Even in the early days of her career, Garner had a big vision for what Alias could become. “I hope this show is included with all of the shows that have celebrated strong women [in TV history],” she told Entertainment Weekly in November 2005. “To me, what’s mattered about this character is how much she’s struggled to hold on to her humanity in the middle of this weird world that she lives in and how incredibly hard she works at doing the right thing when that isn’t always cut-and-dried.”
When she was first cast as Sydney Bristow on the ABC series, Garner was “very Southern and obsequious,” as she told The Hollywood Reporter in March 2021. However, the role completely changed her both personally and professionally.
“She was learning languages, scaling buildings and fighting with muscles I don’t know that she’d ever used before, and she was proud of her bruises,” J.J. Abrams, who created the spy thriller, said in the same interview. “And it’s funny because she was married to Scott Foley, who was away doing a movie when we were making it, and by the time we were done, I remember thinking, ‘Oh, my God, Scott’s going to come home to a different spouse.’”
The Once Upon a Farm cofounder followed up her stint on Alias with another iconic role in 2004’s 13 Going on 30. In the film, Garner played Jenna Rink, an insecure teenager who wishes to be “30, flirty and thriving,” only to wake up the next day as an adult magazine executive.
She celebrated the movie’s legacy in April 2019 while reflecting on its 15th anniversary. “Fifteen years ago today #13GoingOn30 made her debut, directed with ❤️ by our beloved Gary Winick 😇 and a clutch of loving, hardcore producers (3 brilliant women—before it was cool to be led by women!),” Garner wrote via Instagram at the time.
Sharing several clips from the beloved “Love Is a Battlefield” dance party Jenna has with her teenage neighbors, the Love, Simon actress honored the lasting impact that 13 Going on 30 and her performance has had on women everywhere. “I loved my day with this slumber party crew: they danced with abandon and reminded me of the power of just saying yes—to being in a group, to vulnerability, to wearing a bra over your clothes,” she continued. “Imagine if every 13 year old girl had an opportunity to dance and feel beautiful like the girls in this film.”
Garner concluded: “I feel so, so lucky to have had the experience of making this joyful movie. And even luckier to be part of something that, all of these years later, can still make people … smile.”
After welcoming her three children with ex-husband Ben Affleck, Garner took a step back from the spotlight in order to focus on her family, but has no intention of giving up acting any time soon. “It’s a very hungry, greedy career and a very unforgiving one,” the Valentine’s Day star told The Hollywood Reporter in March 2021. “And for someone who has chosen family way more often than I probably should have, I can’t believe I’m still here.”
Keep scrolling to see Garner’s life and career through the years: