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Jessica Biel: Hollywood's girl of the moment

After wowing us as a buttkicking sci-fi minx in Total Recall, Jessica Biel is about to send a shiver down our spines in The Tall Man and prove her mettle in the A-listloaded biopic, Hitchcock. Mr Timberlake must be very proud.

Jessica Biel
Image Credit: Getty Images
Jessica has had a chance to demonstrate her emotional range as the desperate mother of an abducted child in The Tall Man.

After landing supporting roles in a brace of lightweight romcoms only a woman could love (New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day) and a film version of the The A-Team that left cinema audiences indifferent, Jessica Biel got her biggest Hollywood role to date this year when she starred in the mega-budget (some might say unnecessary) re-make of sci-fi fantasy, Total Recall.

It could be the start of a fruitful chapter in her career. Next she finds herself lining up alongside thespian aristocracy in the upcoming Hitchcock, directed by rising British director Sacha Gervaisi and starring a solidly stellar cast led by Oscar winners Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren.

She’s also had a chance to demonstrate her emotional range as the desperate mother of an abducted child in The Tall Man, a film in which she’ll probably have scant opportunity to flash the megawatt toothy smile that has made her a magnet for chick-flick casting directors (not to mention husband Justin Timberlake).
In Hitchcock, a story about the director’s complex relationship with his wife, Alma Reville, during the making of Pyscho, Jessica plays Vera Miles, on-screen sister of the film’s star Janet Leigh (played by Scarlett Johansson). It’s not her biggest part in terms of screen time, but it is the first in which Jessica has found herself in such exalted company. And with her other half rapidly working his way up the Hollywood pecking order after his much lauded part in The Social Network, it’s only a matter of time before Jessica attracts the same praise. But first there’s the Tall Man, a contemporary bogey-man movie about a small mining town where a mysterious cloaked figure has been abducting children for years – or at least that’s what it seems. To hear 30-year-old Jessica talk of making the film, it’s clear she put herself through the wringer on this one. Just ask her chiropractor.

With a movie this twist-filled, how do you market it or promote it?
I don’t know how you market it. You can’t market it as a horror film because it’s not. You can market it as a thriller, but then it kind of changes into a drama. It’s still a thriller. It’s definitely tense and creepy. It’s so hard to talk about it. I just try not to say anything specific (laughs).

Is that twisty nature what drew you to the project?
Yeah. Because as I was reading the script, I didn’t know what was happening at all. I literally couldn’t guess. It just kept surprising me, page after page after page. Then the twist, and then the final twist – it’s a lot of twists.

It didn’t look like the most comfortable shoot.
No, that’s for sure. It was intense. It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was just full-on constantly, every day being pushed by [director] Pascal [Laugier] to a point of no return where I literally was like, ‘I can’t do anymore’, and he was like, ‘Do more. Go. More, more, more’, until I exploded with... I don’t know. It was intense, but it was the only way to do it.

This is by no means a glamorous role.
No, not at all. I somehow seem to enjoy doing these kinds of things every ten years. It’s really masochistic of me, I think. Like whipping, beating – I don’t know what that is. I think it’s just the thrill of the fear. And it’s the violence in cinema, which is safe, because it’s not actually happening – but you’re testing the waters of it and you’re putting yourself in that position, getting the s--- kicked out of you and putting your emotional system in that place but knowing that it’s fine.

There’s something that I find really intriguing about that. Maybe it’s the thrill or the fear of it. You’re going through it and it feels real. The emotional stuff feels real. Because if you’re faking it, you can tell. And I think that’s why it takes so long to do these kinds of performances and takes take after take, after take, because the first five takes you’re maybe not really getting it, not really getting there. And it’s sort of like half-assed there, half-assed there and you have to keep pushing it, and then you get exhausted, and then you get sort of sad and p----d off. You don’t want to do that any more. And then you break through and you just, like, surrender to it. And you surrender to the performance and you surrender to the experience.

That sounds exhausting. At least it’s once every ten years and not every role.
Oh my God, I think I’d have a heart attack. After I did this movie, I went to see my chiropractor. I was like, ‘I’m having a hard time breathing’. And he dug his fingers into my diaphragm — because my diaphragm was jammed up into my ribs because I’d spent two months hyperventilating and limping around. My back was all weird, my whole posture was off, my teeth started to ache and my hips were off because I was limping for two months. It was crazy. I would literally have a heart attack if I did that every year.