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September 12, 2007

The Zen of Jen (and Ben)

She's the nicest girl in town, but as a newish mom and Ben Affleck's wife, Jennifer Garner is finally learning to show some steel.

jennifer garner

Jennifer Garner

Photo Credit: Mark Abrahams

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A rolled-up yoga mat and a baby stroller is pretty much all you need to blend in at the farmhouse-red Brentwood Country Mart in west Los Angeles, where Jennifer Garner has asked me to meet her. The cozy-looking place is an apt choice for Hollywood's most down-to-earth star, except for the novelty item being sold at the bakery today: $5 cupcakes commemorating Paris Hilton's imminent trip to jail. There's a camera crew set up by the cash register.

In a pair of blue jeans, a short-sleeve polka-dot blouse, and sneakers, Garner is walking along the cafeteria-style counter, selecting some sliced chicken breast and a Caesar salad, when I stroll over to say hi. At which point she shoots me a curt "hello" and turns her back. Cuts me dead.

I am at a loss. Isn't she supposed to be — doesn't everyone say she's really ... well, you know, nice?

We'd actually even met once before, at a benefit for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Her pregnant stomach was huge, complete with an outie belly button showing through her gray jersey top. She was totally sweet — and now this?

It's clear she is looking around for someone — the writer from Marie Claire, no doubt. So I approach her again and introduce myself. Suddenly, her eyes go wide, her lips forming an enchanting oval of surprise: "But I thought you wanted to ask me about Paris Hilton cupcakes!" When I assure her that, no, I am not with the camera crew, her apologies are abundant. We head for a table in the back.

I start by asking her about her new movie, The Kingdom, costarring Jamie Foxx, in which Garner curses a lot as part of an elite FBI team investigating a terror attack on an American compound in Saudi Arabia. Renowned for her stamina while shooting her TV series, Alias, Garner was nonetheless staggered by the heat on the Arizona set. "It made people crazy," she recalls. "It was like another character in the movie. Your whole body is saying, 'Go inside. Find somewhere cooler.' And there you are, just standing there, baking. The crew had it worse than we did."

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