Jennifer Garner appears to be channeling a bit of Michele Bachmann in her new film Butter, but that’s pure coincidence. The dark comedy acts as a political parable, with a butter-carving contest (and the top two contestants) as a stand-in for the 2008 presidential campaign. The actress’s character, Laura Pickler, thinks the contest is her entry point into politics and will do anything to win once her husband (played by Ty Burrell) is no longer allowed to enter the race — deceit, sabotage, and even sex with an old flame (Hugh Jackman, no less) are just a few of the tools she uses to try to get her way. Garner, who is also a producer of the film, chatted with Vulture about butter-carving, Bachmann, and husband Ben Affleck’s wonder sperm.
On the way here, I saw a headline on Taxi TV, “Jen Garner: My Son Peed in My Eye.”
Oh! [Laughs.] Yeah, that was just from Ellen DeGeneres. She asked what it was like having a boy, and I said that. But he never has peed in my eye! I was just making a funny on Ellen.
That could make a very funny butter sculpture.
Yes, it could, and I could do that out of butter. I wish I had thought of that. We would have done it. [Laughs.] My character just sculpted what she saw as the ultimate of America, you know? Kennedy, Jackie O — because she wanted to be Jackie O — and family prayer.
If you were making your own butter sculpture, one that was your artistic statement …
What would I carve? I mean, I could carve a couch or something straightforward, because let me tell you — I’m not very good at it. I would probably carve a big mumble jumble of things, because I have them in my head — Dolly Parton, the astronauts putting the flag on the moon, the Last Supper — so I want to carve those things. I would carve a baby peeing in my eye! [Imitates Linda Richman.] That would be like buttah.
At one point, Harvey Weinstein invited Michele Bachmann to come to the premiere in Iowa. Did she ever respond?
No, of course not! Would you if you had been Michele Bachmann? I mean, he wasn’t paying her a compliment. It would have been fun if she had said, “Yeah, I’m going to do it. I’m coming.” She wasn’t even in the center of American politics when we made this movie, so she has come and gone since then.
So you weren’t modeling your character on her?
Not really. I watched a lot of YouTube of speeches by the first ladies of Iowa and Kansas for their polish and their accent. Part of what makes my character so creepy is that her sinister ambition is covered by this very put-together veneer of what is proper and appropriate, and I think there is something terrifying and awesome about that. She’s not a super-villain, but she’s creepy because she seems nice, and she isn’t. You have to watch your back around Laura Pickler. Don’t get in her way! And maybe we have a heightened sense of the ambition and the single-mindedness, but I think anyone who is involved in their local community theater will recognize the players in the film. Although my experience of auditioning, even when I lived here in New York, was a real camaraderie of all of us auditioning together. It was like, “Good luck in there!” We were ambitious and competitive, but we also rooted for each other. Maybe I’ve put a strawberry glow over the whole thing, but that’s my memory of it.
Would you ever want to direct? For a lot of actors, producing is a step toward that …
I’m not one of them. First of all, I like to be told [what to do]. I like that collaboration. I like someone coming up with that idea. I see my husband do it, and you have to be good at it, and he is really good at it! And I just wouldn’t be. I don’t know what he knows.
You haven’t appeared in any of the films he’s directed. Any reason?
That’s not really a place for me, in his films. He needs to be in his films, because they consume a year and a half, two years of his life, and goodness knows we don’t need to be in his films together. Someday, down the road, you know, maybe there will be something that will make sense for me, but I would have to be unrecognizable. It doesn’t really make sense otherwise. And the way that he works is so intense, when he works like that, I need to be home. Our kids are really little. We’ve had an infant every time he’s directed, and we have one now, so yeah, it certainly is not something we’re dying to do. So I’m not in Argo. I am Argo’s biggest fan, and I could sit here and do twice as long of an interview about Argo as I can about Butter, because I am so happy for him and what he’s poured into this movie. But you won’t see me in it. [Laughs.]
You also mentioned on Ellen that Ben has “wonder sperm.” Has he reacted to that yet?
No! Is that getting out there? [Laughs.] I apologize.
If you had the free time to do whatever you wanted, what would you be doing right now?
I’d be going from one show to another, right down the line, on Broadway and Off Broadway. I’d go to every theater in this city if I could. That’s what I miss the most. I will come back and do theater at some point, I just will, but now is not the time. Once you start having kids, it just doesn’t all have to happen at the same time. When I can work and can give myself to something like that again, it will be available. You just have to have a little faith — even if I’m playing Fruma Sarah in Fiddler on the Roof! She’s like this super-old ghost, so even if I have to wait that long, I’ll do it.