By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Jennifer Garner has three children with ex-husband Ben Affleck. So it was not much of a stretch for the Golden Globe-winning “Alias” star to portray a mom in “Miracles From Heaven,” who will do whatever it takes to save one of her children, afflicted with a fatal intestinal disease, to find the medical help she needed. She also calls upon her faith to help her through the turmoil.
Garner, who recently could be seen in a popular viral video in which she appears to read a bedtime story with a naughty title that many parents can relate, spoke about playing Christy Beam, who wrote a book about the miracles—big and small—that happened soon after her middle daughter, Annabel, became seriously ill a few years ago.
The actress stars alongside “Grey’s Anatomy’s” Martin Henderson, Academy Award nominee Queen Latifah (“Chicago), popular Mexican comedian Eugenio Derbez, John Carroll Lynch (“The Americans”) and relative newcomer Kylie Rogers, who plays Anna. The inspiring drama is directed by Patricia Riggen (“The 33”) and based on Randy Brown’s screenplay adaptation of Beam’s book.
Like Beam, Garner is a Texas native, whose steadfast determination and faith get her through the medical crisis. She doesn’t accept the terminal prognosis when Annabel is diagnosed with a rare, incurable disorder known as Pediatric Chronic Intestinal Pseudo-Obstruction, a condition in which the patient can no longer digest food. Running out of time and options to save her child, she flies the girl to a world-renowned specialist in Boston to seek treatment for her child. Her faith comes into play when the girl comes home and has a freak accident that inexplicably becomes instrumental in her recovery.
Q: Lots of people go can relate to this on some level. At some point in life, you deal with a crisis, hopefully not this serious, but where a family member might need special attention. Can you talk about why you took on the project and was the family aspect important to you?
Garner: Huge! One of the things Martin (Henderson, who plays her husband Kevin Beam) and I bonded over the most was this shared drive to bring an authentic, healthy marriage to the screen. They were allowed to fight. They were allowed to disagree but the audience never questions that these two people were in it together and love each other and are a team. I loved that. I have to say that relationship and the relationship we both have with the kids is my favorite thing about the movie. There are actually so few things I can say, “Oh, I’m proud of that,” and I’m proud of this marriage in the movie. And I’m proud of us with Kylie (Rogers, who plays Annabel).
Q: Did it help your performance to meet Christy Beam or does it add more pressure as an actress to play a real person?
Garner: It’s great that there’s a real family to look to. You just want to do them right, you want to honor them. That was really important to Christy, and rightfully so, that her marriage wasn’t just used as a dramatic device. But that it was real and you could always see the love.
Q: Were you drawn to the faith aspect of this film?
Garner: The family drew me in and religion is an integral part of this family. Faith is an integral part of this family and of their story, so you can’t have one without the other. I guess it’s hard for me to see it as a faith-based movie as much as it is a movie about a family who happened to have gotten through something with love and with faith.
Q: How did you approach the idea about the concept of miracles?
Garner: When I was growing up, my mom was intent on us finding joy in small things. She said, if you don’t have the ability to find joy in a flower opening or a meal that you love or in a conversation, then you won’t have joy in your life. If you wait for the big things, then that’s just not enough to sustain you, she’d say. Sometimes the big things are bad and, to me, it’s saying the same thing. It’s saying open yourself up to the idea that there are miracles everywhere all the time. Because I was raised that way, it was something I connected to in the movie.
Q: The movie is so emotional with the little girl suffering with this incurable disease. How did you put yourself in that situation and step into those shoes?
Garner: It’s playing pretend but it’s a pretty real story, so I don’t think you have to dig very deep when there’s a child in peril. You don’t have to even be a parent. I think that’s our job to play pretend and the great thing for us at the end of the day is we could shake it off and go home and be surrounded by health. And that was a real gift to the movie, that perspective.
Q: The movie brings up financial burden of expensive health care treatment and the struggles on how the family is going to pay for it. There’s one scene where the couple is worried they’re going have to sell their business to pay for their daughter’s care.
Garner: I love that scene. I think that’s really important that that is part of the conversation. This is a real story and that was part of their real struggle. (The real life) Kevin had just opened this huge veterinarian clinic; it’s one of the hugest in the country for large animals.
Q: What responsibility did you feel in telling this story?
Garner: I felt a huge responsibility, especially to all the moms in the hospital rooms, sitting next to their kids and watching horrible things happen to them, and not knowing if they are going to be okay. I mean, how about that? How about trying that on? I was just so aware of all the moms, not just Christy, but everyone who is going through it right now, praying for that miracle, looking for that miracle, hoping for just a moment of peace and respite. Christy sent me something not that long ago, saying, “This just popped up on my Facebook of something I was going through a couple of years ago.” It said, “Anna is in the hospital, pain is at a 10 and morphine is not helping.” So yeah, we wanted to do right by them.
Q: That viral video you did was hilarious, and so unexpected from you. What inspired you to do that?
Garner: Sometimes I feel just so Pollyanna that I have to flip it for a minute. That was definitely one of those moments. I just hope my parents don’t see it. I mean you know that feeling. I’m pretty patient about the whole bedtime thing. I have to Zen out because (trying to get the kids to sleep) goes on for such a long time, if you give them their full due. But I have had that moment.