Jennifer Garner on Yes Day: You don't realise how many nos are implied in a kid's life
In Yes Day Jennifer Garner gives her children what they want for a day – something she does as a mum in real life. She and co-star Edgar Ramirez tell Laura Harding about the sentiment behind the tradition
THERE is one day every year when Jennifer Garner lets her children do whatever they want. If that sounds like a recipe for lawlessness, think again. She says the requests of her three kids – Violet (15), Seraphina (12) and Samuel, aged nine – who she shares with ex-husband Ben Affleck, are usually pretty tame.
The idea is called a ‘yes day', and comes from a children's book of the same name by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrator Tom Lichtenheld in which parents say yes to every request (as long as it's not dangerous or illegal) – such as pizza for breakfast and using gel to style hair into a mohawk – for 24 hours.
Now the book has inspired a film, also called Yes Day, and stars 48-year-old Garner and The Undoing's Edgar Ramirez as the parents who reluctantly agree to give in to their three children's wishes for a day – including dressing up in wild costumes, water balloon fights and a trip to a theme park.
“I read the book to my kids,” Garner remembers, “and my middle daughter just loved this calendar in it that says all the nos, and at the very end it says yes on the last day.
“It's very easy to think of yes day as only being over the top and, granted, we are a wish fulfilment movie but I really have learned over nine years of doing yes days with my kids that it's little things.
“Like ‘When the car is parked, can I put my head out of the sunroof? Can I sit in the front seat and turn all the knobs?'
“You don't even realise how many nos are implied in a kid's life, because they've heard it so many times they've stopped asking.
“So it's just letting that free and just having a little bit of fun, staying up late, choosing the cereal at the grocery store.
“For my kid's it's buying lottery tickets, things I would never do, or stopping at a gas station and letting them get junk food and lottery tickets, things like that.
“And it's the energy of giving your entire attention to your kids for an entire day with a whole lot of yes, yes, yes – that is what it's really about. Although the big stuff is fun too.”
Garner has been doing these days for so long that she evangelises about what they have brought to her family life.
“My kids' yes days have always ended in a late night out in the back yard,” she says with a smile over Zoom. “We have ours in August, almost always, at the end of summer when I've run out of anything fun to do and they just need to go back to school, and we are trying to fight our way there.
“Having a s'more [sweet treat] in the backyard all together and playing flashlight tag and then going to sleep in a tent in the backyard, it's just that you've earned the feeling of cosiness by the end of the day that is special.”
Garner has even been trying to incorporate some more yeses into her family life during the pandemic, as kids battle home school and long periods away from their friends.
“After dinner every night the kids and I have just sat on the couch together, I make popcorn, and we watch two episodes of The Office [the US version]. We watched it all the way through and then we went back and watched it again.
“And it's a little too mature for my son and I never allow screen time during the week, but that has been my yes.
“And I have to say we just finished it and my kids want to watch it again and I'm like ‘There are other comedies, I promise, we can find something else you'll love,' but if that is what feels good to them right now then we will start, good old Steve Carell, and we will go back to the beginning.”
Venezuelan star Ramirez (43), who does not have children of his own but is a heavily involved uncle, has also experimented with bringing ‘yes' into his family life as a result of the movie.
The experience is even more treasured because seeing his family can be a struggle, even in pre-pandemic times.
“Over Christmas 2019 I celebrated my first yes day with my family and realised the cornerstone of the whole movement is time,” he says.
“The most beautiful and most important gift you can give to the people you love the most is time and I think the pandemic has reinforced that, how valuable and how important it is to spend time.
“When I planned a yes day with my family and my nephews, they were very simple things, no real extravaganza – it was having a picnic and eating pizza and going to a theme park.
“It was beautiful to see that it's the undivided attention, which is nothing but time and focus, was what they craved, and that stayed with me.
“I live in the US and my family is in Venezuela and we haven't been able to see each other so I think that reality, which is the reality of many many people with fewer possibilities and resources.
“It's been so tough for so many people around the world, and I think it's made this experience way more relevant than before.
“I felt this movie was basically a therapy vehicle when I was doing it and now after all that we have been through collectively, I think the movie has gained a whole different meaning
“I had just been exiled from my country before I did this movie. I'm from Venezuela, I'm very vocal against the dictatorship there, and I became exiled and I don't have the opportunity to just go and be with my family because I'm not allowed in the country.
“I have as much privilege as possible in comparison with so many people around the world who have been exiled from their country for many different reasons, so I think this was a beautiful experience for me to come to terms with my new personal reality.
“The movie is very emotional to me and because it taught me so much, to be in the moment and not think too much and be very present.”
:: Yes Day will be released on Netflix on March 12.