Jennifer Garner shot to stardom in the early 2000s as an action heroine with back-to-back roles in the cult spy series Alias and the early Marvel superhero picture Daredevil. From 2004 to 2010, though, she was on a serious rom-com roll, appearing in hits like 13 Going on 30, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and Valentine’s Day. But after starring alongside Russell Brand and Greta Gerwig in the 2011 misfire Arthur, the actress stepped away from the genre and alternated supporting performances in smaller dramas (Dallas Buyers Club and Men, Women & Children) with a lot of “mom roles” in family-oriented fare (Miracles From Heaven and Yes Day). That change seemed to dovetail with her own off-screen relationship status: Garner was married to Ben Affleck from 2005 to 2015, and they share three children.
Flash-forward to 2023, and Garner is revisiting her early-aughts rom-com stardom in the long-awaited third season of the cult Starz comedy Party Down. She’s the new love interest for series star Adam Scott, reprising his role as failed actor and cynical cater-waiter Henry Dollard. “When we were talking about the role, we would mention Jennifer Garner as the type of person we wanted to cast,” Scott tells Yahoo Entertainment. “We kept saying: ‘We want someone like Jennifer Garner,’ never thinking we would actually get Jennifer Garner.”
Watch our interview with the Party Down crew on YouTube
Garner is a regular presence throughout the six-episode third season as Evie Adler, a movie producer who gets to know the problem-prone Party Down catering company and hits it off with Henry in a way that changes both of their personal and professional trajectories. “In meeting Henry, she kind of starts re-considering things in her own life,” says Party Down showrunner John Enbom. “You start with someone who is a lot more buttoned-down, and then you see her go to these weird places.”
Funnily enough, Evie was a last-minute addition to the Party Down universe. When Starz first announced that the series — which aired its last episode in 2010, when Garner was still in her rom-com run — would be revived for another year, the plan was to bring back Henry’s original love interest, Casey Klein, played by Lizzy Caplan. But when production on Season 3 finally began after COVID-caused delays, Caplan was prevented from participating due to production conflicts with her FX on Hulu series, Fleishman Is in Trouble.
“We didn’t want to just try and replace Lizzie or find another version of her or anything like that,” explains Enbom. “We wanted to bring in a character who can represent a different part of the world that Henry has been struggling with, and somebody who was also a very different type of person than we’d had on the show before. We were excited about getting Jennifer onboard for those reasons.”
The reason for Casey’s absence is revealed in the series premiere — unlike her fellow cater-waiters, she’s finally hit the big time, joining the Not Ready for Primetime Players on Saturday Night Live. The episode also pointedly asks fans to reconsider Casey and Henry’s on-again, off-again relationship, suggesting that maybe viewers shouldn’t have been shipping the couple in the first place.
“Casey’s absence is something that can haunt everybody in a different way,” Scott agrees. “And as far as their relationship goes, I think sometimes something that happened 13 years ago can be remembered in a gauzy, romantic way. But when you really think about the reality of it, maybe it just didn’t work. So I think that was kind of a realistic, clear-eyed way of writing about it.”
Besides the challenge of stepping in for a much-missed fan favorite character, Garner also had to adapt to Party Down‘s loose shooting style, which leaves a lot of room for improvisation and in-the-moment invention. Enbom says that the actress came into the show with a “very different energy” but quickly learned on the fly how to adapt to what her new co-stars were doing.
“A lot of it was about her getting into the general vibe with everybody else — the goofy kind of improvisational energy to the show. Once she got into that… there was a loosening into the goofiness of it all and the fun of it. We really wanted to try and honor the formula of the original, but also try and go in new places, and Jennifer was really instrumental in helping us do that.”
A self-confessed fan of Garner’s past work, Scott — who is also one-half of one of the all-time great TV couples, Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt on Parks and Recreation — had never worked with the returning rom-com veteran prior to their first day together on the Party Down set. But the Severance star says that their natural onscreen chemistry happened naturally off-screen as well. “She was so game and hilarious from day one: I loved working with her and would jump at the chance to do more.” Sounds like Nancy Meyers needs to write the next chapter in Garner and Scott’s onscreen love story.
Party Down airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on Starz.