Jennifer Garner does the best running on TV.
Every week on Alias, there’s at least one spectacular tracking shot of Garner as double agent Sydney Bristow, running from some terrorist/madman/bad guy. She runs flat out, straight toward the camera, her cheeks sucking in oxygen, her arms hammering the air, the jittery electronic music composed by series creator J.J. Abrams adding cranked-up tension. It all helps make ABC’s Alias (airing Sundays at 9 p.m.) one of the most exciting shows of the new season; it also seems like a lot of work.
”It is!” laughs Garner, 29. To prep for her chase scenes, ”I work out every day for an hour, then I kickbox for half an hour after that; I run, lift weights, and do so many sit-ups I don’t have any feeling there,” she says, indicating her tummy.
But if Alias were only action-plus-tummy, it would be V.I.P. Raising it above Pamela Anderson camp is the emotional workout Abrams gives its audience. In the pilot, Sydney’s fiancé was killed after she told him she was a CIA agent; then she found out that the division she was working for, SD-6, was actually an enemy—an anti-Agency rogue cell. So she switched sides back to the good guys and now informs on SD-6. This is lucky for viewers, because it means she gets to work with an extremely cute CIA operations officer played by thatch-haired Michael Vartan.
And oh, yeah: Syd’s frosty, long-estranged father, played by Victor Garber, is also an SD-6/CIA double agent. Growing up, Sydney never knew; now they’re making wary attempts to connect, but it’s complicated because Garber’s Jack Bristow is still keeping secrets from her, including the mysteries behind the death of Sydney’s mom (who died when she was a child).
”There’s a big secret about the mother, about bad things she did,” says Abrams. ”That’s the emotional nuclear bomb of this season, and we’ve set it to go off around the 11th episode of the series.”
Garber, 52, a New York theater and movie vet who was nominated for two Emmys this year, says: ”I’m offered a lot of haughty, pretentious-guy roles—the ones that Donald Sutherland is probably offered first and wisely turns down. What I liked about this role was the guilt and sadness underneath my character.”
Although the ABC show has been getting beaten by NBC’s latest Law & Order spin-off, Criminal Intent, its primo youth demos keep the show’s future bright. And to those who say the show’s slithery double-agent subplots are difficult to follow, Abrams is reassuring.
”Alias always works on two levels. You can come in knowing nothing and get caught up in the secret missions and characters who have emotional issues. But for fans who watch the show closely, I’m telling you: Every little detail pays off. It’s like, you know that little piece of glass Syd took from a church window a few weeks ago and you think we’ve forgotten about? We didn’t. Everything in this show eventually comes together and goes…boom!”