What’s it like to work with a cat as a co-star? How do you balance a full-time acting career and a family? Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with Jennifer Garner about balancing work and home life and the process of working with feline actors on the set of NINE LIVES (In theaters this Friday.)
In NINE LIVES, Jennifer plays the role of Lara, beautiful wife to daredevil billionaire Tom (Kevin Spacey), who finds himself trapped inside the body of the family’s adopted cat, Mr. Fuzzypants. As you can imagine, a whole lot of laughter, mayhem and heart-warming moments ensue as Tom’s family adjusts to life with an odd and stubborn cat and the great lengths Tom must go to earn back his human existence.
Garner talked about her love of animals and the importance of devoting time and care to home pets. Her family currently has a golden retriever transitioning from puppy-hood that certainly requires a lot of love and attention.
Working with cats as co-actors, Garner found out, is a lot different that being a pet owner. When she wanted to meet the cats to get to know her co-stars, she learned that the animal actors are quite serious professionals.
“I just really wanted to spend time with the cat so the cat feels comfortable with me and gets to know me,” said Garner. “I always go into everything prepared. I’m just going to come here and spend time with the cat. And [the handlers] said, ‘Oh, no. they’re camera cats. When they’re at work, they’re at work!'”
Garner mused that the cats are fun and funny to work with on set. She was amazed by all that is done to keep the cats focused, in a good mood and camera ready for filming. On the NINE LIVES set, the cats had designated areas where they stayed between takes to ensure they had air conditioning and other accommodations to help keep them in tip-top condition.
“[The cats] are definitely the star [and] are the diva,” Garner said. “They are the center of the universe when they’re on set.”
On Cat Co-Stars: They are definitely the star [and] are the diva. They are the center of the universe when they’re on set. – Jennifer Garner
During filming, the cats were given cues or props to help perform a scene. In one scene, chicken was safety-pinned to the wardrobe to cue the cat to jump on certain spots. Garner shared that protective covering was used, too, to help keep the actor’s body safe from cat claws.
“This wasn’t a movie where the cat needed to be fuzzy, cuddly with me,” Garner said. “So, they didn’t want me to work on a relationship that wouldn’t benefit the movie.
So, it was challenging in a way because, you know, you see a big old, fluffy cat, you think, oh, I’m going to sit with the cat between takes on wrap. No, it wasn’t like that.”
When Garner was asked what she would think if she brought home a real cat that acted like Mr. Fuzzypants does in the film, she said she would question having an alcoholic cat but does enjoy a cat with a big personality, which she has experienced with former cats she’s owned.
Juggling working with a cat on-set has proven to be a interesting role for Garner to take on with the filming of NINE LIVES, but balancing her work and family life is a daily challenge.
“It is super complicated,” Garner said. “There’s no other way to say it, and I think the biggest thing to learn, and only time really could teach me, is that there is not going to be a perfect balance.”
On Work-Life Balance: I think the biggest thing to learn, and only time really could teach me, is that there is not going to be a perfect balance. – Jennifer Garner
Garner takes a day-by-day approach to parenting, recognizing that a mother cannot be everything to everyone twenty-four hours a day. The key, she believes is to simply do your best.
“Eventually, you have to stop and whatever, make dinner, or eventually you have to deal with another child. The pie can only be cut into slices that are so small,” Garner said. “You have to pick and choose what you can do and what you have to say this isn’t going to be perfect, guys. I’m doing my best here.”
Her personal beliefs are amplified in the spirit of the film, NINE LIVES, which ultimately centers on importance of family and family values.
“I really hope that [NINE LIVES] is just a gentle reminder that the best gift we can give each other is time,” Garner said.
NINE LIVES opens in theaters Friday, August 5.
ABOUT NINE LIVES
Tom Brand (Kevin Spacey) is a daredevil billionaire at the top of his game. His eponymous company FireBrand is nearing completion on its greatest achievement to date – the tallest skyscraper in the northern hemisphere. But Tom’s workaholic lifestyle has disconnected him from his family, particularly his beautiful wife Lara (Jennifer Garner) and his adoring daughter Rebecca (Malina Weissman).
Rebecca’s 11th birthday is here, and she wants the gift she wants every year, a cat. Tom hates cats, but he is without a gift and time is running out. His GPS directs him to a mystical pet store brimming with odd and exotic cats- where the store’s eccentric owner- Felix Perkins (Christopher Walken), presents him with a majestic tomcat, named Mr. Fuzzypants.
En route to present his daughter with her dream pet, a bizarre turn of events finds Tom trapped inside the body of Mr. Fuzzypants. Adopted by his own family, he begins to experience what life is truly like for the family pet, and as a cat, Tom begins to see his family and his life through a new and unexpected perspective. Meanwhile, his family adjusts to life with an odd and stubborn cat, and his son David (Robbie Amell), steps up in ways Tom never expected.
If any hope exists of returning to his family as the husband and father they deserve, Tom will have to learn why he has been placed in this peculiar situation and the great lengths he must go to earn back his human existence.
Directed By: Barry Sonnenfeld
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Christopher Walken, Jennifer Garner, and Robbie Amell