September 17, 2017 12:00 pm

Jessica Biel on ‘The Sinner’: It’s a ‘huge departure’ for me, but it’s exciting

Jessica Biel on taking the lead role in 'The Sinner.'

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When news broke that beloved mystery novel The Sinner was being adapted into a limited TV series, there was hope that it would be a healthy adaptation. That turned into doubt when Jessica Biel was cast as Cora Tannetti, the main character of the book and show.

While Biel has appeared in multiple movies over the years, she hadn’t quite made a mark on TV yet, unless you count her 136 episodes on feel-good show Seventh Heaven, from 1996 – 2003. Viewers and critics alike were skeptical that Biel could deliver the punch necessary to lead a show.

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How delightfully surprising for all the naysayers, then, when it turned out that The Sinner not only debuted well but has maintained steady, impressive ratings throughout its run. (Monday night is Episode 5 of 8.) Not only that, but there has been resounding praise for Biel’s performance as the unsteady Cora.

Truly, Biel is doing the best work of her career on The Sinner. Cora is so convincingly astounded by her own volatile behaviour that, as a viewer, it makes the show’s upcoming outcome virtually impossible to predict.

Global News chatted with Biel over the phone about The Sinner, the now-infamous murder scene and how blown people’s minds will be by the end of the show.

Global News: The role of Cora is great for you, as it departs from most of the stuff you’ve done in the past.
Jessica Biel: Definitely. I definitely haven’t played the “bad guy,” the person who’s guilty or the criminal before. It’s a huge departure for me. I’m super-excited playing somebody like this, who’s so psychologically complicated. I’m also happy to be able to find this person within myself, and not just play somebody’s girlfriend. [Laughs]

You’re not a deranged psychopathic killer in real life, so…
Not yeeeeeeeet. [Laughs]

Not yet! But is playing this role cathartic, is it difficult? Is it not cathartic? How does it feel stepping into Cora’s shoes?
It’s both difficult and cathartic. The actual “doing” of it… in the middle of the scene, sometimes it’s just brutal, neverending, ruthless. My director [Antonio Campos] has been pushing and pushing me, which is what I wanted. I’ve been pushing myself too.

In the middle of the scenes, it can feel like the longest marathon. You can never see the light at the end of the tunnel, but once you finish a scene or an episode, there is a massive sense of catharsis. I’m unloading so much and am constantly in this headspace of such intensity, that it feels like “Whew! This is great!” Normally when you get that big cry out, you don’t have to do it for another six months. Guess what? I have to do it again tomorrow. [Laughs] When it’s day after day after day, that has been the biggest challenge for me.

Did you have any fear coming into this, given that you’re doing something totally different than you’ve done before, about critics or public perception?
I was afraid just because I wasn’t sure if I was up for it. I think I trust myself as an artist when I step into something, I know I’m not going to do a bad job. I’m going to do my version of it, and maybe that’s not going to translate. And if it doesn’t, I did all that I could. Honestly, I don’t think too much about what the critics are going to say. I do remember hoping that psychologists, psychiatrists and other doctors think that my performance is accurate, or that they see patients who have this PTSD or blank holes in their memory.

I started to get nervous before the pilot aired, just because I was in this little protective bubble of cast and crew. I remember thinking, “Oh s**t, I hope people don’t think I suck!” [Laughs]

Are you hoping to do more stuff like this in the future?
I’ve always liked heavy drama. I love watching it on TV and I love to be a part of it. For whatever reason, in my career, I just haven’t gotten the opportunity as much as I’ve received other opportunities. You take the best you can get, work with the greatest people possible, do what you can. It was never not part of my game plan, but now that I’ve done something so dark, I’m exhausted! [Laughs] I don’t want to cry again for another three months. I want to do a comedy or something.

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Are people’s minds going to be blown during these last episodes of the season? The twist to this story is hard to figure out.
I hope your mind is blown! [Laughs] We want to keep the blowing of the minds happening. I don’t think the outcome is something most people will anticipate. I was very surprised by it when I was reading the book, so I’m hoping we’re able to continue that shock value.

If somebody guesses, then they’re a genius and I want to work with them in some capacity.

Is there any plan to do a Season 2 of this show? Is it even possible?
Well, that’s a great question. We haven’t been officially picked up for a second season, and we never really thought about doing a second season. This was meant to be a limited series, so we’d really have to rethink what it is now. If we were to come back again, would we bring back all the characters? We’re talking about the possibilities, but unfortunately don’t have any answers yet.

Because people have responded the way that they have, we’ve been told to maybe start thinking about — if the network was interested in taking us on again — what would that be? It’s an intriguing idea.

‘The Sinner’ airs on Monday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Showcase. (Missed some episodes? No problem, you can watch previously aired episodes On Demand.) 

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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