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Jennifer Garner, ready for anything

When light goes on, 'I just launch myself into whatever it is'

By Andy Culpepper

Jennifer Garner in "13 Going on 30."
Entertainment (general)
Jennifer Garner

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- She's standing in the middle of a dance floor with her hands clasped firmly over her head. Lights flash around her brunette tresses as the strains of a familiar, if anachronistic, song suggest something of a time warp is about to take place.

It's a scene from "13 Going on 30," and actress Jennifer Garner is strutting through the choreography of Michael Jackson's '80s music video, "Thriller" -- something sure to fill adults of a certain age with a mixture of nostalgia, horror and a few laughs.

TV's "Alias" standout is taking her chameleon act one step further throwing her hat -- nay, her body -- into the throes of big screen romantic comedy, and, as she's demonstrating with this "Thriller" routine, she's liable to try anything thrown in her direction if it's in the script.

"Yeah, I'm willing to do anything," Garner agrees. "This next week, they're hanging me out of a helicopter 200 feet in the air, so 'Thriller' was nothing."

Garner is taking a break from the demanding shooting schedule of her TV day job -- in which she plays a secret agent with a penchant for disguise -- to do publicity for her foray into feature film stardom. Granted, a dance routine, no matter how potentially embarrassing, is nothing compared to some of the stunts she performs on "Alias."

"I don't know," she muses. "There's something very powerful in the word 'action.' It would never occur to me to do half of what I do at work, and as soon as someone says 'action,' I just launch myself into whatever it is. I don't know why. It's a very powerful, very powerful word."

Not that the West Virginia native, 32, is fearless.

"I mean, I'm incredibly fearful, but I can put it away and get the job done," she insists. "I am terrified for this movie to come out, terrified. But it's going to, and I'm gonna go, and I'll be fine -- but if you ask me right now, I would say please let me crawl under the couch and never talk about it again."

'She's who I am most of the time'

Garner's trepidation, it seems, comes from her enthusiasm for "13 Going on 30," in which she plays a 13-year-old girl who finds herself suddenly transformed into the 30-year-old adult she will become. But, having gone directly from 1987 to 2004, she still thinks like a teen -- and has missed out on 17 years of history.

Garner in Alias
Garner's "Alias" role puts her in sexier costumes and more adult situations.

If Garner needed to get in touch with her inner 13-year-old, she didn't have to go very far to find it.

"I think she's who I am most of the time," the actress says. "And then I layer on an adult when I need to be or a tough chick when I need to be, but pretty much, I'm a lot closer to 13 than 30."

Garner shares her dance floor scene with co-star Mark Ruffalo, who admits the thought of dancing on camera almost made him back out of the picture. "She literally had to drag me out there to do that," he recalls with a look that suggests he isn't kidding.

But Garner describes the moment differently. "He's so cute in that scene," she remembers.

Co-star Andy Serkis -- Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy -- plays her magazine editor boss in "13 Going on 30." If anyone doubted Garner's ability to play it funny, Serkis professes otherwise.

"Jennifer is amazing," he says. "She's proven to everybody, I think, how easily she handles comedy -- and what timing she's got, and yet, how truthful it is. She was just a joy to work with. And so much fun."

Feet on the ground

13 Going on 30
In "13 Going on 30," Garner meets up again with an old friend, played by Mark Ruffalo.

That fun quality doesn't mean fans of the actress will ever see her throw caution to the wind if the sounds of "Thriller" greet her ears in a restaurant or bar in the future. No more music video moves, she says.

"Absolutely not," she says emphatically. "I've done that. Let's move on."

That no-nonsense, matter-of-fact attitude may account for much of Garner's success. Of his "Alias" leading lady, co-star (and current Garner boyfriend) Michael Vartan attests, "Well, she definitely has this 13-year-old girl in her, but she's also a serious businesswoman."

Garner's move to stardom did not bypass the struggling actress bit, which she insists was not all that long ago. When she's asked at what point she realized she could earn a living in acting, her answer is brutally honest.

"Last year, at some point in time," she says. "I stopped working at the restaurant [where I'd been since] about a year and a half after I'd gotten to New York. I was always ready at any moment to go back. And I would still not be above going back if I needed to."

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