Once TV's sexiest spy, Jennifer Garner now plays soccer mums

Jennifer Garner, who has three children with husband, actor Ben Affleck, plays a mum in Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. -- PHOTO: WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES SINGAPORE
Jennifer Garner, who has three children with husband, actor Ben Affleck, plays a mum in Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. -- PHOTO: WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES SINGAPORE

Actress Jennifer Garner has gone from sexy spy to soccer mum and she is happy with that role

Jennifer Garner once seemed destined to become the next big Hollywood movie star.

Yet eight years after she ended her reign as television's sexiest spy on the hit series Alias, the actress' once-promising film career has gone decidedly low-key, with a resume consisting mainly of supporting roles - often as a soccer mum.

The performer is taking it all in her stride, though - and at 42, now says she rather likes being a movie mummy.

And it is just as well because she has found herself doing it again in her latest film, Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, which opens in Singapore tomorrow.

"I have enjoyed this new world of playing mums," says an ebullient Garner at a Los Angeles press event for the Disney flick. Co-starring Steve Carrell and Ed Oxenbould, it is based on a popular 1972 children's book about an 11-year old boy who fatefully wishes his family would experience the dreadful day he just had.

With this film, Garner does seem to be making a habit of it, having also played mothers or would-be mothers in the dramas Men, Women & Children - which debuted in the United States recently - The Odd Life Of Timothy Green (2012) and Juno (2007).

She is one in real-life too, sharing a brood of three - Violet, eight, Seraphina, five, and Samuel, two - with her actordirector husband Ben Affleck, 42.

Even the kids at her children's school have cottoned on to Garner's speciality.

"This little kid whose mum is a teacher at my child's school said, 'Mrs Affleck is a lot like my mum - she gets to have a lot of other kids.'

"And I feel that way, you know - you form these relationships," she says of her movie offspring.

But perhaps it is not such a radical shift - even when she was younger and vamping it up on screen, her sex appeal was always tempered with a sweet wholesomeness.

In her breakout role on Alias (2001 to 2006), she won legions of fans playing both sides of the coin, her sultry-yetvulnerable secret agent character, Sydney Bristow, earning her a Golden Globe in 2002.

When the series ended, many thought she would surely find the same sort of success on the big screen, but it never quite materialised.

Daredevil, the 2003 comic-book adaptation that introduced her to future husband Affleck, did well commercially, but the spin-off based on her character, Elektra (2005), was a resounding flop.

The first romantic comedy she headlined, 13 Going On 30 (2004), performed respectably, but she would not be able to sustain success in this genre, as evidenced by duds such as Catch And Release (2007) and Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past (2009).

Even when she has picked winners, she has not been able to snap out of the supporting-actress rut, often receding into the background next to her co-stars. A case in point: last year's acclaimed HIV drama Dallas Buyers' Club, in which she played the frumpy doctor who was there mainly to set the scene for Matthew McConaughey's Oscar-winning turn.

Still, Garner has carved out a sort of second career for herself in the public eye - playing the all-American wife and mother.

This has arguably been her most successful role to date, with rarely a week going by that US tabloid magazines do not feature at least one candid shot of Garner going about her day with her three adorable children, and occasionally Affleck, in tow.

The photographs are popular partly because of their reassuring ordinariness, with the actress - who is seen as being a devoted, hands-on mum, with a nine-year marriage that has so far defied Hollywood odds - often dressed down and make-up-free.

Speaking to Life! last year, actor and family-friend Matt Damon revealed that this image has become the goose that lays the golden egg for tabloids and paparazzi.

"There are five or six (paparazzi) cars sitting outside Ben and Jennifer's driveway - it's their full-time job to sit there all day and follow them," he said.

"And it's her - she moves magazines in the Midwest, apparently. Ben explained it to me one time: It's like, you've never heard of any of these magazines, but women are interested in her as a mother and they want to know what she's up to, what she's dressing the kids in."

So despite a less-than-fully-charged movie career, Garner still has an enviable public profile - undoubtably one reason she is a sought-after spokesman for brands such as skincare line Neutrogena as well as the US Capital One credit card.

The actress' youthful appearance and perpetually sunny disposition do not hurt either.

At the press conference for her new film, Garner - who looks as fresh-faced as she was in her 20s - is upbeat throughout, beaming at her co-stars and smiling through their answers as well as her own.

She also seems genuinely maternal, stopping to praise younger cast members such as Oxenbould, 13, and Bella Thorne, 17, and even guiding them as they field questions.

When it comes to her own children, she reveals that she is way more relaxed than the over-protective mother she plays in Men, Women & Children, where her character takes things too far while spying on her daughter.

In fact, the chaos seen in the home of the Cooper family in Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day - where she is a matriarch trying to juggle family and work - is much more reflective of what it is like chez Affleck.

"This is basically a day at my house," she says, grinning.

All this make-believe mothering has brought her no closer to figuring it all out, though.

"Have I cracked what it is to be a great mum? No! But that's the great thing about being a parent - every day is a fresh start. You can always say, 'Today we're going to try this.' And if it goes horrible, you can say, 'Today we're throwing that out.'"

"That's part of what I like about being a mum in general."

The movie has an important message for parents who constantly strive to make things perfect, she adds.

"Because your kids need to be allowed to have a bad day. And you need to show them that it's okay to have a whole range of emotions - you should have it all, rage and anger and sadness, so there's a lot of room for joy and happiness as well."

For this and other reasons, this is a film that she would be happy to have her own children see.

"I do feel so excited that we get to be part of a real family movie that's going out into the world. That this is a movie that teenagers will like, and when I got to see it, I brought my five-year-old and she loved it too.

"I hope that at the end of it, it should make you feel more like a family and remind you that whatever happens, you're all going through it together."

stlife@sph.com.sg

Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day opens tomorrow.