Jessica Biel Distinguishes Herself as a Producer and Emmy-Nominated Actress with ‘The Sinner’

September 17, 2018

Jessica Biel is being celebrated for her gutsy work as both a risk-taking actress and an executive producer in the USA Network’s 8-episode drama series The Sinner. The 36-year-old star delved into the dark, emotional lead role of Cora Tannetti, a housewife who commits a startling murder for no apparent reason, leaving everyone baffled as to why.

The series is the first television production from Iron Ocean, Biel’s production company. And after its release last summer, her strong, layered performance earned her both Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for lead actress in a limited series as well as another shared Golden Globe nod for her work as an executive producer. Referring to the production as a “why-dun-it” as opposed to a “who-dun-it,” Biel says she was drawn to the complexity of the character and the challenge it presented to her. Indeed, her performance stands in stark contrast to her wholesome portrayal of a minister’s daughter in The WB’s long-running family drama 7th Heaven.

The Sinner is based on the 1999 novel by German crime novelist Petra Hammesfahr–a book that Biel says she couldn’t put down once she started reading it. She recalls thinking, “This thing is mine, and I’m going to hang onto it.” At the time, the Minnesota native hadn’t acted on screen for a year and was yearning to immerse herself in a role. She said, “So I was ready to take the knife and let my guts spill out everywhere because I had all this creative energy that needed to be expelled. This was a leap into the darkest dark,” she told the Los Angeles Times.

Like the growing list of actresses who’ve also started their own production companies, Biel was frustrated with the uncompelling roles being offered by the studios, and so she rolled up her sleeves and created her own opportunities. Just as Reese Witherspoon and Tina Fey leveraged their star power to create their own material for the world to see, Biel found her passion project and ran with it. She said:

“That’s really an important element now in the entertainment business–to take control of your own career in that way. You used to sit back and wait for someone to give you a call, and then maybe you’d get an audition and maybe you’d get a callback. It’s not that way anymore. It really feels to me the business has evolved in such a way that you have to go after what you want and what you’re looking for. You can’t just sit back and hope that something’s going to fall in your lap. You have to attack it.”

In the Talks at Google interview above, Biel details the process of how the series came to be made from her perspective as an executive producer. With all the media platforms presently available, she says, “It’s much more like a community and you can have a hand in getting it out there.”

Over the course of Biel’s two-decade-long career, she’s enjoyed a steady flow of work starting at the age of 14 being cast as Mary Camden in 7th Heaven, a role for which she received recognition. But her career is marked with performances that garnered less-than-stellar reviews even though they proved to be box-office hits. Examples of these roles are Erin Hardesty in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the promiscuous college student Lara in The Rules of Attraction, and as Abigail Whistler in Blade: Trinity.

But Biel is now in an empowering position to create or select her own substantial dramatic acting roles, and it’s certainly allowed her career to hit a high point. Even though The Sinner was originally conceived as a limited series, it’s now on its second season thanks to the popularity of the first. This go-round, however, features a new lead character and why-dun-it storyline.