Sydney Bristow is the reason Jennifer Garner became a superstar – that was the name of the sexy, shape-shifting spy she played on the hit television series Alias from 2001 to 2006.
But after graduating to big-screen action on the superhero flicks Daredevil (2003) and Elektra (2005), the actress put her butt-kicking career on ice – in large part because she married her Daredevil co-star Ben Affleck in 2005 and became a full-time mother to their three children, born between 2005 and 2012. The two have since divorced.
Her resume languished as a result, with Garner often consigned to either headlining small films, such as Miracles From Heaven (2016), or being a supporting player in bigger ones, including the Oscar-winning Dallas Buyers Club (2013) and Juno (2007).
But the 46-year-old returns to form with the action-packed Peppermint, (now at cinemas nationwide) and sees her taking centre stage again, this time as a woman who turns vigilante to avenge the murder of her husband and child.
Garner admits she had been itching to do something in this genre, which she has always adored.
“I knew I wanted to do an action movie. I felt I was in pretty good shape and that I still had this whole skill set that I haven’t been using.
“What I love about an action or fight scene is the stakes have to be so high in a movie that you have no choice but to start fighting someone or pull out a gun, and I love what gets you to that point,” she says.
After playing the mum in a string of family-friendly films – including this year’s teenage coming-out drama Love, Simon and Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014) – Garner was searching for something with a bit more bite.
Action scripts “have come my way, of course, over the years, but it didn’t feel like the drama (in those) was strong enough to push the action. And this one did,” she says.
Peppermint came along at the right time as well. The son and two daughters she shares with former husband Affleck, 46, are old enough – aged 12, nine and six – that they do not need her around as much, and raising them was a big part of why she veered off the action-star track.
“For a while, all anybody wanted to talk to me about was action and I did (the 2007 action thriller) The Kingdom, Daredevil and Elektra, and then, I kind of took myself out of that and made a hard pivot,” she says.
“Also, I was having babies and it’s hard. I did The Kingdom when I was nursing my first child. I was wearing a flak jacket and we had to cut holes in the styrofoam so that it wouldn’t impede my milk production,” she says, laughing.
“Now my kids are bigger, they’re all in school and I can devote myself to a couple of hours of workout a day plus recovery plus training plus stretching, and still be a mum.”
Reporters know Garner as one of the most consistently cheerful celebrities you can interview in Hollywood, but her brows furrow when she is asked if people react differently to a woman rather than a man starring in a revenge fantasy.
“Isn’t that interesting?” she murmurs. “Because everyone has been so nervous (and asking me), like, ‘How are you going to talk about it?’
“Well, do you say that to (action star) Matt Damon? Do you say that to the men who are going out in their vigilante movies?”
And she adds, in a telling aside: “We’ll see if the world is ready for somebody they’ve forgotten used to be tough.”
This film has clearly brought out a steelier side to the star, who was so revved up doing action scenes that she sometimes fought with director Pierre Morel.
“Pierre and I had an incredibly dynamic, loving and sometimes, combustible relationship, which is not something you will typically hear me say.
“I would get so heated – I mean, your adrenaline has to be going to take a hit and a punch, take after take,” says Garner, who did almost all the fight scenes and stunts herself.
When Morel – who helmed the action hit Taken (2008) – told her a hit did not look convincing, she would yell at him: “What do you mean it’s not a hit?”
“In that moment, I would have to say to him, ‘You’re not dealing with the mum next door – you’re dealing with somebody who’s in the middle of a fight.’”
And her subsequent words to the filmmaker could well be directed at anyone who doubts that she can kick butt on screen again: “I know you think of me as the girl that you met, but that’s not who you turned me into, so be careful.” – The Straits Times/Asia News Network