1. In Dallas Buyers Club, Jennifer Garner plays Dr. Eve Saks, who treats AIDS patients Ron (Matthew McConnaughey) and Rayon (Jared Leto). We spoke recently about the movie and her role in it.
Garner’s Eve is a young doctor in a Dallas hospital who is helping to oversee a clinical trial for the drug AZT. It’s 1985. She meets Ron Woodroof — played by McConnaughey, who will be nominated for an Oscar for this part — when she and her boss (Denis O’Hare) have to tell him he has AIDS and will die within 30 days.
Garner had only recently had her third kid, Samuel, when she read Dallas Buyers Club. “I had heard about it, and I had seen pictures of Matthew losing weight,” she said. “And really couldn’t imagine how I was going to do it, and was so happy at home.”
But with McConnaughey, with whom Garner worked on Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, attached, she said, “I really wanted to work with him again. He’s kind of great!”
2. She watched director Jean-Marc Vallée’s previous movies. “I watched Café de Flore and C.R.A.Z.Y., and thought, Ucch, god is he good. So smart.”
Her husband, Ben Affleck, also encouraged her. “Then at home, Ben was saying, ‘You need to work, you need to work,’” Garner said.
3. Then Vallée and Garner talked.
“We Skyped,” Garner said. “And he said —” she adopted a French accent — “‘I do not want a beautiful actress.’ And I was, like, ‘What makes you think I’m some beautiful actress? That’s the weirdest thing. So don’t make me look beautiful!”
4. “Look at shots of me every single day, I look half-crazy.’”
(For the record, Garner does not look even 1% crazy here. But it’s hard to find a paparazzi photo of her without her children.)
5. To achieve the look Vallée wanted, Garner went unadorned. “So I never sat in the makeup chair. And my clothes were from Goodwill. And I liked it that way.”
6. The low-budget Dallas Buyers Club had a short shoot. But Garner found she had trouble being away from her kids. “My first, I went right back to work because I was doing Alias…”
“My second, I went back to work really quickly. My third, I went to work on this, and he was nine months old. I could have waited another year. I had a really rough time. I haven’t really left them for very long. The first night that I worked on this, they were in L.A. and I was in New Orleans. I think I had to work a night and then had a few days off so I could go home. It was their bedtime, and my boobs filled up. And I started crying! And it wasn’t a scene I was supposed to be crying in. Because Matthew is a dad, he saw me — and got it. I have nursed and pumped on so many movies; I’ve always been able to slip it in without it being a problem. But we shot too fast here. I just was in agony.”
(That’s a photo of the series finale of Alias, shot after Garner came back from maternity leave in spring 2006.)
7. Garner was born in 1972, so she was 13 when the movie’s events begin.
Garner: “I remember the Time magazine that is in the movie being on my parents’ coffee table. I remember reading every word of it and being terrified. That this was coming to get me. And I remember the realization as I got older, Oh, that man in the community theater must have died from this. None of us knew. I remember just fear.
“From being from a small town in the South, I did not experience the kind of bigotry that I think was happening in the rest of the country. Maybe I didn’t see it? Because I’ve always kind of looked on the bright side of things? But I didn’t see it. I was in the community theater, I was in the ballet world, I am still good friends with the longest reigning Miss Gay West Virginia. Who does hair by day and is a beautiful woman by night. The only thing that was weird to my parents was that I was friends with all these older men because I was a little kid. That’s who I was doing plays with.”
8. To research what a doctor’s perspective would have been in the mid-’80s on HIV, AIDS, and drug treatments, Garner bought old medical journals from eBay.
“Medical journals from ‘81/’82 through ‘88,” she said. “Which was so cool, it was such a great exercise to do. Just to watch the puzzle pieces either falling into place, moving around, or being tossed out.
“And never once, by the way, did I ever find any mention of a Buyers Club. It was really on the fringe.”
9. Since Ron Woodroof was a real person and Dallas Buyers Club is based on his life, Garner assumed Eve was also real. She was not!
Garner: “How about that they didn’t tell me that? I literally went to the library and looked on microfilm. Because I thought, maybe she lived so long ago that she’s not on Google? I couldn’t find her. All those journals, I was looking for her to be referenced. I finally called them, tail between my legs, and said, ‘I’m so embarrassed, I can’t find Eve Saks.’ They said, ‘Yeah, she’s not real.’ You guys have no idea! I’ve killed myself looking!”
10. So she decided for herself who Eve is, and why she transforms throughout the movie. “This girl had always been an overachiever, had always been a father pleaser. She had probably thought, Doctor sounds good, Dad will like that.”
“By the way, I wish I had been a doctor. I mean, when your kids are sick, don’t you look at them and think, Why did I not learn something that mattered?” (I answered that it has never once occurred to me! I’m terrible.)
“I think that she got into it just to be a doctor,” said Garner. “And when she started treating people with HIV and AIDS, she became consumed. The way you would. It’s a never-ending puzzle in front of her. When we meet her at the beginning of the movie, she’s just a doctor — and at the end, she’s a healer.
11. Eve is friends with Rayon from high school.
Garner: “We played with that relationship, and talked about it. My version was we always had lockers next to each other, and that I was this overachiever and he was always a little bit of a hot mess. And that I looked after him a little bit. But that we shared this sense of humor, and that that has been our relationship forever. That relationship is part of what makes this disease real for her.”
12. Both Leto and McConnaughey famously lost tons of weight to play Rayon and Ron.
Garner said she found it hard to watch. “Watching him in the hospital bed was — honestly, watching them in general: I hated this for these guys. I hated what they were doing to themselves. I felt like they were taking it too far. They were on a mission, and in a zone, and I got it and tried to be respectful of it. And tried not to use any of their energy for anything but what the task at hand was.”
13. “But it was alarming. In real life, it was much more alarming than what you see on screen. On screen, you have that remove. In real life you have this animal instinct of, This person’s dying, I need to feed them.”
14. The screenplay of Dallas Buyers Club kicked around for years and years (here’s a great Los Angeles Times story about it), with different actors attached. But Garner feels it was meant to be McConnaughey as Ron.
“To me, that’s why Matthew had to be Ron Woodroof, and why this movie had to wait be made. Someone with a life force as strong as his. He is himself 100% of the time: Matthew is Matthew. We’ve all loved watching him for so long, and there’s a reason. There’s a reason he’s charismatic. He’s not afraid of life at all.”
Dallas Buyers Club opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, and then expands its release in subsequent weeks.
Garner, McConaughey, and Leto at the premiere in Beverly Hills on Oct. 17.