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Be it on Broadway, the Silver Screen or your television set, you have probably seen actor Victor Garber in some role or another. After all, he played Jesus in “Godspell.”
In “Sleepless in Seattle,” Garber appeared in the hilarious, movie-stealing scene with Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson. And he was the Titanic’s designer in the highest-grossing movie ever of the same name. Currently, Garber can be seen every week on the hit television series “Alias.”
Over 40 Years Ago He Got the Part
As a professional actor since the age of 10, Garber, now 55, is no stranger to juggling the demands of busy schedules and responsibilities. His biggest “role,” however, came at the age of 12.
Living the part of a person with type 1 often required him to do the seemingly impossible: balance his hectic daily acting schedule with the rigorous challenges of injecting insulin and managing blood glucose with limited technology.
The key to managing the rigors of his career and diabetes, Garber says, is his lifelong determination.
“There was a part of me that was determined to succeed at what I wanted to do, so I never let diabetes really get in the way,” he says.
Back in those days, Garber had to test his urine four times a day in addition to taking insulin shots. But even with diabetes, he always kept focused on his career.
Garber now plays Agent Jack Bristow in the hit television show “Alias.”
Among other awards, Bristow was ranked number 29 in the June 2004 TV Guide list of the 50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time.
As Jack Bristow, Garber performs alongside personal friend Jennifer Garner, who plays Agent Sydney Bristow. He credits Garner and his other co-workers on the “Alias” set for helping him overcome many diabetes challenges such as balancing meals, getting snacks during breaks in filming and recognizing and helping him treat low blood glucose events.
Hypoglycemia—Not Part of the Script
Garber says he tends to be very cautious overall. This means he is usually prepared to treat low blood glucose levels should they occur while filming.
“It’s happened a couple of times when I’ve literally been in the middle of shooting a scene, and I start having trouble remembering the lines and I start to falter,” he says. “One day I was struggling so hard, I knew something was wrong, but I was past the point of knowing what it was. When I was younger I could feel the sweats coming on, but as I get older I don’t feel it as much.”
In these situations, Garber says, he is very thankful to his co-workers.
“On the Alias set, Jennifer really takes care of me. They’re always ready with some orange juice,” he says. “I’m so grateful for my co-workers because everyone is very aware of [the diabetes] and they know it only takes a few minutes to treat a low.”
Garber also recalls a few occurrences of hypoglycemia during a musical he was working on. He kept juice near the stage just in case. Fortunately for Garber, one of the other cast members also had diabetes.
“It was great to have someone to talk to who understood what I was going through and what it was,” Garber says. “I would check my blood glucose at intermission, or at a five-minute break. The last thing I needed was to be on stage and have a low.”
Keeping on top of low blood glucose levels is all about being prepared, says Garber, who keeps glucose tabs in his costume when he’s working and also in his car.
On the Road
When Garber is busy filming or when acting takes him on the road between New York and Los Angeles, preparation means everything.
“You just have to think a little more ahead and know what the day will hold and what is needed to make it go smoothly,” he says.
No matter what, he always takes his insulin and eats breakfast in the mornings. Frequent snacks are also part of his daily routine.
Works With the JDRF
Garber does work with Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. “I help the JDRF, doing interviews and educating people about the disease. Talking about diabetes has always been very therapeutic and good for me, as opposed to hiding it,” he says.
Garber met a young girl who made a strong impression on him at a JDRF event in Toronto last year.
“She wanted to be an actress, but she was afraid to tell anyone about her diabetes,” he says, adding that children give him perspective. “It’s amazing how well the kids handle it, and that’s an inspiration to me.”
He Oughta Be in Pictures . . . and on Broadway . . . and TV
Victor Garber has been a leading Broadway performer for more than two decades. His first stage success came in 1972 when he played Jesus in “Godspell.”
His stage performances have earned him four Tony nominations for his work in “Damn Yankees,” “Lend Me a Tenor,” “Deathtrap” and “Little Me.”
Garber has also earned numerous Emmy nominations.
His film credits include “The First Wives Club,” “Light Sleeper,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Godspell,” “The Music Man,” “Tuck Everlasting,” “Legally Blonde” and “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.”
Garber’s highest profile turn came as the Titanic’s designer Thomas Andrews, who calmly awaits its inevitable sinking in the 1997 blockbuster, “Titanic.”
Other Television and Movie Roles in Which Victor Garber Has Appeared
Acting It Out—A Daily Regimen
Garber has independently managed his diabetes since he started living on his own at age 16.
However, he says he lives a very irregular lifestyle, and, as a result, his blood glucose numbers can be erratic at times.
“In the mornings I wake up and test my blood glucose. Then I take my insulin, Humulin R and NPH. The number of units depends on the test result.”
After breakfast, Garber works out with help from a trainer. Then he has lunch and heads to work.
His second injection comes at dinnertime. He does not take his insulin until he is certain he is going to eat.
“It’s always hard when I do an all-nighter. They serve a meal in the middle of the night, and they call it lunch,” he says. “I manage by checking my blood glucose number frequently. I try to eat dinner and follow a schedule, even if dinner is late on the set. I try to order something for my normal time of eating. If there’s a 20-minute lighting break, I test and eat.”
Garber says he plans to reevaluate his insulin regimen with his new doctor in Los Angeles.
“I’ve heard mixed things about [the rapid-acting insulins],” he says. “I’ve also considered pumping.”
Low-Carb Lifestyle and Exercise Have Helped Garber’s Diabetes
Victor Garber’s keen sense of humor shows when asked what he enjoys eating most while on the set.
“Everything I can’t eat!” he says.
More seriously, he says a new lower-carbohydrate lifestyle has helped him lower his blood glucose levels.
“Without the pasta and bread, I’m a real salad eater. I love meat and I tend to be very careful with desserts. Sometimes I just take a bite and watch the portion size.”
Garber says his main concern is low blood glucose levels.
“They’ve very tricky. I keep a box of juice by the bed. And I’m very diligent about testing.”
Exercise is also key to Garber.
“It has really saved my life,” he says, adding that he does 45 minutes on an elliptical machine at home on nongym days.
He also enjoys yoga, Pilates and aerobics.
All of this, combined with meditation, has helped Garber ease the stress in his life and better manage his diabetes.
“Your state of mind is crucial to managing this disease,” he says, and he urges people to trust their instincts—to listen to their doctors but to trust their own instincts and to question things that don’t make sense to them in terms of their diabetes management.
Feb 1, 2005