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

Jennifer Garner Alias

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.”

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.