Double act

Double act

Lucy Allen chats to Jessica Biel about her latest role and awful auditions

What attracted you to the role of Cora Tannetti (a mother who commits murder in a fit of rage) in The Sinner series?
I read the book and was shocked by how the story twists in different, unexpected directions. Cora is an unreliable narrator, she’s somebody you can’t trust, which I thought sounded like an incredibly interesting challenge from an acting standpoint. How do I create this person that is untrustworthy but still likeable and relatable? Those two elements started my love affair with this story.

What did this role mean to you?
This kind of character is the moment that an actor waits for – at least for me. There was nothing to fall back on, so it was an opportunity to strip down everything that we actors sometimes rely on and really go for raw, truthful emotion.

Is there a particular scene that stands out as being more difficult than the others?
Yes, the interrogation scenes. We were in one room for a long time and what I had to keep doing, which any actor would have to do, is get to that same emotional chaos, turmoil and inner hysteria every time, over and over again. That was difficult.

How did you balance being the star of the show and the executive producer?
It was challenging. Luckily, the team of producers that I had took the brunt of it when I was on set acting, which was most of the time. It was just double duty. When I wasn’t acting, I was making sure everything else was going well on set. I’m not really good at budgets and things like that, that’s not my strong suit [laughs] so I’m more of a creative producer.

When did you decide to become an actor?
I was so young that I don’t even know if I made a conscious decision. I was always singing, dancing, putting on plays and performances for my parents, dragging my little brother along and making him get involved – I was that kind of kid. When I was nine, I attended the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts camp in Steamboat Springs, Colorado for two years – but I don’t remember a moment, like a clear moment of, ‘This is what I’m going to do.’ Acting was just always for me, I guess.

You did a great version of ‘Mad About The Boy’ in the film Easy Virtue. Why don’t you sing more?
Why don’t I sing more? Because I’m married to a really good singer. It’s the worst! [laughs] I don’t think I could just be singing with the band somewhere. It’s not really my thing.

Would you ever consider doing Broadway?
Well, that’s different. Yes, Broadway would be amazing. I’d love to do that at some point.

Do you recall a moment where you felt that you’d made it?
No, I don’t think anyone ever feels that way. I had a conversation with Meryl Streep and she said, ‘Ah, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m not working.’ [laughs] I just had to walk away. 7th Heaven felt like a big deal at the time. I was so young and I thought, ‘I’m doing something so cool.’ When you’re a teenager, you don’t understand how hard it is to be a working actor. You have no concept of it. After a while, I started becoming disillusioned by acting and wanted to try something different. I went to college for a little bit and then got Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which rebooted my career.

What would you like to do next?
I would love to do something completely fun, like an arc on Curb Your Enthusiasm, or perhaps some kind of comedy that has to do with music. It’s really about which project strikes me, what I am moved by, what inspires me… It could be another drama or another psychological thriller.

What were the early days of auditioning like?
What do you mean early? It never ends. I have to fight tooth and nail for the roles that I really love and want, and most of the time it doesn’t go my way.

Can you think of any particularly bad auditions?
Yes. For the Texas Chainsaw Massacre audition, I literally had to scream, cry and freak out in front the film’s producer, Michael Bay, who was just staring at me. Who gives an audition scene like that? It’s so unfair. It’s awful.

But you got it…
Yeah, but I walked out of there humiliated. It was so bad. People don’t understand how much work and effort it is to be emoting and doing everything that they ask you to do, which is challenging in a room with a camera and somebody reading a terrible off-camera line. There’s this other audition that I really kick myself for. I had to sing for the role of Elsa in the movie Frozen. But it didn’t go so well. It was one of those days and I was completely off key. I had plugged up ears and I couldn’t really hear myself. The worst part is that Kristen Bell is a friend of mine and she’d sent me an email that said, ‘Have a great audition. Let’s do this together, it’s going to be so much fun.’ I replied, ‘Yes! You’ve got it!’. Later on, I had to email her back saying, ‘That was probably the worse audition of my life. I won’t be seeing you in this one.’ And then it went on to make a billion dollars. [laughs]

Text: Lucy Allen/The Interview People

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