Dallas Buyers Club - Jennifer Garner (DVD interview)
Compiled by Jack Foley
DALLAS Buyers Club features Matthew McConaughey as real-life Texas electrician Ron Woodroof, who fought to smuggle HIV/AIDS drugs from Mexico in the 1980s. Jennifer Garner plays a doctor who tries to help him.
Speaking at a press conference for the film at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, here’s what she had to say about the film, her own character and her husband, Ben Affleck’s casting as Batman.
Q: The difficulties of these medical trials are really challenging, is that an aspect of the screenplay that attracted you to it?
Jennifer Garner: You can’t want to do something for that. That’s a really abstract reason to want to do a movie in my opinion. It has to be something much more visceral and emotional. There wasn’t a message I was trying to get out there. I just really liked the arc of my character and that she was one of the establishment and came from a very cognitive space and a very intellectual, black and white world. And then because she was challenged by and inspired by this man and her friend, it changed her outlook and it changed her so much that she ended up giving up everything that she’d worked for her whole life. That is what really attracted me.
Q: Is she an actual person?
Jennifer Garner: When I first started, they told me that it was a true story so I was looking everywhere for her. I researched, I Googled. Every article I read, and I read so much stuff, and I kept thinking, “Where’s Eve Saks? Where is she? She’s supposed to be one of the…” but no. She was purely fictional.
Q: She had this backstory where she and Rayon went to high school together. How much did you think of the backstory? Were they friends then?
Jennifer Garner: I think she was always the smart girl and the good girl and that they had kind of an unlikely friendship. I think he was not too sexual then but he was probably gay and she was probably really smart. They had classes together. That’s the way that we played with it at the time.
Q: One of the main strengths of the film is that it displays flawed characters. They are not heroes and they are not typical…
Jennifer Garner: I would give [director] Jean-Marc Vallée a lot of credit for this and for just staying away from what is saccharine and what is overly sentimental and what is meant to illicit some kind of emotional response because that was there. I thanked him in the hallway. The way he edited this was so beautiful because he cut out anything that felt at all like it should be in a movie. He left in and cut out. He could have edited the most emotional performance you have ever seen. Matthew could have cried in every scene, every scene was so on the surface for him. Matthew also gave him takes that were really simple and without anything but they were still full and Jean-Marc really edited it so beautifully and calibrated that performance so beautifully.
Q: Although there’s a bit of humour, the movie is very angry and also incredibly sad. Is this hard to play and take home?
Jennifer Garner: It was exhausting. Last night at the Q&A after the premiere, people said, “Where there any pranks?” and we were like: “Oh my god.” It wasn’t that movie. We were moving too fast. There were no pranks. There were no jokes. It’s not that we didn’t have a good time but when I worked with Matthew before, I learned his life story. I know everything, the way that you do when you have 15 minutes and they’re setting up cameras around you and you’re sitting at a table together and you go, “Oh yeah, in high school, I lived in Australia.” I knew every meal he ate. He would say, “Last night Camilla and I ate salmon.” On this movie, he was like, “I had my tapioca this morning.” So it was a very different thing. I just didn’t want to mess him up. I didn’t want to talk to him.
Q: You’re the only person in the cast not on a diet…
Jennifer Garner: I was happily not on a diet, yeah.
Q: Did you just rub it in everyone’s face?
Jennifer Garner: Dennis and I were quietly sneaking food.
Q: People today tend to think that this virus doesn’t kill anymore. Do you think it’s a vital message of the film?
Jennifer Garner: I think it’s so important. I just lost a friend to AIDS not that long ago, a really dear friend of mine. I think it is so, so important that AIDS is brought back into the conversation because people really think that you won’t get it and if you do, there is a cocktail you can take but the numbers are on the rise. It hasn’t gone away. The lack of education has fostered a real complacency that’s crept in. The numbers are on the rise for HIV and AIDS and the cocktail is not fun to take. It’s not easy on your system and eventually you will die before you’re ready to. It’s not a death sentence like it used to be but its not the flu. You don’t want it.
Q: There are movies that are important and there are movies that are entertaining. How often do you get to appear in a movie like this that is important?
Jennifer Garner: Butter was a very important message. I don’t know. I can never remember what I’ve done before. I know that I had taken a couple of years off before doing this and I was actually really happy at home and not in any rush or hurry to work. When this came along, I didn’t even want to read it because I had a feeling and it was one that I couldn’t say no to.
Q: Did you talk to doctors and patients for research?
Jennifer Garner: Definitely, I have a lot of friends who are very active in the theatre community in the 80s and they had friends just dropping weight so I’d heard those stories for ever. I went to some meetings and that was easiest way to get information and then a lot of it was reading which is part of what I love about this job – it forces you to do all kinds of little research projects for all kinds of different things that you would never expect to do. I love going back and if you read about HIV and AIDS and the medical journals today, it’s totally different from reading them from the 80s. That TIME magazine that we showed, I remember that being on my parents coffee table and reading every single word of it then and I went back and read it now and it’s so interesting to see what pieces of the puzzle have fallen in around what they knew at the time. How much ignorance there was, how much fear there was. So yes, I spoke to doctors, I spoke to people and I read, read, read, read.
Q: The story about Mr. McConaughey is that he’s done this string of serious performances and he’s changed his focus. As someone who’s worked with him before, how accurate is that?
Jennifer Garner: I absolutely disagree. I worked with Matthew five or six years ago and it was by all accounts a sort of romantic comedy that was fluffy. His pages of his script were as covered in notes as these pages were. He was as prepared, he was as committed, he was as serious about what he was doing. Maybe the content of what he is doing has changed and maybe being a father has done that. Why do you shift things? He’s grown up. But I will say that the Matthew that you’re seeing now is the same Matthew that I saw five years ago and at the time I thought, “Wow, this is one hell of an actor” and I’m still so lucky to be working with him.
Q: Were you shocked when you first saw him on set?
Jennifer Garner: Of course. It’s horrible. The best that he looks in the movie, he had stuff in his face and stuff in his jeans. If you could look all the time if you were just around him, it was horrible to see. It was much worse in real life than onscreen.
Q: Do movies like this put the rest of pop culture into perspective?
Jennifer Garner: Yeah but it all has value. It’s not like I judge pop culture. I just feel like this is important to do and I feel lucky to do it. I feel like the job of art in general is to reflect society back to itself and to say, “Look at this. Be challenged by this. What does this make you think?” Even if there is something very slight, there should be some question that it brings up that you might not even and realize you’re asking yourself. Yes, when something is more overtly political or challenging in some way, I am turned on by that and I am excited to be part of these conversations.
Q: Are you going back to your hiatus or are you back at work?
Jennifer Garner: Doing this movie kind of reminded me by the end of it, I was like: “I like my job. What do I do?” I was really glad to go to work at first, and I can see it in my performance, I had a few days where I was just cricky and it was hard for me to fully engage. My head was at home. But this movie woke something up. My husband has always said that I’ve got to work, “Go to work. Go to work. Go to work” and I’ve always said that I should be at home. How do we do this? I don’t know how. It’s so confusing to figure it out with the schedules and school and everybody and he was home. After this movie, I took a big break because he was traveling and getting his movie up and out and then traveling for awards stuff and I just wanted to be there for that. I just felt that the energy around him, I just didn’t want our kids to be destabilized so I really chose to be home for another five months and then he was home so I worked a bit. I did this movie, Draft Day, with Kevin Costner who I love. You won’t believe how great Kevin is. Then Imagine with Al Pacino and Annette Benign and Bobby Cannavale and Chris Plummer, which I loved. That was just a little movie that I got to do in LA. Now I’m working on Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day with Steve Carrell, which I love so I had a few things in a row that I couldn’t say no to.
Q: Your husband has this whole Batman thing going on. Is there a sense of humour about that around the house?
Jennifer Garner: For sure. Oh my gosh, yeah. I’ll send him stuff and say: “This is a good one.” He’s a grown-up. He’s been around a long time. He’s a pretty tough guy so it’s not like you take one of these jobs expecting anything else.
Q: You said that you wanted to work less because you wanted to get away from the icon of pop culture and create something new for you…
Jennifer Garner: No, I worked less because I had babies. That’s 100% it. I like my job. I would have worked straight through. There have been jobs all the time and it breaks my heart. I had to make a decision about next year and I said, “I’ve just done all this. I need to do something after this one.” It’s little but still. I need to be home. That’s not the way I do it.
Q: Are you and your production company still developing Mrs. Marple?
Jennifer Garner: We are. I get to play Miss Marple and it’s a younger Agatha Christie. She’s American and it’s such a cool story. It’s so much fun and it’s ambitious. I hope that it finds its way onto the big screen.
Q: Is this developing work something you’ll be able to do during your break?
Jennifer Garner: Yeah, my production company is busier than its ever been. When I’m home, I scurry around and do this or that but I’m on the library committee and I’m a lunch mom. I am the home room parent for school and I’m a room mom for preschool and I have a baby, I have a toddler. There’s plenty believe me.
Dallas Buyers Club is released on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday, June 2, 2014.