Personal detailsName: Jennifer Garner
Born: 17 April 1972 (Age: 41)
Where: Houston, Texas, USA
Height: 5' 9"
Awards: Won 1 Golden Globe
All about this star
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. Halle 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.