Jessica Biel has long been a favorite of mine. From her early theatrical work in THE RULES OF ATTRACTION to her small screen success in the series “Seventh Heaven,” she has always stood out. Yet it was her work in such genre fare as BLADE: TRINITY and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE that she really appealed to my inner-geekdom. It is clear that she enjoys working in horror and sci-fi which makes her all the more geektastic.
While her latest film THE TALL MAN (READ ARROW'S REVIEW HERE) may contain horrific elements - thanks to the fact that it is directed by Pascal Laugier of MARTYRS fame – there is something far more haunting here than in your basic slasher. This story of an urban legend known as The Tall Man who is kidnapping children in a small town trades in basic shocks for atmosphere and suspense. While promoting the film, Jessica sat down with Arrow in the Head to talk about the film and the many dark secrets it hides.
Warning: There are a number of possible spoilers that she mentions. If you don’t want to know anything about the movie in advance, you may want to read later on.
First of all, oh, my f*cking God, you were good!
Oh, thank you!
This is a fantastic role!
It is a fantastic role. That’s why I couldn’t say no to it.
So, who is this character? What is she to you and why did you take her on?
To me, she's an obsessive extremist in the fact that she wants to do good. That's what's so interesting about her. In her backstory, she's traveled the world to all these underdeveloped countries where people, especially children, are kind of lost in the shuffle and forgotten about. You know, she has this obsession where she can't stand idle. She always has to do something and in this case, she kind of went overboard. That's who she is to me, but strangely, I understand her. I sympathize with her desire to fix everything and feeling so overwhelmed that she finally cracks. She was encouraged to do this strange thing and she feels that it's her only choice and the biggest thing is she'll never tell anyone what it is. She will go to her grave and never tell. That's how obsessed she is with this goal and it’s absolutely heartbreaking.
When you originally signed on and when you first read the script, did you know beforehand of what takes place and how this character arc happens? Did it come as a shock?
No, I read it, obviously before I agreed to do it, but as I was going through it, page by page, I couldn’t figure out what the f*ck was happening. Why is it so weird? There’s a weird undertone and you ask, “What is wrong with this person?” That’s how I read it and I didn’t have a clue as to what was going to happen, but when it turned, it just blew my mind.
Yeah. Without giving away any spoilers, I’m a dad and the idea of watching this happen to kids, it’s just horrifying.
Yeah, but there’s some sort of redemption possibly?
Well, that’s the thing. It’s a moral question. Do you think it’s okay? I mean, it’s a really interesting thing to talk about and I think that’s why I was curious about it. You know that some people are gonna love this character and some are really gonna hate her.
Well, I think it depends on where you are in the film. My reaction to her was where I was watching the film. I hated her for a while.
Did you believe that she could’ve...?
No, no. I was so flabbergasted by what was going on, which, nowadays, to say that in a suspense movie, it’s impossible. Usually you know exactly where it’s going.
That’s why I did it.
Now, let’s talk about this director. Had you seen MARTYRS before?
Yeah. I loved MARTYRS. I knew what I was in for. I had a good feeling that this is gonna be torturous, for sure, considering this man’s sensibility, but the way that he handled the violence and the brutality in MARTYRS, it was kind of courageous. I was like, “How do you do this? How did you make MARTYRS?” I love horror movies, but I was like, “I can’t finish this movie. I literally don’t know if I can finish it.” And I don’t freak out for anything, so I knew then, that there was something about this director that was really impressive. I was impressed that he freaked me out that much.
Well, I think it’s great anytime a horror filmmaker can make you think, rather than showing someone get their head cut off and blood going everywhere.
Yeah. That’s easy. This kind of thing though, we really want you to think and talk about it.
Now, did you go into this with the idea of doing any kind of research for your character? Where do you even start with something this complex?
It would include something like going and working with a doctor who works beyond borders. Something like that. That would be where I would start. If I had that time and that ability, I would’ve done it. I would’ve been with a nurse or a doctor as they worked in a clinic in Ethiopia, Uganda, South America, wherever, and see the issues personally and see just how hard it is for these people to do what they do. So many horrible, terrible things happen and I wanted to feel so mad about this system and that’s where I would have to start. But, it’s that maternal complex that really drives this character and that’s what I was researching prior to the shoot. The obsession lies in knowing that you’re the only person that can help.
For an actor, a lot of the roles that you’ve done, you’re a victim, like in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, but here, it’s not that black and white. You know, on the moral compass, where do you go? Did you take that home?
Yeah. It was a heavy experience.
You mentioned that it would be torturous. How was it torturous for you?
It was torture because that’s just Pascal’s style and I don’t think it could’ve been any other way. He wouldn’t have gotten that performance from me without pushing me to my absolute limit where I said, “No more!” and he wouldn’t accept it and made me push it further and further, until I literally cracked and something would happen. I felt like I transcended my own body and I was looking down at myself going, “What am I doing in this scene?” I wouldn’t even remember. It was like I blacked out. That last close up of me in the interrogation room, I watch it and I don’t remember it. I didn’t keep my eyes from blinking for that long on purpose. I don’t know where that came from. I have moments where I watch it and I’m surprised that I can’t remember that we shot it. That’s never happened to me before.
Can you generally watch yourself on film?
I’m pretty comfortable with it now. I don’t love it. The first few times, I want to be by myself and just cringe at every line, but then, it gets to a point where you can watch and learn from yourself, but then again, that’s where editing comes into play. You do so much work, but for a film it’s more than just your performance.
So, you watched this and saw a different person?
I don’t see myself at all. It’s cool. I forget that it’s me while watching it. It’s crazy.
Now, you’re in TOTAL RECALL, you’re gonna be in HITCHCOCK… Aside from the director or the story, what generally drives you to a role?
Well, it’s always different. It depends on what I’ve just done, I usually don’t want to do anything close to that. I ask if it’s surprising or if the character is complex. Like here, people might think that she’s a villain, while others think that she’s a hero. I’m always looking for a different way in, because there are only so many characters you can write before you start to repeat yourself, even if it’s a different genre of story, but I do look for something challenging. I always want to challenge myself.
Now, with this role, I think it’s the best performance you’ve ever given. It’s phenomenal, but you’ve been in this business for a hell of a long time. Do you feel it’s been easier for you to pick the right roles, than take the chances that you want to take?
I think it’s gotten a little bit easier in the last few years and the only reason I say that is because I’m able to sustain my life now without having to work. I don’t HAVE to take a part just because it’s offered to me. I can pay my rent and if I don’t have a passion for something, I won’t do it. I’ll audition for these four things and hope that I get one and if I don’t, then maybe something else will come up. I have the ability to wait a little bit more and say no to some things. As my resume grows, maybe it’s gotten a little easier, but it’s taken a long time, but it doesn’t end. Just because I’m in TOTAL RECALL doesn’t mean I’ll just get free offers. It doesn’t happen like that, not for me at least. Although, I actually enjoy the struggle. I have to put my mind to something, I audition and I earn that part.
What do you want audiences to take from THE TALL MAN?
I want them to just think and I want to scare them. That’s all. Think about our system and how we do things, because it’s really messed up. Unfortunately, we’ll always be that way, but you have to think about it. This movie is obviously meant to scare you and it should be fun in that way, at least at the beginning and I just want people to tell their friends about it because we have a very small domestic release. This is only going to thrive on word of mouth and it won’t see the light of day if we don’t talk about it. I want people to fight over it. If they hate this character, tell your friends to watch a character that you’ll hate.
You want people to react.
Just react. If you hate her, fine. That’s cool, because sometimes, I hate her, too. Sometimes, I don’t agree with what she does, but I’m intrigued by her passion. I’m intrigued by her obsession.
THE TALL MAN will open in limited release on August 31st and can currently be seen on VOD.