Jennifer Garner is not someone you’re likely to catch pitching a “Do you know who I am?” fit on tmz.com anytime soon. Widely known as an antidiva, the West Virginia–bred mother of two makes her own baby food and isn’t above flying coach (en route to her W photo shoot, she was accidently booked in economy and declined the gate agent’s offer of an upgrade). It turns out, however, that the 37-year-old actress does occasionally leverage her fame to get what she wants—it’s just that her desires are a little different from those of her Hollywood peers. Lately, for example, she has been attempting to procure an introduction to Ina Garten, the cheerfully rotund television cook better known as the Barefoot Contessa. “I know somebody who is a friend of hers, and she says she’s going to get us together,” says Garner, an enthusiastic home cook who seems to have a history of obsessing over celebrity chefs (she owns a Labrador retriever named Martha Stewart). “I tried to get on Ina’s show. I tried to use my, well, you know…I say, use what you have to make the world better or for yourself! But eventually she just said, ‘I’m sorry, I only use my real friends on the show.’ I felt like, What are you saying? That we’re not friends? I know everything about you!”
If Garner—who is dressed today in worn jeans, a gray sweater and running shoes, with her hair pulled into a ponytail—sounds more like a desperate housewife than a big-time movie star, that’s partly because lately she has spent more time dealing with diapers and dinner than filming love scenes or posing on red carpets. With her husband, Ben Affleck, and their daughters, Violet, four, and Seraphina, who turns one in January, she has been living for the past seven months in Cambridge, Massachusetts, while Affleck has been filming back-to-back movies in Boston. For a few weeks in the summer, Garner and the girls did return to Los Angeles, where she shot the romantic comedy Valentine’s Day, out in February. But for the most part her schedule has consisted of “getting the kids up and fed, getting one to school, getting the other down for a nap, going to the grocery store, picking one up from school, getting the other one down for another nap, cooking dinner,” she says between sips of tea at her favorite Harvard Square coffee shop two days before Halloween. “I live my life at these two extremes. I’m either a full-time stay-at-home mom or a full-time actress.”
To hear Garner tell it, the actress part of the equation happened sort of by accident. Growing up, the profession wasn’t even on her radar. “I mean, I didn’t ever watch Gilligan’s Island and think, Those people are actors,” she says. “I lived in West Virginia. Hollywood just felt like this total other universe.” She enrolled at Denison University with hopes of going to medical school, something she still fantasizes about. “When my daughter has a fever, I want to be able to look in her ears myself and not have to call someone,” she says. “I want to be able to tell, Is that spot on her leg ringworm or a dry patch?” But instead, she found herself spending most of her college days onstage. After graduation she moved to New York to give Broadway a go, signed with a friend’s agent and in 1998 landed a small role on Felicity. The hit series not only launched her career but also led to a relationship with castmate Scott Foley, who became her first husband. The marriage fell apart after less than three years; the career, happily, has had a longer shelf life.