Jessica Biel is not easy to pin down. The model turned actress, who first got noticed as a teen on TV’s Seventh Heaven, has really mixed things up over her 20-year (believe it) career: Roles run the gamut: the hot girlfriend ( I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, Playing for Keeps); action babe ( Stealth, A-Team, Total Recall); retro prim-and-proper ( Hitchcock, The Illusionist); blood-soaked heroine ( Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Rarely has Biel played an unstable mom, until The Truth About Emanuel, out Friday. She is Linda, the next-door neighbor of a young woman ( Kaya Scodelario) with whom she forms an unusual bond. Emanuel is Linda’s babysitter and confidante, and the two share a chilling secret.
We spoke to the 31-year-old Minnesota-born, Colorado-raised beauty, aka Mrs. Justin Timberlake.
What drew you to this script?
I explain it as a story about grief and sort of guilt and shame. Emanuel feels guilt that her mother died at childbirth and feels responsible. My character has shame, and her link to reality has kind of snapped. The two characters come together and somehow find this bond.
What was the chemistry like on set?
We worked in actual houses in L.A. It was kind of hot and tight quarters. It felt like something was always simmering, there was something going on there. I first thought, ‘Oh my God, is my character going to be, like, intimate with this girl?’ But it wasn’t that vibe. The tone is hard to verbalize. It was just...weird but fascinating. We all got along really well. It was a really small film, and we went in every day knowing we had no time and no money but wanted to create something.
Did you ever babysit when you were younger?
I did. I remember going to a neighbor’s. I liked having access to other people’s refrigerators. The baby would go to sleep, and I would sit on the couch and eat [laughs]. Any sort of childcare or housekeeping, when you’re in someone else’s private space, is a very intimate thing. You have to have a lot of trust.
You’ve been in a good number of movies but still can’t be stereotyped. How did you manage that?
It’s wonderful to get to do different things. I would just be bored only doing big action dramas or romantic comedies. It really is a blessing to do something in the middle. That’s the fun part of the job. But I definitely can’t pick and choose roles. There are so many films I audition for and don’t get for whatever reason. And I die a little bit inside because it’s something I would have loved to have been a part of. But that’s part of the drive. It’s, ‘OK, fine. I didn’t that, but s--t, I’ll get the next one. I’m gonna fight for that dream role.’
Even when you’re dressed down, you look flawless. Any beauty secrets to impart?
I wish I had something really cool to say when I get asked these questions [laughs]. I definitely think water, water, water. Sleep is key, for sure. I’ve been at that place in my life when I tried this serum or that cream. As I get older, I’m simplifying. Find a line of products that you feel confident about: nontoxic, age-defying, sunscreen or whatever. You have to do what is manageable. I guess my biggest beauty secret would be to get outside, exercise and be in your environment.