Jennifer Garner Alias

Alias Oral History: Jennifer Garner, Series Creator J.J. Abrams and Cast Mark Spy Drama's 10th Anniversary

Here’s a fact that’ll burst your giant, red ball: Alias‘ series finale aired 10 years ago this month. That means it’s been a decade since we last watched Sydney Bristow go about the business of being a graduate student by day, spy extraordinaire by night… and also sometimes by day. Man, that beeper went off a lot, didn’t it?

Alias was a coming-of-age story of a kind, a slick, sexy, action-filled drama in which Sydney constantly struggled to discern truth from the insanity around her. Syd started the series thinking her father didn’t care about her, her mother was long dead and her future involved becoming Mrs. Danny Hecht. (RIP.) She ended it as a wife, mother and semi-retired covert operative who’d endured terrible loss and witnessed unbelievable events, but still was able to stroll the beach with the family she’d worked hard to create, satisfied with what she’d been able to accomplish in the world.

Alias also was the vehicle via which Jennifer Garner, whose biggest prior credit was a recurring role on The WB’s Felicity, became a bona-fide star. The speed with which her fame grew during the show’s tenure was matched only by that of its creator, a pre-Lost J.J. Abrams, whom the world was just beginning to notice as Sydney dyed her hair bright red and invited us along on a mission.

The ABC drama’s five-season run ended on May 22, 2006. And because we miss it with the intensity of Arvin Sloane searching for The Passenger, we talked with the series’ cast and key behind-the-scenes players for a look back on how Syd’s world came to be.

In the oral history below, Garner, Abrams, Michael Vartan, Victor Garber and more shared their lasting memories about the spy-tastic series. Because they had so many good stories, it’s long — like, Tolstoy-long — but if you’re a true fan of the show, we think you’ll be happy to make like Sydney on her comm link and say: “I’m in.”

GETTING STARTED
One day during production of his WB series, Felicity, Abrams started to wonder what it would be like if the drama’s title character had a secret life as a kickass spy. The seeds of Alias were sown.

alias-oral-history-abramsABRAMS | When I was writing the pilot, having worked with Jen on Felicity, she was in my mind as a very strong contender for the role. My wife, Katie, said, “You have to write something for Jen.” And so Jen kept coming up in my mind as a potential candidate for this. And no one else did. But I was trying not to think of Jen because I wanted Sydney to be her own thing that then Jen could bring to life, or whomever. But there was no one else I really considered but her.

alias-oral-history-pinknerJEFF PINKNER, executive producer | J.J. had done Felicity, but he wasn’t “J.J. Abrams” yet. He was this young, hotshot, superstar writer, and Felicity was a popular show but not a cultural phenomenon, other than the cutting of the hair moment… But I saw the show, and it spoke to everything that I loved.

alias-oral-history-garnerGARNER | I was in the movie theater watching Traffic with my phone in my hand, which is very typical for an actor waiting to hear about a job. You can’t bear it. You’re just dying for that piece of news. I don’t think there’d been anything that I ever wanted this badly or worked so hard to get.

So I was in the middle of the movie, and my phone started to ring and I dodged outside. It was finally, finally mine and I just remember watching the rest of Traffic like it was a romantic comedy. [Laughs] I was kind of levitating above the rest of the seats in the theater. And so freaked out.

PINKNER | J.J. had to fight to have her cast in the lead. ABC at the time was not interested. She had played a very small role in Felicity as a much different sort of girl who’s awkward in her own skin. So J.J. fought for her. I think she blew everyone away with her dedication.

GARNER | The great thing about J.J. is that he pulls you into a fight like that. I was his team member in it… I had an idea at least of what I was up against.

alias-oral-history-garberVICTOR GARBER, played Jack Bristow | I was surprised that J.J. or that anybody saw me as Jack Bristow. I was convinced that the guy who went in ahead of me was going to get the part, because he looked exactly like I thought that Jack Bristow should look. I said, “Why am I here? This guy is perfect…” I was stunned to get it, frankly. Very happy.

alias-oral-history-weismanKEVIN WEISMAN, played Marshall Flinkman | I was 29 at the time, and Marshall was described as mid-40s, overweight, balding with a ponytail and a Mötley Crüe T-shirt. And I was like, “What? I just worked with J.J. [on Felicity]. Are you sure they want to see me?” And so, we tried it a bunch of different ways. I tried Marshall super confident and then super laid back, cocky, highly intelligent… I never told [Abrams] ’til years later. I was like, “You know, I kind of based it on you.”

alias-oral-history-vartanMICHAEL VARTAN, played Michael Vaughn | We do the first read — I can’t remember if you read for the network first or the studio first — and I was sweating profusely. I mean, it was embarrassing. I said, “J.J., I can’t do this.” He was like, “Yes, you can.”

[After a second reading went much better], I still didn’t think I’d get the job. It’s funny, because after we read, Bradley [Cooper] and I were just hanging out outside. We looked at each other and we were like, “Dude, we’re not both getting this part.” …Lo and behold, we both got the job.

PINKNER | I was hired to the original staff by J.J. When I walked out of my interview, [producers] Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman were waiting to go into theirs. On that first staff was me, Bob and Alex, Jesse Alexander. Jesse and I were the only two people from gate to gate, from wire to wire.

VARTAN | I never tested with Jen… I was convinced there would be some sort of chemistry read at least… but it worked out — and by the way, I challenge a paper bag to not have chemistry with Jennifer Garner. [Laughs] …By like Episode 3 or 4 of Season 1, we started having a sense that there’s definitely going to be some chemistry between these characters down the road.

PROCEED TO NEXT PAGE FOR SEASON 1: “WE WERE EXHAUSTED A LOT.”

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62 Comments
  1. Courtney Smith says:

    This amazing. Thanks for your hard work.

    • Some thoughts after reading the whole article:
      – Jennifer is amazing and I want her on another show ASAP. Her movie career is not worthy of her talent.
      – I loved how honest everyone was about what did and didn’t work on the show. The first 2 seasons are 2 of my favorite seasons ever of any series. S3 was still enjoyable, but there were some rough times. S4 and S5? Eh. Not horrible, but not the best. And I think it was because the mythology was all over the place and we lost a lot of the heart.
      – Wish we had more on Sydney/Vaughn, they were amazing. If you have any info on their relationship, please post!

  2. brianonrose says:

    Thank you for this article Kim! I love and miss Alias!

  3. Jim says:

    That’s awesome! Still one of my all time favorite series. Netflix better not ever get rid of it.

  4. AliasFan says:

    This is an awesome article. I grew up watching Alias and loved it so much! Own 4 out of the 5 seasons on DVD. SO awesome you got to interview so much of the cast.

  5. KNR says:

    I named my daughter Sydney, likely after my love of Alias and Sydney Bristow. This was such a great read, thank you!

  6. I was unhealthily obsessed with this show, and reading the oral history reminded me how much I loved both the show and the cast. Thanks so much for the awesome walk down memory lane!

  7. Charles says:

    My favorite show of all time, I miss it so much.

  8. Shar says:

    Thank you for all of the interviews and great photos. This show is still one of my favourites. The main thing here is that Jennifer Garner is a wonderful professional actress who is an incredibly nice person too.

  9. Bwhit says:

    This is so cool especially the cast reliving this and all the details. I hope this gets done on several shows that were beloved. Great work…. I really enjoyed this and you can tell how much work was poured into it.

  10. Jennifer can count me in as one of those true Alias fans. It was appointment television (meaning long before DVR’s you had to watch a show when it was actually on, commercials and all). That whole case was fantastic. Miss that form of fun on network TV.

  11. CourtTV says:

    I have to rewatch on Netflix!! Thanks for this!!

  12. Jovana says:

    I LOVE YOU FOR THIS.
    Thank you.

  13. Katherine215 says:

    OMG, TVLine is my hero. This is amazing. I loved this show so much! And it just makes me so happy to hear that Jennifer Garner is truly as wonderful as I always thought she was!

  14. B says:

    My thoughts on the article:

    Francie’s last name was Calfo? How have I watched the series several times and never known that?

    It’s nice to read Michael Vartan talk about Jennifer nicely. I always felt like the tone of the romance changed after they broke up in real life. Of course part of that was the big changes to the series, but it always bothered me a little.

    I’m glad they recognize that the later seasons didn’t work as well as the earlier ones, and that they admit they didn’t have a plan from the beginning. That much was clear, but it’s rare to see Hollywood execs just admit those things outright without defending the choices.

    I never knew Bradley Cooper asked to be written out of the series, because he always sounds so positive when he speaks about it. It makes sense, but that was a surprise.

  15. Aisha says:

    First time I watched Alias was when I was 14 on youtube.
    Then I got the boxed set.
    Then I literally started watching it on Netflix earlier this year and it’s honestly still great, Rambaldi is absolutely crazy but they made it work.
    I love(d) the show and Jennifer Garner so much that the second she signs up to TV again I will personally fight everyone that doesn’t watch it.

    Also this is amazing, your hard work is super super appreciated, especially as I’ve only just finished watching it again so the love level is immense.

  16. farleyc says:

    TVLINE ~ Thank you so much for this. Made my day. I adored ALIAS. I re-watched it last summer and loved it even more the 2nd time around. :-) (And then I re-watched LOST, of course!)

  17. girlieq24 says:

    This was so freaking awesome. Thank you so much for this walk down memory lane!

  18. Mary says:

    Alias was an awesome show. I still think that the whole Penn and Teller crap about their prediction for the winner of the Super Bowl that ran so long after the game and pushed Alias so late that night was annoying and took away a lot of viewers that might have stuck around for the episode. I also wasn’t happy with ABC’s decision to move Alias from Sunday nights (giving the time slot to Desperate Housewives) to Wednesdays and then later to Thursdays.

  19. Josh says:

    Great read! Love this show! And it really sounds like they had great relationships on this show and the fact they can all thank back so fondly is nice…

    Also, Jennifer Garner really seems like the nicest person.

  20. Tasha says:

    Man you guys just made me so nostalgic I’m so binge watching Alias this weekend!

  21. Alicia Gray says:

    I never realized how much I hated Bradley Cooper until this moment. What an ungrateful asshat.

    • Shaun says:

      To be fair,a good actor doesn’t want to get jammed up and feel under used.At least he didn’t become a Mischa Barton and go nowhere.

  22. Lysh says:

    I never watched the last season, but I really loved this show. This is the type of reunion I would love to see at ATX or something! Jen and Victor’s friendship off-screen gives me so much feels. This made me feel like I should get up earlier and work out because wow, those schedules. And also that I should finally watch the last season. Thank you for this!

  23. Kristina says:

    I’ve been meaning to rewatch Alias. This feels like a sign.

  24. Jenny Rarden says:

    I had NO idea (duh) the show Kimberly and Aus teased about in his live “after show” would turn out to be Alias, but OMG, the feels! An amazing surprise, a brilliant look back for my favorite show of all-time, and just a perfect end to the work week. Thank you Kimberly, the cast and crew, and anyone else who made this post possible. *sigh*

  25. Penelope says:

    Alias was and still is one of my favorite shows ever. It made me a fan for life of Jennifer Garner, Victor Garber, JJ Abrams and the rest of the cast and crew. I like to think all of us true fans have a little bit of Sydney within us. The staying power of this show, it’s legacy and what it still means to people is a testament to the stories that were told. Thank you Kimberly and TVline for putting this together. What a lovely tribute to this show, the cast, crew and the fans.

  26. jennyquack says:

    Thank you so much for this! Still one of my favorites and I watch the series every year, although the last 2 seasons aren’t as good, in my opinion. I just loved how kick-ass Sidney was and also so vulnerable, so real. I would totally watch a reboot (with the original cast minus Bradley Cooper). I guess they are probably getting too old for those flying spin kicks.

  27. Cas says:

    I loved Alias and Michael Vartan :)

  28. Will says:

    Absolutely STELLAR work. This is a thing of beauty. Thank you, Kim and team TVLine!

  29. Avery says:

    Love, love, love this! ALIAS is the series where I discovered Victor Garber, and I will now watch absolutely anything he is in! I think it is a truly great series! Thanks so much for highlighting it!

  30. Carrie says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. I loved this show. It was so good!! Sydney Bristow is one of the best female TV characters of all time and Jack Bristow is my all-time favorite TV dad.

  31. DarkDefender says:

    Great article, Kim. The amount of work it must have taken to put this together – wow. It really is worth it for those of us fans who loved the show. Well done!
    Now all I want to do is go back and binge the entire series.
    .
    I really hope you can do this again… Maybe… With The Facts of Life, FRINGE or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

  32. C.C. says:

    Holy crap! Amazing coverage to a landmark show for me!

  33. Mark says:

    I usually wasn’t home on Sunday nights back then, so I didn’t have a Sunday night show. I happened to be home on Sunday night that week, so I tuned in. I was hooked by the end of the pilot and was recording the show and passing it around to my friends at church during the week. You know, back in the days of VCR’s.

    I really need to pull out my DVD’s and watch the show again. So many great memories with the characters.

  34. Damien J Edwards says:

    I live in the UK where Alias never really took off, but I bought the first season on import from the US. Immediately fell in love with Jennifer Garner. The pilot episode for this show is just amazing and her performance was incredibly real. The cast are/ were phenomenal, to a man.
    Just a brilliant show. I miss it to this day.

  35. Daniel says:

    Oh my gosh I loved this show so much. It was my favourite show the whole time it was on! That unique blend of spy thriller and action and drama and romance and humour, there just hasn’t been anything like it since (with perhaps the exception of Chuck, but that tended more toward the comedy and less on the mythology).

    And contrary to many people’s views, I actually loved the mythology. Unpacking the Rambaldi mystery – particularly during the third season when it became clear the writers were just making up devices for every new episode and hoping it somehow made sense – was addictive and fun. It gave the series an aura of grandeur and historic myth not seen much outside the Indiana Jones movies.

    I always thought Alias should come back for a revival and do “the lost 5 episodes”, corresponding to the shortened final season. And it would be a great victory lap for the cast and tie up all the mysteries. I mean, if Netflix can bring back Full House for a revival, surely Alias should get the same treatment!

  36. Amy says:

    I loved this show do much. I still miss it. It will always be one of my all-time favorites. Thanks so much for this great article.

  37. lbchatterbox says:

    This had to be the best Alias interview I’ve ever read. Thank you for that. I miss the show so much. Jack/Sydney’s relationship was my favorite. I love Victor Garber.

  38. Cate53 says:

    I loved Alias and Jennifer Garner will always be Sydney Bristow to me! So many cool disguises and missions. I was never the biggest Syd/Vaughn shipper as it dragged forwards and backwards, on and off too many times. By the end, it was definitely running out of gas but it was a quality show with great action and adventure

    Thanks for the articles

  39. Mai says:

    One of the best interviews. Thanks TVline and cast (and others) on Alias who contributed to this interview.

  40. Lev says:

    Lots of people were great on this show, but no one was perfect as Lena Olin, when the show couldn’t get her to stay it really lost something

  41. ss says:

    Alias was such a great show. At the time, I liked it, but I have watched it again since (thanks netflix!) and it just gets better with age. Still one of the great shows!

    • ss says:

      And tvline – you always do amazing work, but this is just GREAT! thanks for doing this for the fans.

  42. Sara says:

    Thank you so much for putting this all together! I remember when Alias first premiered and I decided to give it a chance to fill the void that the recently wrapped up La Femme Nikita had left in my life. It very quickly became my must watch show.
    What a wonderful retrospective! Bravo Kimberly, and thank you TVLine!!!

    • Marisa says:

      La Femme Nikita was exactly why I started watching Alias, too! Love them both – though I do think Alias holds up much better over time.

  43. laura says:

    This is amazing.
    Thank you for the hard work on that project :)
    <3

  44. Erin says:

    Thanks for this! Now I have to find time to watch Alias again.

  45. lindseyj47 says:

    This article really was Tolstoy long (loved the reference, by the way!) but it was wonderful and I would have read twice as much. I rewatch this series every year, never gets old Thank you TV Line!

  46. Fantastic article and I can see how thorough you were and really appreciate the hard work putting it together. As an avid Alias fan, this made me so happy.

  47. cjeffery7 says:

    I would love nothing more than to tell Jennifer Garner how much I loved and still love ALIAS.

  48. Meredith Larson says:

    I am such a huge Alias fan that I named my son Vaughn. When people ask if that is a family name, I say I named him after a tv character, and all of the true Alias fans immediately go “Was it from Alias??!” I feel an immediate bond with them, lol.

  49. littlemisslikes says:

    Thank you thank you, this is just the most wonderful article for us Alias fans. Even now when I think about the few shows that have really taken over and influenced my life, alias is one of them and I like to rewatch the series once a year or two.

    The cast and writers spoke such candidly and I’m so glad that mostly they all enjoyed and had a good relationship with one another.

    While I am sad that it wasn’t as popular as it should have been, still glad it it went for a wonderful 5 years