How Jennifer Garner Made the Most of Her Quarantine Year

Kids, cooking, reuniting with Mark Ruffalo: Jennifer Garner insists she wasn't always upbeat this past year—but she certainly made a lot of people happy, whether onscreen or in her real life.

By Natalie Finn Apr 17, 2021 12:00 PMTags
Watch: Jennifer Garner Recreates "Alias" Pool Scene 18 Years Later

With Jennifer Garner, what you see is what you get.

Impossibly youthful-looking actress who goes to work with a smile on her face? Check. Working mom of three who puts her kids first but tends to always have a new project on the horizon? Check. Consistently upbeat optimist who has mastered the art of powering through life's challenges?

Yeah, that'll be another check.

Sorry if you were expecting something different, but the "host" of  the "Pretend Cooking Show" can't help but be who she is.

Jennifer Garner's Best Roles

"She's always very positive and tries to see the bright side in every situation," a source told E! News of the Yes Day star, and that includes the hard-to-find-a-silver-lining turmoil of this past year—which, at least, meant some quality time at home with daughters Violet, 15, and Seraphina, 11, and son Samuel, 9, without obligations like out-of-town work or school or...going anywhere...getting in the way.

Priority No. 1 was making sure the kids were happy and healthy, the source noted, and "there have definitely been challenges, but she keeps her head down and a smile on her face." (There are about 8 million paparazzi photos of Garner grabbing coffee through the years that can attest to this.)

"I've learned that I'm pretty sturdy," the actress, who's celebrating her 49th birthday April 17, told People recently when asked what she'd discovered about herself during the pandemic. "I'm okay when I'm in the house by myself. I'm okay when it's just the kids and me. I'm okay when they fall apart. I mean, I have my moments, but pretty much, I'm really okay."

Instagram / Jennifer Garner

Enjoying activities conducive to stay-at-home orders certainly helped, such as cooking—whether for her very popular Instagram videos that she humbly tags #PretendCookingShow or for the at-home "restaurant" nights Garner devised, even serving her brood burgers in the car one night, hooking little trays onto the window. And her 10.7 million followers are obviously fans of the content she creates in glamorous locales like the backyard or, when she's feeling fancy, the laundry room.

Really, all just a natural progression from the shows she and her childhood best friend would produce and perform, selling tickets to the neighbors for 25 cents (all proceeds earmarked for charity), with a hit TV show and some blockbuster movies along the way.

It's about "creating adventures where there are none," Garner explained. For help with inspiration, the co-founder of organic baby food line Once Upon a Farm turns to her "mom friends. If a mom friend says she tried something and it worked, I try it. All the time. And I really do. That's what a mom network does for each other, right? We really do raise kids in a community, not a vacuum."

Asked how she stays so positive, she admitted, "I don't know that I've stayed positive the whole time. I think I've had a couple of temper tantrums. And I hope [my kids] have too. I think you have to. It's like, have your feelings. But there's so much to be grateful for. And then you take a breath and start brainstorming about what we can do to help."

Teachers' Acts of Kindness During Coronavirus

As the reality of the pandemic sank in last year, she teamed up with her friend Amy Adams to launch #SaveWith Stories, an online celebrity storybook-reading series benefiting Save the Children (Garner's a longtime board member) and No Kid Hungry that enlisted the likes of Jamie Lee Curtis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Meghan Markle and future Vice President Kamala Harris. And Garner's altruistic ways have apparently caught on in her own household, with one of her daughters asking for money for Christmas that she could then donate to various Go Fund Me causes.

"She said it just gives her a lift," Garner told People.

Once restrictions eased up, she brought Violet with her to Vancouver for a month, including a week of isolating upon arrival, to shoot the sci-fi thriller The Adam Project with Ryan Reynolds, Zoe Saldana and—nostalgia alert—her 13 Going on 30 co-star Mark Ruffalo, 20 years after they made the fan-favorite comedy. "It was so instantly comfortable and there was just so much trust there," Garner gushed to Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show last month. "I just loved being with Mark again." 

But while it's always hard for her to leave her kids when she has to travel, they maintained their normal schedules and spent time with dad Ben Affleck. In 2019 he and Garner sold (to Adam Levine for $32 million) the Pacific Palisades property they previously shared before their 2015 split. Affleck purchased another home in the same neighborhood and Garner leased a nearby house while her new home in Brentwood Park was being rebuilt from the ground up.

In-person school recently started back up again after a year of at-home learning, an exciting development for one and all, so slowly but surely life is getting back on track for the whole family.

"Not a lot has changed" as far as Garner's dynamic with Affleck, the source said, the two smoothly co-parenting since finalizing their divorce in 2018, and "as long as the kids have a healthy relationship with their dad, she is happy."

Of course, you can invariably count on Affleck to have the most complimentary things to say about his former wife of 10 years, whom he called a "superhero mom" in 2016, talking to E! News at the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice premiere. (He told The New York Times last year that their divorce was "the biggest regret" of his life.)

Friendly Celebrity Exes

While Garner stoically powered through the avalanche of headlines about what led to their split and Affleck's ensuing road back to consistent sobriety (including a couple of tumbles off the wagon that Garner helped him navigate), she told The Hollywood Reporter recently, "Going through it in public is not what's hard, going through it is what's hard, A. And B, my children's eyes are on me."

Now that Violet, Seraphina and Sam are getting older, she knows she can only protect them so much from the glut of information they might run across, but she hopes they know they can always come to her for the truth. 

"When they were smaller and there were things out there that were shocking, my request to them was always, 'Let Dad and I talk you through whatever it is,'" she recalled. "I'd tell them, 'If you see an image on the front of a magazine, I'll look at it with you and we'll process all the scary feelings that come up together.'"

But also, now that the kids are bigger, Garner can start spending a bit more time than she has in recent years thinking about...psst, don't tell anyone...

What she wants to do.


She was a producer on her family-friendly Netflix comedy Yes Day, her first time producing since the 2011 film Butter, and hopes to do more of that in addition to acting for the foreseeable future.

"It's a very hungry, greedy career and a very unforgiving one," she told THR, "and for someone who has chosen family way more often than I probably should have, I can't believe I'm still here."

If by "here" she means everywhere, no matter how much she may claim that she has one of those faces that people tend to recognize, even if they're not quite sure who she is.

Jen, they know.

In addition to The Adam Project (in which, btw, she and Ruffalo play Reynold's parents—it's science fiction, go with it), she's also reteaming with Alias creator J.J. Abrams on a four-hankie limited series for Apple TV+, My Glory Was I Had Such Friends, a true-life story about a woman uplifted by the support of her close group of gal pals while she's awaiting her second heart transplant.

Asked what she hoped to be doing 10 years from now, she told People, "Oh my god, I love my day job. So I hope that acting is still a part of my life. Ten years from now my youngest, my son, will be in college or going to college. So I hope that I'm traveling. I love being home with them, and I've been so lucky to have the flexibility to be home a lot. But I miss the days of just going on location and will be excited to just be, like, 'Yeah, you want me in North Carolina? You want me in Budapest? You want me in Paris? Yes! I can do all those things.' I feel like I'll zip around for awhile."

We have no doubt.