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September 12, 2007

The Zen of Jen (and Ben)

jennifer garner

Jennifer Garner

Photo Credit: Mark Abrahams

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Although crew members, presumably, weren't nursing a baby between shots, like Garner was. (Her daughter with Ben Affleck, Violet, is now 22 months old.) "I checked with a pediatrician, I checked with my gynecologist," she recalls, "and they said, 'Breast-feeding? You'll be fine. Just drink plenty of water.' But the rules when it's 138 degrees are different." The upshot? "Well, it sent me to the hospital a couple of times," Garner says, facing me head-on, elbows resting on the table. When she clasps her hands together, I get a peek at her ring, encircled with diamonds, looking like a crown plucked from the head of a miniature prince. "I guess I was getting heatstroke. All my electrolytes were going to the baby — I wasn't keeping any of the potassium in my body. I would never pass out or anything, but I just got so dizzy that I thought, I can't pick up my daughter when I get back to the hotel. It happened twice. It was scary.

"I made it through, though. I really didn't want to give it up, and I didn't," she notes, standing and skootching up her jeans to her waist before sitting down again, as if to punctuate the point. All told, she nursed Violet for 14 months, pumping in airplane bathrooms when necessary — even in the car on the way to the Oscars. "I really loved it. It gave me peace and a sense of purpose."

Garner's voice brims with girlish optimism, but her manner is unflinchingly direct, her gaze coming across the table with the ka-pow of a Serena Williams forehand. Not the teetering-on-heartbreak look she shot at Mark Ruffalo in 13 Going on 30; not the comely opacity of Alias's Sydney Bristow; not the breezy, toothy cheerfulness you've seen in photos of her and the family at the beach. She may look happy, yet knowing the paparazzi are always there "just nips away at anything you're doing, the small pleasures," she says. "I would give just about anything to make it go away, especially for my daughter. I feel like she has a right to her privacy, and it's kind of encroached on."

Nice she may be, but there is a certain steeliness to Garner. The planes of her face, the way they sweep back from her mouth, make her look like a lioness, defender of a brood. I ask the inveterate people-pleaser how she is at saying "no" these days. Without hesitation, she responds, "It got a lot easier once I had a kid."

Garner isn't a 20-something naïf anymore — that starry-eyed West Virginian who took ballet and studied chemistry and drama at Denison University before packing up and heading for New York in search of a stage career, only to discover (via a role in Felicity) that TV would make her a star. Now she is a 35-year-old woman, divorced (from actor Scott Foley), remarried to an actor with his own storied past. She spent five years headlining a high-profile TV series, carried a hit film (13 Going on 30), performed admirably in a critical favorite (Catch and Release), and even withstood a flop (Elektra). Now she's a mother. Not the résumé of an ingenue. It's why doing The Kingdom felt so right. "In the end, the character was not at all like Sydney Bristow," Garner says. "Alias had a fun, entertainment-y vibe to it. This doesn't have that at all. It's not slick." Garner thinks for a moment. "She's a grown-up."

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