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‘Alias’ and its beautiful spy end five-year run

Jennifer Garner calls ABC drama ‘backdrop to me growing up’
/ Source: The Associated Press

“Alias” is coming in from the cold.

“I think we have done these characters justice and to do any more would be pushing it,” says series star Jennifer Garner, who plays double-agent Sydney Bristow, perhaps TV’s most gorgeous female spy since Diana Rigg played Emma Peel on the ‘60s British series “The Avengers.”

After five seasons, the ABC series that revitalized the espionage genre with a visually dazzling combination of glamor, angst and trickery concludes Monday, May 22, with a pair of episodes (9 p.m. ET).

The brainchild of J. J. Abrams (who has since created ABC’s hit drama “Lost” and directed “Mission: Impossible III”), “Alias” leaves behind a loyal, cult-like group of fans who understood the minutia of the double-dealing plot twists.

Yet mainstream viewers were often left scratching their heads over the spies’ constantly shifting alliances between good and evil, not to mention their occasional faked deaths.

Show runner and executive producer Jeff Pinkner says it’s “always been a family drama” and has “always played with the question of whether or not Sydney Bristow had a choice in what she was doing in her life ... fate versus free will.”

The role made Garner an A-list star and her private life media fodder. Supermarket tabs tracked her divorce from “Felicity’s” Scott Foley, her dating of “Alias” co-star Michael Vartan, her marriage last year to film star Ben Affleck and the November birth of their daughter, Violet.

Simply clad in black, action-star work clothes, the gracious, fresh-faced actress arrived promptly for lunch at the Mickey Mouse-themed Rotunda restaurant on the Walt Disney Studios lot, where the final episodes of “Alias” were in production.

Pinkner joined her and they shared feelings about the bonds that develop among cast and crew during the series run.

“This show will always be the backdrop to me growing up and I did it with these people. They’ve seen me struggle through stuff, figure stuff out, struggle through it again,” said Garner, now 34. “They have been enormously kind to me the entire time and have done nothing but facilitate my growth, and been very patient.”

That included her real-life pregnancy, which was worked into the plot, with Bristow giving birth to a daughter, Isabelle, in the April 19 episode.

Filming that sequence felt “too intimate,” Garner said. “It was a horrible scene to shoot. I felt ridiculous. I kept saying to the crew, ’This wasn’t what it was like. I wasn’t like this. I was very calm.”’

In finale, ‘people die; people live’Certainly more fun for the actress over the years were the many disguises Bristow adopted to go undercover, including “hundreds and thousands of dollars worth of wigs,” Garner recalled. Her favorite was “the blonde bob,” which she donned, along with blue contacts, to pose as a Nordic beauty. “It’s the only time I’ve ever felt, ‘I wish I was this person.”’

She also mastered snippets of many foreign languages, the hardest being Czech.

And Garner is proud to say she performed many of her own stunts, though she’s miffed that as her fame grew so also did Disney’s insistence on stunt doubles.

She said she had wanted to do a “descender” in one of the final episodes, where “you’re rigged in a harness. Couldn’t be safer. A hundred and fifty feet. I’ve done higher than that several times.”

But she was told insurance wouldn’t cover her. “I was crushed. I was so bummed.”

So on this day, she was happy to be going back after lunch to shoot a rappelling scene, even though “it’s just a wussy thing.”

Pinkner co-wrote one of the final episodes, but, teasingly, would only say, “People die; people live.”

However, he assures the conclusion honors Bristow’s ongoing romance with CIA agent Michael Vaughn (Vartan) and her relationship with her parents, particularly her father, double agent Jack Bristow (Victor Garber).

The final episodes also pay off the mythology of the show, based on the mysterious prophecies of 15th century seer Milo Rambaldi, and add another kink to the machinations of treacherous spymaster Arvin Sloane (Ron Rifkin).

Garner admitted to some ambivalence as production on the series drew to a close.

“I feel very much like a college senior,” she said. “Kinda, ‘When will this ever end? I’m never going to get out of here!’ and at the same time, ‘Oh, don’t let it end. Who am I without it? I don’t want it to end! I love these people.”’