was last in Toronto this time last year in support of “Dallas Buyers Club,” the indie drama that went on to win Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey their first Oscars. She’s back this week to tout her role in “Men, Women & Children,” the latest film from Jason Reitman, who directed her in “Juno.” In the timely ensemble drama, Garner plays Patricia, a domineering mother obsessed with monitoring her teenage daughter’s digital footprint in an effort to keep her safe from the dangers of the Internet. The actress, who herself has three children with her husband Ben Affleck, sat down with Indiewire to discuss the project.
Welcome back to Toronto. You were here last year with “Dallas Buyers Club,” which did pretty well on the awards circuit, and now you’re back with another hard-hitting drama that’s being positioned as a possible awards player. Does anything feel different coming into this year’s edition of the fest?
No. Because it’s still a total unknown. There are a lot of great movies this year — there are every year. That’s what’s cool, is that there are all these possibilities, and watching them juggle into the spots that they belong. At this point, it’s just a conversation. People have to decide.
Are you one to listen to that conversation?
Not that much, honestly.
How do you ignore it?
I truly don’t have time. My husband is much more plugged into that. When I am not actually at work my focus is not at work.
Are you more plugged into it with respects to your husband’s work, because less is at stake for you?
Absolutely. I don’t even know what to say, other that 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 in this film, it doesn’t compare to a two to three year investment of him directing, writing and starring in something.
Family seems to come first for you.
Well, it has to! Who would do it otherwise?
Have you become more selective with the parts you choose to take on over time?
I’m more selective as time goes on. I’ve realized that’s it’s been good for me. 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. You’re just taking a chance! In this case, it was Jason [Reitman]. If you have a director that you believe in that much, then there’s really no question. If he had just said, “Hey there’s a movie, I need you to show up Woody Allen style, ” I would have been like, “Okay!” No doubt.
Was that the case with this project?
No, we were on a plane together. I was working on “Draft Day” with his dad. I was on my way back to Cleveland and he 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 kind of blew me away. At first I thought it was this social commentary and by the end I was crying. I was really shocked and he said, “I want you to play Patricia,” and I said, “Yes I’d love to.”
You didn’t have any reservations about playing her?
Oh, God no! I totally connected to the role. She made perfect sense to me. I don’t judge her at all.
That’s surprising given she’s arguably the “villain” of the film.
I guess so, but she also makes a lot of sense. 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.
Sometimes as a parent, it’s when you’re trying the hardest; 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. And it’s so painful when you realize you did. Sometimes you realize that night; sometimes you realize 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 realize she’s going to be a different mom after this and I just love her for that.
Are the issues raised in the film ones you think about as a mother?
Absolutely. It’s just like anything. You go to all these parenting classes, especially in LA. There are so many people who are really helpful and so you take advantage of it. This one teacher said to me… there are so few things that stick in my feeble brain, but one of them is: “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, or whatever. 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.”
So you’d never take the extreme measures that Patricia takes to monitor her children’s social media presence?
I might be tempted [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 that that is discussed. But I don’t know, I really don’t.
The film is more timely than ever now with the horrible news of the celebrity iCloud hacking.
It’s an invasion. It’s violent. It’s a violent abuse of women. 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.
You and your husband are a mainstay in the tabloids with the paparazzi following you and your family’s every move. What makes you stick with your day job?
It’s too late. You can’t just decide, “Oh, I’m not going to be famous anymore!” 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. First of all, then you’re the weirdo in town. And 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.
That has happened to us so many times. We’d be living in Boston for work. Eventually 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.”
You can’t just say, “I’m going to be done with this.” And we have jobs we love. My husband’s brain is firing on all pistons. 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, etc. – became the forefront of what people were selling and reading about. But we’ve also had these incredible opportunities and there’s not a day when we’re not grateful for that. We have it all in perspective.
The year before “Dallas Buyers Club” premiered, you were here with “Butter,” a film The Weinstein Company seemed to be positioning as an awards contender. That didn’t quite play out like “Dallas” did a year later.
Nobody even saw it. Harvey [Weinstein] just decided to release it VOD.
Did it bother you?
Yeah, of course. That movie broke my heart. It breaks my heart to think about it. People come up to me saying, “I was in Telluride at that first screening and it was magical.” Or, “I was in Toronto…” And you just have to give it up. Everything’s not going to pan out. Like I look through that thing of movies, it’s so thick! Last year the fact that little “Dallas Buyers Club,” which was one of the smallest films here, 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. We’re so lucky just that I keep get to come back. It’s my fifth movie here, my seventh time here. 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. And I’m okay. I’m okay. But I do wish that people would see it because I love it.