Jessica Biel ramps up her tough image
ACTRESS Jessica Biel knows she has a lot to live up to.
‘‘ He, as everybody knows, is good at everything,’’ she says of her fiance Justin Timberlake.
Yet it would appear pop superstar-turned- movie actor Timberlake needs to be good at everything to keep up with Biel.
This life- long tomboy, who claims she only found a taste for girly fashion in the past five years or so, does not like to stop.
‘‘ I’m not much of a take- it- easy kind of person,’’ says Biel, who climbed Tanzania’s Mt Kilimanjaro in 2010.
‘‘ I love, love, love the adrenalin. Snowboarding, that’s one of my greatest hobbies. Fast, flying down a mountain, hitting a jump, crashing, maybe not crashing, who knows?
‘‘ I’m a huge diver. I love, love, love scuba. Skydiving, I’ve done a couple of times . . .
‘‘ I have a really hard time just laying on a beach. Some people can lay on a beach forever; I’m there for 15 minutes and I’m like, ‘ OK, volleyball anybody? Paddleboard? Swimming?’’’
Perhaps, luckily for Mr Timberlake, Biel gets a lot of her excess energy out on movie sets, where she has over the years kicked butt in films such as The A- Team, Stealth and her latest effort, Total Recall.
‘‘ I thought I got rid of that a long time ago,’’ she says of her on- screen tough- girl reputation.
While she has ventured far and wide of late, from British period comedy in Easy
Virtue to romance in Valentine’s Day, she concedes tomboy is her default setting.
‘‘ As a kid I was a gymnast, I played soccer, I was constantly being asked to be physical. So that’s who I am, in a simple way,’’ she says.
‘‘ It’s rare to be able to use your body in the way we can in these kinds of films. Specifically being a woman I don’t do a lot of these things on an everyday basis, but I find it really fulfilling.’’
In Total Recall, a more serious- minded remake of the corny 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger sci- fi action flick, she gets her tough- girl pants back on to play a woman who may or may not be the saviour of the movie’s hero, Colin Farrell.
‘‘ I hadn’t done anything really physical in a while, so the training . . . my favourite, always, the training,’’ Biel says of a regimen that included boxing, parkour and marksmanship.
‘‘ The hardest thing to do with a gun that has a huge kickback is to not blink.
‘‘ It kicks a fireball in your face and you’re like, ‘ I’m supposed to be such a bad- ass right now but I can’t stop blinking!’ ’’
The guns took a back seat to raw girl power for a spectacular fight sequence in a lift between Biel and the baddie of the piece, Kate Beckinsale.
That Beckinsale’s husband, Len Wiseman, was directing added an unusual pressure.
‘‘ I didn’t want to mistakenly hit Kate in the face with her husband watching,’’ Biel laughs.
‘‘ It was really different to fight with a woman.
‘‘ Usually, it’s these big, burly stunt guys who take punches all the time, so if you make a mistake, it’s OK. But that’s Kate Beckinsale, I don’t want to hit her, at all. I don’t even want to touch her!
‘‘ It was a very polite fight, just constant apologising.’’
Besides the training, Biel was also into the challenge of creating an on- screen
relationship with Farrell. The Irishman himself wasn’t a challenge.
‘‘ He has chemistry with the table, you know,’’ Biel says.
It was more that her character had to win over a man whose mind has been so messed with he can’t remember having a relationship with her.
‘‘ I mean, relationships are tough as it is. Can you imagine that? The love of your life is like, ‘ I don’t remember!’ It’s terrible,’’ she says.
Has she ever come home to find her real- life fiance looking at her with a ‘‘ Do I know you?’’ expression?
‘‘ I’m sure he has. Just to p--- me off. An attempt at humour, at least,’’ she says with a smile.
For his part, Farrell says Biel was ‘‘ a dream to work with’’.
‘‘ She’s funny, man, I had a laugh working with her. She’s tough as well. I came into the studio one day and I heard someone hitting the mitts in the corner, it sounded like they were giving it an unmerciful beating.
‘‘ I looked over and it’s Biel. She’s tough.’’
Now 30, Biel was just 14 when she was cast in goody- two- shoes TV drama 7th Heaven. She stayed a decade, but lowered her involvement in her early 20s when her movie career began to gain traction.
Total Recall hinges on the premise of having false memories implanted.
If Biel was to have anything implanted, she says it would be the school and university she missed out on by working through those years.
‘‘ I had a year and a half [ at a university near Boston], so I had the experience, but I really should have stayed,’’ she says.
‘‘ I missed out on a couple of years living with my girlfriends in crazy apartments and living abroad for a year – I wish I had gone to France and really learnt to speak the language. I’m close but if I could get really absorbed with the culture . . .
‘‘ But I don’t know when I’m going to do that. I feel like I missed out on a couple of key years.’’
That French gap- year seems less and less likely as she forges on with what she calls a ‘‘ survivor’’ work ethic: ‘‘ I’m someone who will work tirelessly until I achieve what I’m looking to achieve.’’
Though she’s been a working actor more than half her life, she still wants to learn.
‘‘ I don’t mind being the junior partner on set, I’m quite happy to learn from the senior executives. Plenty of time to become one of those,’’ she laughs.
Her recent time on Hitchcock alongside the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren and Toni Collette provided one such experience.
‘‘ I would get coffee for any of the people on the Hitchcock set, take out any of their trash, just to get a tidbit of wisdom they can pass along to me. I don’t care at all, I’m just happy to be there.’’
Biel’s also branched out into producing, pushing through indie flicks The Tall Man and The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. The biggest surprise there? ‘‘ The time it takes to get something on screen can be years,’’ she says.
‘‘ That’s normal, which I didn’t really know. I thought, ‘ Why is this not working? What am I doing wrong?’
‘‘ Despite the fact it’s been hard, it’s been quite an enlightening experience.’’
Music is another field into which Biel is dipping a toe.
She has a passion for it that extends beyond Timberlake’s influence.
‘‘ I’m constantly listening to music, changing the iPod, setting the mood.
‘‘ In the morning, with make- up and hair, we had Feist, Gotye . . . music is an amazing thing, that’s really the international language, isn’t it?’’
She’s done a spot of musical theatre in recent years and sang two jazz- style songs on the Easy Virtue soundtrack.
‘‘ I like oldies classic, jazzy standards, such as Chet Baker, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, I really love that style,’’ Biel says.
An album is unlikely, but she does have an itch to get on stage.
‘‘ My secret dream is to be a lounge singer, sitting on the piano singing away at cocktail hour . . .’’
Now showing Village Cinemas