As a minister's daughter in “7th Heaven,” she was something of a saint, but Jessica Biel definitely is “The Sinner” in her return to series television.
The actress also is an executive producer of USA Network's version of the Petra Hammesfahr best-seller, premiering today. Biel plays seemingly content wife and mother Cora Tannetti, who suddenly erupts in murderous violence in public view on a beach, an event that puzzles an investigator (Bill Pullman) determined to find out why she suddenly turned homicidal, as she doubts her own sanity. Christopher Abbott (“A Most Violent Year”) also stars as her equally baffled husband.
“I just loved the book (adapted by fellow executive producer Derek Simonds), and that's really how it really began,” Biel says. “I was just constantly surprised every step of the way. 'We've all seen everything, and nothing can surprise anybody anymore' is the way it feels to me sometimes, and yet, I was surprised and just fascinated by this woman who is kind of an unreliable narrator. And I just had to do it.
“I hadn't worked in a while,” notes Biel. “I had my son (with husband Justin Timberlake) and had kind of dabbled in a few things here and there, more on the development side, and I was ready to dive into something very complicated and emotionally challenging. This was just the perfect thing that fell onto my lap.”
That challenge for Biel is consistent throughout “The Sinner” since she explains that her new alter ego “sometimes lies to save and protect herself and her past and her family. It's very much like 'The Girl on the Train,' because you're not totally sure when to trust her ... which I find very compelling from an artistic standpoint and an audience standpoint. I like to go, 'Oh, I hate that character now. But, wait a minute. I kind of like that character.' I enjoy that kind of up-and-down experience.”
The same might apply to the balance Biel admits she's still trying to master as a working parent of a two-year-old. “It's hard to work full-time and then, when you're home, be Mom full-time,” she reflects. “It's tiring, as any parent with any experience with that knows. I think you hit the balance every now and again, but the best advice one of my friends gave me was, 'When you're at work, be at work, and when you're home, be home. Do not try to do both at the same time.' ”
Biel appreciates that cable networks have helped to open more and varied opportunities in TV since her “7th Heaven” days, “especially for women. We can tell these stories that maybe you couldn't find the money or support for in a feature-film version, and it's sort of this Wild West, in a great way. If you have an idea, put it out there, and someone probably will be interested in making it.”