Jennifer Garner joins her maternal side with action skills for ‘Last Thing He Told Me’

Jennifer Garner looks away from the camera for a portrait.
Jennifer Garner wrote letters to the producers of “The Last Thing He Told Me” asking for a shot at the lead role. They must have been persuasive.
(Evan Mulling / For The Times)

Jennifer Garner might be famous for her air of easy affability. But she felt she could nail the role of Hannah, a skilled woodcrafter whose new husband (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) mysteriously vanishes, leaving her to look after his headstrong adolescent daughter (Angourie Rice) in the Apple TV+ adaptation of Laura Dave’s bestseller “The Last Thing He Told Me.” She just wasn’t sure how to convince Hollywood she was right for the part.

“I’d taken myself out of the game a bit — I needed to be at home and fully available,” says Garner, a devoted mom to her and ex-husband Ben Affleck’s three children. “I didn’t presume to think I was at the top of anyone’s list.” Then Garner heard that Julia Roberts left the project, and it was go time. She began dashing off letters to the producers. “I was like, ‘Here’s why I feel like I deserve a shot: I understand what it is to be the grown-up in the room and the weight of that, that I just have to keep showing up.’” Next thing she knew, Hannah was hers.


Times television critic Lorraine Ali sits down with actress Jennifer Garner and author Laura Dave at the L.A.

April 22, 2023

What about “Last Thing” made you want the role so badly? The thriller aspect? Wrangling a teenager? Houseboat life in Sausalito?

The stakes were so high. I like when emotions are pushed to the limit. Hannah’s very different from me. She’s not maternal and much more of an introvert. I liked the challenge of that. But there were aspects of her life, the conflict of things she’d gone through that felt familiar to me. I felt eager to play that out and explore.

How much energy did you put into learning how to turn Hannah’s free-form wooden bowls?

So much energy. Part of the fun of our job is we get insight into a whole other world. The more you dive in, the more you get out of it. [I’m] from West Virginia, a state full of artisanal work of all kinds. I was really excited for that opportunity. But also, this is so goofy, but the truth: When “Bridges of Madison County” came out, I remember reading that Meryl Streep ironed sheets for months just to get the feel in her body of this woman at the center of the story. If Meryl does it, there’s got to be something to it. And there’s truth to that. It really helped me tap into Hannah’s stillness and her ability to focus and let go.

Jennifer Garner looks out a window in a black and white portrait.
The action of “The Last Thing He Told Me” often felt like a callback to “Alias” for Jennifer Garner.
(Evan Mulling / For The Times)

Early in “Last Thing,” you race down a flight of stairs. Was that an “Alias” callback?


It did feel that way to me. Happily so. You wouldn’t think this family drama would be something you’d need to train for. But I have so much respect for what it takes at 51 to run down a hallway at top speed, stop on a dime and turn around and do that 25 billion more times.

If you feel like you’re being chased, you’re running with everything you have. I didn’t want there to be limitations for Hannah. So I trained and kept training throughout. The hard thing was the moments that were close enough to “Alias.” I had to make myself not fall into the tropes I had as a super spy.

For example?

Like, just as I’m entering a door, I glance back one more time at camera. [Looks over her shoulder with furtive expression] I had to tell myself, “Just be straight-up Hannah.”

For actors Riley Keough, Emily Blunt, Kathryn Hahn, Niecy Nash-Betts, Murray Bartlett and Paul Walter Hauser, learning new skills come with the job.

June 15, 2023

Did “Last Thing” make you want to take on other physical roles?

I feel like there’s another action something in there for me. Again, I like the stakes. And if you’re fighting, the stakes are pretty high. Something has pushed you there. I like what gets you there and acting my way through that. To me, it’s just an extension. It’s like if you have dance in a scene and the dance is furthering the story. [Choreographer] Agnes de Mille did that for “Oklahoma!” It was the first musical where dance pushed the story. It was part of the narrative. To me, action has to be the same way. You can’t just have action for action’s sake. I like the physicality of showing what a scene is about. It’s pretty hardcore.


Jennifer Garner

Is there an “Alias” revival in our future?

I’d be thrilled. What’s more fun than Sydney Bristow and [being with] that group of people? In the last 24 hours, I’ve spoken to Greg Grunberg, J.J. [Abrams], Victor [Garber] and Ron Rifkin. It’d just feel natural. But I don’t think anyone is thinking this is going to happen. J.J. has never once said to me, “Hey, we should …” Never even a whisper.

Out of the 105 episodes of “Alias,” five were directed by women, including you. “Last Thing” was entirely directed by women. Talk about the difference.

It’s wonderful. With women directors, there’s a focus that working moms bring that I love. When we were there, we were really there. We didn’t spend time talking about it after or standing around for an hour. We were all like, “OK, got to get home. I might make it to bedtime. See you guys!” Who doesn’t want to work that way? You just can’t say enough about what that does for the environment on the set. It’s a really big deal.


Our BuzzMeter panel of veteran TV journalists predicts the winners in 14 categories of the 2023(?) Emmys. You can, too, in our weekly polls.

Aug. 24, 2023