LOS ANGELES — Jennifer Garner can hold her own in a male-dominated environment, even on the set of a sports-themed Kevin Costner movie surrounded by real-life NFL players.
It’s a trait that served her well in her role as Ali, the strong-willed and capable salary cap manager of the Cleveland Browns who also happens to be the girlfriend of the team’s beleagured general manager, Sonny Weaver Jr., played by Costner, in “Draft Day,” released this week on DVD and Blu-ray.
“I love my character,” the beaming brunette told a group of reporters during an April junket hosted by Summit Entertainment at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills Hotel.
“I wish that I was as smart as Ali for a day,” Garner said. “But I do think that she’s a woman in a man’s world, and she does it seamlessly. And I had the privilege of shadowing Megan Rogers of the Cleveland Browns, who is the capologist there. And I just basically stole everything from her, from what she carried in her arms to the way she dressed, how she comported herself. Megan is someone who never needs to show you that she knows everything. She just just holds it inside and, if necessary, she brings down the hammer.
“So that’s what I loved about Ali. I think that makes women so great in these positions on sports teams or NFL overall, is that they can keep their emotions in check, and their brains can do a lot of things at once. Because if you’re gonna be a capologist, you’re basically business affairs, plus you’re thinking of the art of football, plus you’re thinking what’s your team’s future, what’s been important in the past. You have to have so much going on in your brain at once and let’s face it, we’re just good at that.”
But in “Draft Day,” Garner’s character is also balancing business with the troubled affair she’s having with her boss, who is dealing with serious conflicts of his own that threaten not only his personal welfare but the immediate welfare of his team.
Former high school jock Costner has fared well with sports-themed movies in the past, with three cinematic homers, including “Bull Durham” (1988), “Field of Dreams” (1989) and “For Love of the Game” (1999). He will play a high school track coach in “McFarland USA,” due in February.
“Draft Day” is Costner’s first football film, with its story taking place on the crucial first day of the NFL draft. It’s directed by Ivan Reitman from a screenplay by Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman, and was filmed in the actual headquarters of the Cleveland Browns.
In fact, the Browns and the NFL offered their complete cooperation to the filmmakers, which lends technical accuracy to the proceedings.
Garner, a real-life sports enthusiast, also is convincing as the ambitious and whip-smart team administrator, at the same time sparkling and warm as Sonny’s love interest, ally and conscience.
“To do a sports movie with Kevin, and have it be his first football movie, was totally ‘pinch me’ kind of material,” Garner said. “I grew up in West Virginia, which is very much like how you picture Texas, very ‘Friday Night Lights.’ You know, every Friday night we were at the game. And I was at every single game because I was in the marching band.
“And then my senior year I left the marching band, which was scandal at the time, and I was the water girl for the team. And I traveled with them and I didn’t miss a game, and I loved it. I don’t know that I really knew that much of what was going on, but I cared about which end of the field we were on with my whole heart and soul. And so I’ve been a legitimate fan for a long time.
“Now that I have (three) kids, my husband (Ben Affleck) will have the Patriots on, I see what is happening, but I’m kind of running around making sure that he can sit and watch calmly, is really what’s happening.”
Playing the games
But Garner admits that their household favors baseball over football.
“We’re really a baseball house. If I were in charge of things, and as much as I love baseball and have grown to dream about what happens for the Red Sox, you can’t help it. To me, sports are like a soap opera. When I first was dating I’d never watched baseball, I didn’t really care about baseball. But if you watch three or four games in a row, you learn just enough to kind of hook you in. And that is the same as a soap opera, right? You get just enough of a storyline to kind of grab you, and that’s why people are so into them. I’m totally addicted to baseball.
“But believe me, when the playoffs happen, it’s all Tom Brady all the time.”
As for the experience of being one of the few women in the predominantly male cast of “Draft Day,” Garner considers it business as usual.
“Well, people ask what’s it like playing a woman in a man’s world,” she said. “But for any of us, any movie set that you are on, it doesn’t matter, there is one of you for every 10 men around you. ... You’re in a locker room basically. So I’m very comfortable in that world, in a world full of men, although nothing makes me happier than to have a scene with another woman or just a day with another girl or whatever.”
Travel and accommodations provided by Summit Entertainment.
Well, people ask what’s it like playing a woman in a man’s world. But for any of us, any movie set that you are on, it doesn’t matter, there is one of you for every 10 men around you. ... You’re in a locker room basically. So I’m very comfortable in that world, in a world full of men ...”