Jessica Biel has worked her way through television, theater, and cinema since she first portrayed firecracker teen rebel, Mary Camden, on 7th Heaven. After making the transission from child star to full-blown A-list actress, Biel has done a number of projects from all different genres, from slasher horror (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), comedy (Valentine's Day, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry) and drama (The Illusionist). Still, the fact remains that the disciplined actress thrives in a high-octane action setting. After the big-budget remake of Total Recall, Biel tackles a smaller, yet no less gripping film, The Tall Man. While promoting both summer flicks, Biel sat down with Buzzine's Emmanuel Itier to discuss working with French director Pascal Laugier and the challenges she faced in her latest psychological thriller.
Emmanuel Itier: Tell us a little bit about working with Pascal Laugier. Were you familiar with his work? Was that what initially attracted you to the project?
Jessica Biel: Well, I did know Martyrs. I really believe that when I saw that movie, I don’t know if I even cared what the script would have been like for The Tall Man. I think I was going to say yes no matter what. I was just so taken by that film – by its brutality, and I love that in the cinema. For me, that kind of assault of the senses and violence is… He just handled it so beautifully. I was very impressed.
So, that sort of set me off on the course of – well, obviously I’m going to work with this guy. I don’t care what the script is. (Obviously, I do care.) But then the script turned out to be incredible. The character was so rich and so interesting and so challenging, and so complicated. That’s how it happened, I think.
EI: You mentioned Laugier’s first film, Martyrs. Can we expect a similar style with The Tall Man?
JB: No, it’s very different. I think the style is very different. Martyrs is – I don’t know how to describe it. I haven’t seen it in awhile. But, it‘s kind of jerky and quick paced. This is like, sweeping epic, beautiful, this movie. And that’s what’s so interesting about it… is like, the dichotomy of the character, what she’s experiencing, and then the dichotomy of the way that it looks and what’s actually happening – it’s so different. You don’t get these sort of thriller kind of horror, psychological thriller movies that look like gorgeous Oscar-nominated, big, sweeping epic stories.
And that’s the way it looks to me. I feel like the style is very, very different. I mean, he’s so focused on character and what’s true, and what’s genuine. What do we do? How do we create? How do we make this work, because it’s so challenging to get it right. And he was very relentless with his… He knew that I could give more. He did not stop until I gave it to him. And at the time it was really hard.
EI: It seems like the role was very physically and psychologically intense.
JB: My gosh, so intense. So much more intense than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in which kind of to me feels somewhat similar sometimes when we were there. Because I was in the forest. You know, I was running through the forest again. I remember feeling like, “Oh my God, where am I? What…? This is so weird that’s is happening again.” But it was so much more challenging for me emotionally. Because we were really doing something of serious substance – of you know, people might hate this woman, which was interesting. And it was hard. It was hard, but I am really glad that he made me go through all that.
EI: Underneath that story, there are so many themes and subplots. What are some of the layers you discovered while exploring this character, and what do you think some of those themes are?
JB: Right, so many things. The movie… It’s so complicated. The movie, I think when we’re talking about. It’s very political in a way. What is right? Someone to interfere with your life because they don’t think that is good enough? Or, to just live your life and blissfully ignorant of anything else, kind of one of the themes.
Kind of how our society, how our culture, how our government can hold people down in a way that is very unfair. I mean, do you take matters into your own hands? This woman does in a very extreme way. It’s so extreme. I think that’s what was so interesting about what Pascal said to me about it. He made me sympathize with her. And I did, already I sympathized with her, reading the script. I just did. I just felt like I understood her plight somehow, which sounds kind of crazy; which is cool.
I mean, it’s morals. Morals and ethics. Like what’s acceptable and what do you believe? What are you ok with? What are you ok with doing? Or do you just, well, it is not my life. I’m not going to bother with it. It is those kind of questions that we’re dealing with all the time.
Image Entertainment's 'The Tall Man' is now playing in theaters nationwide.