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What Happens When You're Almost Anakin Skywalker But Don't Get The Part?? You End Up At Sundance!!

Merrick here...
I usually don’t do interviews; I find little joy in the process and have turned down the chance to interview many big name folks. But this one…I thought was too intriguing to pass up. A bit of context: way back in 2000, AICN broke the news that a guy named “Jeff” Garner was the front runner for the role of Anakin Skywalker in STAR WARS EPISODE II.

You can find one of those articles HERE. This stuck for a bit, then…suddenly…Hayden Christensen was said to have won the part. As is often the case with the ADD Internet community, no one ever followed up on that Garner lead…and the Legend of “Jeff” quickly became a forgotten footnote in Geek lore. Harry ran those pieces. While there were a few errors in the articles' biographical information, the thrust of his reporting was correct: “Jeff” (now “Jett”) Garner was, indeed, on the fast track to becoming Anakin Skywalker. Clearly, he didn’t make it. What I love about this story is that it’s not about someone famous; it’s actually about someone fame eluded on several occasions. But there are no sour grapes here, no bitter resentment. Instead…to me at least…Jett is a powerful reminder that, sometimes, losing what appear to be opportunities of a lifetime can actually lead to other opportunities…and to a happiness greater than any we may otherwise have known. What happens when someone doesn’t land the role of a lifetime? Many things. In Jett’s case, hope and ambition survived…fueling his journey down a road that ultimately lead to Sundance. Where festival goers can see him in the world premiere of a movie called BAG HEAD... ...tonight.

M: Talk to me about STAR WARS…how did you first connect with the property? I sparred Ray Park at a tournament in Highland, Indiana. At that time, I didn’t know who he was…but I knew he had something to do with STAR WARS EPISODE I, which hadn’t come out yet. He won the fight, but I did well considering I’d only been in martial arts a couple of years at that point. The tournament ended & months later an associate of mine got a letter asking if I’d I ever done martial arts for film, done any acting, stuff like that. I spoke to the guy who sent the message, and they quizzed me about my experience. They asked if I could take a few photos & send them in. I did this and mailed them to a nondescript address.
M: And then you waited… JG: Yeah. Months go past again…then they had a casting call in Chicago…with a casting director…in small office…I was the only guy there at the time; I don’t know if they were doing it by appointment, or what. They had me read lines, there was a brief conversation about me on cameras & we did a small scene with a reader, I think we did it like five or six times. They were vague about what everything was about. During the meeting, the casting director asked who my agent was and I said I didn’t have one. They told me I should go out and fine one. I did…and at that point my agent disclosed that they were talking to me about the upcoming STAR WARS movie…but said they weren’t prepared to name the character they were considering me for. Some time passed. On two occasions I put some martial arts stuff on tape…and one time they sent dialogue they wanted me to run through. Somewhere along the line, someone told me I was up for the role of Anakin. They told me not to talk about it, even with my family. I did another run through on tape, this time with a bo staff and more dialogue. I sent it out to them - this was about a week before Harry ran the story. I never heard “yes” or “no” from anybody…the next thing I heard was that Hayden had been cast as Anakin.
M: Do you think the AICN coverage impacted your being cast in the film? JG: I don’t think the coverage helped. But if I’d been solid enough and interesting enough, I don’t think it would’ve mattered.
M: That would’ve been a life changing role, at worst. Do you ever regret it not happening? JG: Obviously, it would be nice to be a millionaire right now. But, if I’d gotten the role, so many things that I love now…my wife, having my kids, my own martial arts studio…might not exist.
M: As objectively as possible…what are your thoughts on how the (STAR WARS) Prequels turned out? JG: Lucas has three generations of brand association and material…a captive audience, in some ways. Lucas could’ve had a three hour movie about Anakin taking his first dump as Darth Vader and it would’ve sold as many tickets. Even when I was in the running, Christian Bale and Russell Crowe were mentioned for the part. Even though we were all more mature than Hayden was, I think it would’ve been far more interesting to see the character struggling with the some of the same issues at a more mature age instead of being a whiney teenager still dealing with puberty. Crowe or Bale, for example, would’ve bought a darker element to the story. It felt like the last four movies…I’m including JEDI here…were more about selling toys than actually honoring stories. I need to emphasize that, because Anakin didn’t happen, I met friends in Austin. One of them was Robogeek (from AICN)…whom I met and started talking to when I first called AICN to bitch about Harry’s coverage. I visited Austin and ended up moving here and starting a new life…a nice life. In a way, STAR WARS not happening was a blessing. Not financially, but in nearly every other regard.
M: If you’d been Anakin, what do you think would’ve happened after that? JG: I don’t know…that would depend on if I sucked or not. Back then, all I’d done was some plays in high school and college. I’m honestly not sure what my career would’ve become. What I *do* know is that…if someone gave me that kind of opportunity now…I think I’m experienced enough to make it work. Back then, I was pretty green and I can’t for sure where I would’ve gone, or how I would’ve handled it creatively or personally.
M: Word is you were talking to Guillermo Del Toro about a role in BLADE II at one point… JG: I met with Guillermo (del Toro) in his L.A. production offices…I think it was December 2000. It was so exciting…it was going to be a martial arts intensive role [Garner is a third degree Black Belt, and a certified instructor of Krav Maga, a self defense system used by Israeli Special Forces]. It was for a director I knew, in a follow up to a movie I love (BLADE). He finally got back in touch with me (after the Holidays in December) and said the studio (New Line) wanted to use Donny Yen instead.
M: Do you know why? JG: Marketing. He had a following in China.
M: Which stung more: not getting STAR WARS, or BLADE? JG: Actually, I was more disappointed about BLADE. I knew working with Guillermo…under those circumstances, in a much smaller deal…would’ve been an excellent launching pad.
M: And your perception of Donny in that role? JG: He’s an awesome martial artist. But, like many martial artists, he doesn’t have many acting skills. He was barely in the movie, and I think there were reasons for that.
M: Will you and Guillermo work together in the future? JG: We don’t talk much, but we’ve bumped into each other a couple of times and there always seems to be hope that something might happen. I hope it does, because I think he’s brilliant.
M: You did make it into Disney’s ALAMO movie in 2004…in a reasonably sized role… JG: Yeah, I worked on that from January to end of April in 2003. Almost four months.
M: Did you work with any of the leads? JG: Yes…Patrick Wilson, Billy Bob (Thornton), Jason Patrick, Leon Rippy, and Jordi Molla (Diego from BLOW).
M: That movie seemed like it would either suck to work on, or be a blast… JG: I had a great time. We trained in canons, long rifles, horse back riding, and hand to hand combat. Good times.
M: The movie seemed a bit soft to me…uninvolving. In reality, The Alamo battle was tremendously bloody and brutal…but the film is pretty sanitized. JG: I think in retrospect, people will talk about the film as being infamous for the opening weekend it had. THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST…a much more uncompromising film…caught a second wind because of Easter, which is the same time we opened. I think approaching THE ALAMO more like SAVING PRIVATE RYAN…with a hard R rating…would have been a better tactic, and would’ve both honored the true story more…and distinguished the film from the John Wayne film in the 60s, which was also pretty clean. And, as much respect I have for Billy Bob (Thornton) as an actor and director, I don’t think he was the right choice for the role. He had all the gentleman charm for the character, but he wasn’t tough enough on-screen to be a compelling Davy Crockett.
M: What happened between THE ALAMO and now? JG: I lived in LA for a year and decided I didn’t like it.
M: Why? JG: I came from a town (Austin) where I could get together and make a movie on any given weekend. Out there, no one wanted to do anything without getting paid…the simplest short would cost several thousand dollars. In Austin, there was a network of people I could connect with at any given time to do a project; out there it was impossible. I moved back to Austin & opened up my own martial arts school (WEBSITE HERE), started dabbling in writing/directing/producing shorts with Glen Oliver…who used to be at AICN…there’s a page that has a couple of our projects on it (SEE THEM HERE). M: Are you happy? JG: Very.
M: What about BAG HEAD? It’s a Duplass movie, no? JG: Yes it is.
M: What’s that about? Four friends and a bag and a head. That’s all I’m prepared to say about the plot.
M: A human head? JG: Yes.
M: Are you the head? JG: I play Jett Garner, film director.
M: I haven’t actually seen it, but I’ve heard good things about the Duplass’ PUFFY CHAIR [their previous film]. How’d you connect with them? JG: In 2002, Jay Duplass and Rhett Wilkins (who plays Rhett in PUFFY CHAIR) ended up in the same acting class I was in…we forged a good friendship that lasted. Not only are we friends, we bounce creative ideas off of each other all the time.
M: I read the film’s opening at Sundance this year… JG: It opens Tuesday night…world premiere.
M: Do you like it? JG: I haven’t seen it. But I hear it’s as good as …if not better than…PUFFY CHAIR.
M: Sundance is no small accomplishment… JG: I’m excited for them, excited for me, excited for everyone.
M: Does this bring you some sense of closure? Everything you’ve been through led to this? Yes. And, it really is an honor to be associated with Mark and Jay; to have their friendship and respect creatively. Already thinking about what’s next.
M: So, what’s left? If there’s one thing you could do that you haven’t already done…something that would make you feel totally complete… JG: It would be a quality action film in which I could utilize my martial arts. I have a lot of respect for Jason Statham’s career right now…he’s doing a lot of fun and unique action films as a good actor and great martial artist, but he’s also doing smaller roles in more serious, bigger pictures.
M: Do you respect him even though he just worked with Uwe Boll? JG: He did? Oh yeah, IN THE NAME OF THE KING…
M: That’s the one… JG: Isn’t Boll the guy who said, ‘If you don’t like my movie, come fight me?’
M: Yes. JG: I’ll fight his ass.

- Merrick

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