JENNIFER GARNER on 'THE KINGDOM' Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
August 24, 2007
In the action thriller The Kingdom, two cultures come together in an uneasy alliance to investigate a terrorist attack with far-reaching political implications. When a brutal slaying cuts through the inhabitants of a Western housing compound in Saudi Arabia, an elite team of FBI agents (Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper, and Jason Bateman) is dispatched to track down those who are behind the slaughter. But upon their arrival, they are met with opposition by most of the local authorities, with the exception of a Saudi colonel (Ashraf Barhom) who finds common ground with the Americans on issues of justice and duty.
In this interview, Jennifer Garner talks about working on the project while being a new mom, returning to the physicality of action sequences, and throwing down with director/actor Peter Berg. She also briefly flashes back to her pre-Alias days as a theatre understudy, and looks ahead to a Broadway stint opposite Kevin Kline in Cyrano de Bergerac.
MEDIA: You have a really kickass fight in this movie. How did you feel about getting back into the whole action scene?
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, "When are we going to have rehearsal for this fight scene?" We go in 110% prepared. I mean, I could still do the fights from Daredevil in my sleep, and a bunch of the Alias ones. And those went by like that. [snaps fingers] But I kept saying, "When are we going to 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! Just get ready, we're just going to try to beat the sh*t out of each other." Which is so Pete Berg. Can I just tell you guys, 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 am 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." And he started trying to actually hit me. So I shouldn't have been surprised. They yanked me out of that fight so bad. I remember my camera guys were just like, "We're going to kill him! If he hits you again, we'll kill him!" And they put Shauna in, who takes all my bruises. And she was in there just fighting 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, you know what I mean? And we loved shooting it. We had a blast. Did I answer your question or did I just talk a lot?
You answered it. So it was more down and dirty than choreographed?
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 just tried to grab me and pull my face off. He had a scab on his ear because I bit his ear and I just yanked, and I actually got his ear. [laughs] It was nasty. It was great.
Does being a new mother make you apprehensive about taking more physical roles, or working continuously in general?
I don't take or not take a role based on the physicality. If Shauna says something's safe, I'm going to do it. I mean, I'm not going to be killed for a couple of bruises. We did have a rule in the fight because I was breastfeeding: 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...I mean, what are a couple of bruises? [My daughter] 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 is so delicious.
What does your husband [Ben Affleck] think when you do these fights? Does he know not to mess with you in a movie?
I wish he felt that way about real life. I mean, 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. You know, between us, I felt like he could have been a little bit more, "My wife! You better be careful with her!" He was just like, "Go! Go for it, babe! Harder!"
Ben has been getting some acclaim for his feature film debut as a director, Gone Baby Gone. Any chance you could star in his next project?
I don't think I would ever star in a movie that Ben directed, because somebody has to raise the kids. But he better, eventually, find a little something for me, or he'll pay for it.
How did you handle shooting in the desert for The Kingdom?
Since I've already discussed it, it's not new news, but I spent two nights in the hospital. So that was entertaining. [laughs] ...I never fainted or anything like that. I just was dizzy, and I didn't feel right. And when we were on our way home, I said, "I feel not right enough that I don't know if I could 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 breastfeeding for my body. And 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 just had a couple of nights where I didn't feel so good, and they gave me a [shot], and then I felt better.
We get a great mini-history lesson in the film's opening credits...
Right. Wasn't that cool?
Did you do any specific type of research on Saudi Arabia or the politics involved in the plot?
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 [my character] 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.
Did you talk to any female FBI agents to get a sense of their day to day routine?
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 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.
Do you think it's difficult to find strong female roles in film?
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, [excitedly] "Oh, there are two of us in a movie! How are you? Let's sit in the hair chair together!" I mean, we're lonely, women. Women get screwed in this industry. But yes, it is hard to find roles at all, much less strong females.
How did you prepare yourself mentally for this movie?
I wouldn't say that I really prepared myself mentally. 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 rewrite 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. We all had this common dialogue of [explosives], 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 with Harry Humphries, who I'm sure you guys have heard about, who teaches actors how to use guns properly. And 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. But anyway...
What kind of experience did you have with the improvisation on this film?
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--you know, 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, [deep dude voice] "Yo, Jen! Say this!" And you're just kind of like looking over, [begrudgingly] "Really, Pete?" [deep dude voice] "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 awhile. 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.
Did you have to walk a fine line between making an action thriller and tackling sensitive political issues? It seems like the movie could have been potentially exploitative of real life situations.
Well, I think another thing to throw in there is what makes this movie great to me is that you see everybody in the movie 360 degrees. Our Saudi Arabian counterparts, you see Ali [Suliman]'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 judgement 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. 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, [with bravado] "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?
[jokes] "What are you wearing?"
[laughs] Jenni Kayne.
Basically, "How did the film tackle potentially sensitive political issues?"
Okay, did I kind of go there somewhat in my answer?
Okay, thanks. Good. Yeah, what I said. [laughs]
You're about to star on Broadway with Kevin Kline, yes?
Yes, I am. I'm going to go to New York in a week and start rehearsals, and I'm freakin' out and so excited! 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. And now, every time they talk about theatre, it's kind of like, [hesitantly] "Well..." 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...I mean, just thinking about it, I get so excited.
What was the play you were understudying?
A Month in the Country with Helen Mirren and Ron Rifkin. And I watched every performance. And 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 mean, Ron remembered me as being the little kid understudy who was in the back of the theatre, like so eager. But I was so just starstruck around them.
What's after Broadway? Do you have anything lined up?
[coyly] Thanks for asking, I do have a couple little things, but I don't think they're anything I can talk about yet...But they're fun. There are no fights.