The actress-producer discusses how she wound up on ‘7th Heaven’ at 14 (it became the longest-running family drama in TV history), the challenges of growing up in the biz, making an eclectic mix of mediocre films and ultimately returning to TV on a show she also produced, which became 2017’s most-watched new basic-cable show and brought her the first Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice noms of her career.
“I had a hunger for more,” says Jessica Biel — who is best known for her portrayal of a preacher’s daughter on The WB’s family drama 7th Heaven back in the ’90s, and who received her first-ever Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice nominations in December for her performance on USA’s limited series The Sinner — as we sit down at the offices of The Hollywood Reporter to record an episode of THR‘s ‘Awards Chatter’ podcast.
Over the roughly 20 years between those two projects, Biel went on something of a professional odyssey, trying her luck in a wide variety of films — among them, the drama Ulee’s Gold (1997), the black-comedy Rules of Attraction (2002), the horror flick The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2004), the superhero sequel Blade: Trinity (2004), the action movie Stealth (2005), the mystery The Illusionist (2006), the period piece Easy Virtue (2007) and the biopic Hitchcock (2012) — but never quite clicking on the big screen. “I really felt like I needed to take hold of my own career in a different way and just not sit around waiting for the phone to ring,” she acknowledges. “That just wasn’t working.”
As a result, Biel, who married Justin Timberlake in 2012 and gave birth to their child in 2015, and Michelle Purple, a film executive and friend, formed Iron Ocean Films, “a small production company” which ended up obtaining the rights to The Sinner, an adaptation of a bestselling German novel. “I was so captivated,” Biel recalls, “and I called Michelle and I said, ‘We have to do this. I have to do this character.’ I got very possessive over it. I was like, ‘Nobody can have this. This is mine.’ I felt that I had never been given an opportunity like this.” She adds, “No one thinks of me for something like this.”
So it came to be that, over the course of eight 45-minute episodes that aired last August and September, Biel gave the best performance of her career as Cora Tannetti, a wife and mother who, out of the blue, murders someone in the bright light of day, in full view of many witnesses, and then professes to have no idea why. The Sinner wound up the most-watched new basic-cable show of 2017; it brought Biel the best notices of her career; and, 22 years after Biel first made her name in TV, it seems almost certain to bring her, in that same category, her first-ever Emmy nomination, and maybe even a win.
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LISTEN: You can hear the entire interview below [starting at 26:23], following a conversation between host Scott Feinberg and Gregg Kilday, THR‘s film editor, and Chris Gardner, a senior staff writer at THR, about the 71st Cannes Film Festival.
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