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Jessica Beil Gear Magazine

An Interview with Jessica Biel

The actress talks about Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the controversy surrounding her Gear magazine photo shoot.

By Steve Head
Updated: May 20, 2012 4:38 am
Posted: Oct 14, 2003 4:17 pm
On television (7th Heaven), Jessica Biel is oh so tame. That’s producer Aaron Spelling for you.

Then, at the other end of the entertainment spectrum, there’s producer Michael Bay. With Bay comes the opportunity to call down the thunder, or in this case, Leatherface and his chainsaw. A daunting foe for Biel, to say the least.

In this new version of the horror classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Biel takes center stage as Erin. It’s 1973 and she’s en route with her friends (played by Jonathan Tucker, Erica Leerhsen, Mike Vogel and Eric Balfour) to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert in Dallas. On the way they pick up a traumatized young woman wandering the highway – a deed that leads to a calamity of mind-blowing proportions. The impact of it sets the tone, but you know where this one’s going. Gangway for Leatherface.

At our roundtable interview with Biel, we discussed in good measure what it took for her to gear-up for such a departure from the sweet and comfortable surroundings of her TV show. But the heart of the conversation went beyond a horror film. She was most forthcoming and, regarding her experience with a failed Gear magazine photo shoot early in her career, genuine in her explanation of what it takes rebound from a mistake and put her career on track. It was unexpectedly moving to hear her talk about the event because her voice cracked a couple times. Who couldn’t feel for her? A kid who tried to do something fun and it backfired. “Thank God for 7th Heaven and for the fans,” says Biel, “and for Aaron Spelling, who was so forgiving. He was like, ‘Look, you made a mistake. It’s OK.'”

Q: It’s been claimed that this new version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre doesn’t have that much gore, but there really is a lot of violence in the film.

BIEL: There’s a lot of brutality and violence, but there’s not so much gore. There is a lot of violence. That’s true.

Q: Are you concerned that the audience [at our preview] was screaming for more? More decapitations. More violence. Do you think that is big concern with a film like this where the target audience is the under twenty-five-year-old male?

BIEL: Is it a concern? You know, it never occurred to me that were making such a violent movie that it’s just going to make young people just want to be more violent. I know it might sound weird, I actually just never thought about that. I think it’s violent, but it could have been a lot worse, you know what I mean?

Q: My youngest sister is a big fan of horror films, and her friends, so I’m wondering, did you go into this thinking it’s just for the guys?

BIEL: Absolutely not.

Q: Because the girls also are pretty into it.

BIEL: You said it, that the main audience is like under twenty-five. Just so everybody knows, [at] the test screening that we had, girls rated this movie higher than boys. Girls liked this movie more than boys did.

Q: You could maybe then be seen as a role model for young women.

BIEL: Yeah, I mean, this character is not a wimp. She’s not a pushover. She’s smart. She’s strong. She’s assertive.

Q: How did you prepare for this role, in terms of being pretty dynamic? How do you get psyched-up for something like this?

BIEL: What I did everyday was I would substitute my brother to all these people. And I know that sounds really horrible.

Q: What a lovely sister you must be.

BIEL: (She laughs.) I don’t mean I want to put him on the meat hook. I mean he, out of all the people in the world, if it was him in this situation, it would probably make me the most fearful, [thinking] that he would be gone from this Earth. That really was helpful to make these situations seem very real for me.

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If I could believe that I was running away from a madman and it’s my job in this life to save my brother. because I’m his only hope and it’s my fault that the rest of my family. it’s may fault that their dead. that’s what I use. So, I used him because I love him so much and he makes me cry.

Q: Is he older or younger?

BIEL: He’s younger. He’s my only sibling.

Q: When you say you’re not sexy on purpose, what do you mean by that? Because you do have a sexual vibe going through this movie. There is that sequence in the rain where you have the wet shirt.

BIEL: Right, but there’s no breast in that scene, is there? I haven’t seen the movie, but I took every precaution on the planet to make it not about that. It wasn’t about being sexy. I didn’t go thought this movie going, “OK, if I run like this. (she gives her best Baywatch sexy run impression, churning her arms) . then I’ll be sexy and strong.”

I never ever once thought about that. I never thought, “How is this going to make me sexy?”

To me it was, “How am I going to make this real? How am I going to make this scary? How am I going to make women who watch this movie not go, ‘Oh, God, another girl running around in her little blond panties and falling and tripping and running to the second floor.'”

Q: You purposely tried to avoid that, but like it or not you’re known as a sex symbol. You’re in magazines. Do you want to downplay that or does it enhance your box office draw?

BIEL: Well, I don’t really know if it enhances it or not. I don’t know if it does. It’s not my plan or whatever in my life to be a sex symbol. It never is. You are who you are, but you can’t help what you look like. And when you do a film, like for me, it’s just not about that. I would prefer to downplay it. I prefer to downplay the sex appeal. I mean I really want this movie to be scary and real and not about gratuitous breast shots.

Jessica Beil Gear Magazine

Jessica Biel and Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski) between takes in Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Q: When you took the role in this film, did you consider that this would be a strong female character, and did you discuss that with [director Marcus Nispel] and how you wanted to make sure that would happen?

BIEL: Absolutely. Michael Bay actually was really vocal in having Erin be really strong and really powerful, even though she is somewhat of a victim throughout some of the movie. And that was important to me, too, and I talked to Marcus.

From the beginning I was like, I’m not interested in making a silly horror movie. I’m really interested in making this a serious movie with a strong lead character that’s really going to make women, men, whoever, just go, “Rock on girl!” That was important to me. Marcus knew it, and Michael.

We re-shot a scene because Michael said, “You need to be more strong. You need to be stronger here. This is not a weak moment; this is a strong moment for her.” And I disagreed with him actually. I was like, “But this was so good and it was during the time and now we have to go back and re-shoot it. I don’t know if I can. it’s going to look weird.

He’s like, “This is so important for the movie.” And I was, “You know what? You’re right. Let’s do it. I think you’re right.”

Q: Assuming you’re a fan of horror movies, what are some of your favorites?

BIEL: The Shining, Carrie, The Changeling. [The Changeling] was recommended to me and I got it. It’s one of those. there’s no blood and guts in that movie at all, but the scariest thing about it is that empty wheelchair and that little red ball that bounces down the stairs.

Q: You’re shooting Blade: Trinity in Vancouver and you’re flying back tonight, aren’t you?

Q: Who are you playing in Blade? Another horror film.

BIEL: Not really horror, I mean, it’s definitely action. I play Abigail Whistler. I play Kris Kristofferson’s daughter. And basically, I’ve been training in secret with a team of vampire hunters, including Ryan Reynolds. And Blade is in a situation where he needs help. And so my team like basically bails him out of this. Surprise!. It’s: I’m in training and I’m here to help you.

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Q: There’s a good bit of action here too.

Q: Do you lead this team?

BIEL: I do lead this team.

Q: There is that infamous cover shot that you did years ago, which I know you probably don’t want to talk about that much anymore.

BIEL: I’ll talk about that a little bit actually.

Q: That was Gear magazine. That whole change-of-image thing.

BIEL: That’s a misconception.

I want to say that. because. I was seventeen years old. It was my first kind of adult photo-shoot where it was supposed to be. it was supposed to be sexy and fun. it wasn’t supposed to be naked, it wasn’t supposed to be, you know, underwear.

I got in a situation where I was encouraged. And I was not looked after by the people that I was working with. And it really got blown out of this planet.

Q: I wouldn’t apologize for it because I think it was a good thing. I think it sort of changed your image from being sort of goody-goody. And I think it was a good move as far as making you be perceived for more adult roles and other things.

BIEL: I’m not apologizing for it.

I mean, I think that was going to happen naturally. As, you know, you get older and you look different and you act different and your ideas are different. You change like every year, so much.

I mean, when that photo-shoot came out it was really horrible for me.

Q: Do you regret doing it?

BIEL: I don’t regret it because I’ve learned – and this is going to sound so cliché – I cannot even tell you how much I’ve learned about being able to stand up for myself and being able to say, “You know what? No, I’m not going to wear that.” And knowing the people to put around me to keep me on the right path.

You know what got it started? I had a lot of men around me at the time. I was working with a lot of men, because of my managers. And, you know, it just wasn’t a good thing for me. I really needed to be surrounded by a woman. Women who would say, “You know what? That’s really not such a smartest idea.” And also, I was seventeen.

Q: Where were your parents?

BIEL: Well, it says my dad and my mom were at the shoot, or whatever. They weren’t there. My dad came in. He, like, stopped in for lunch, and he goes, “You having a good time?” And I’m like, “Yeah, I’m having a great time.”

Q: Do you think this is one of the biggest problems that women face in this industry?

BIEL: Yeah, I really do. I think this happens to so many girls. And this is not some sob story. I’m not looking for people to go, “Oh!”

I mean, this was one of the hardest times I went through in my whole entire life. I really embarrassed my family. I embarrassed myself.

And thank God for 7th Heaven and for the fans and for Aaron Spelling, who was so forgiving. He was like, “Look, you made a mistake. It’s OK.”

I had to go through all this stuff in front of everybody, in front of the whole world. And I never really said anything. My mom was like, “Let’s make a statement. Let’s say something and say that this is not what it was supposed to be. This was not some, like, let’s get off the show. That was not what it was about.”

And, you know, when you’re seventeen years old. you think you know everything. You want to be twenty-five. You want to wear the sexy clothes. And when someone says, “Yeah, that looks great! Why don’t you just slip that off?” You’re like, “OK, yeah.” And then it just escalates. And at the end of that shoot I was just bawling to my dad. I said, “Dad, you need to get rid of this. This just didn’t go the way I wanted it to go. And then, you know, we didn’t have things signed, and whatever.”

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Q: What do you do now to protect yourself?

BIEL:Well, first of all, I’ll only do a photo-shoot for a magazine that I think is reputable, that’s not about just kind of exploiting women.

I don’t think that’s important and that’s not what I want to do. I mean, that happened. I’ve already done that and it did not. it wasn’t something that I want to do from the beginning and I don’t want to do it again.

You know, I’m so much smarter! (she laughs) I wish I knew what I know now.

Q: Is it fair to say you were a seventeen-year-old girl trapped in a situation where you were taken advantage of?

BIEL: Yeah, I do. That was the situation. And, I mean, I’m not going to say that I’m completely free of guilt. I went along with it. But. you know, it was a very nerve-wracking photo-shoot. And at the end of the day I went home to my father and I said, “Dad, I don’t want to tell because I’m very embarrassed, but I just need you to help me and we need to just forget this whole thing.”

Jessica Beil Gear Magazine

Jessica Biel in Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Q: For better or for worse, you are a very beautiful young woman, and there are so many beautiful young women trying to make it in Hollywood. How do you set yourself apart form everybody else? What do you think makes you unique in the scheme of things?

BIEL: Oh, I don’t know (she laughs). Sometimes you just feel like you’re one of many.

I guess what I. I feel different because I had such an awesome childhood and I had such awesome parents. I have such a great family that if this were to end tomorrow I would never change in their eyes. They wouldn’t care. They’d say, “Great. So what do you want to do? Do you want to go back to school? Good! That’s exciting! Come and see your brother’s soccer game.”

Like, it’s just not all about what I’m doing. There’s so much more. And if I didn’t have them, I wouldn’t have survived.

Q: How are you with fame and fortune then? One could say that every actress and actor wants fame and fortune and all that. Is it a blessing or a curse in your case? Did you look at all your success early on and say, “You know what? I kind of missed something in my life?”

BIEL: Like school and things? I think sometimes it’s both. It really is both. You do sacrifice a lot of things, but then again you get so much more. I mean, not more, you’re giving. I didn’t really have much of a high school. I didn’t go to high school.

Q: No prom or anything like that?

Well. Bev Mitchell. she always set me up with one of her friends that didn’t have a date. Like, “Mike didn’t have a date. You want to go?” And I’m like, “Alright.” So, I went to her prom. I never had like a “my prom” or anything, but. I had an amazing education on set with an amazing tutor. I just didn’t have like really a high school experience like sitting in the cafeteria everyday with friends and the gossip and the stuff that goes on. I guess you can say that I gave that up, but I’ve learned so much and had so many amazing opportunities and met so many people.

Q: Do you expect to go back to college and do something other than film?

BIEL: I definitely expect to go back to college. It’s really, really important for me personally. I want that degree. I want those classes. I always feel. after the semester’s done I go home and I find myself talking to my parents, “Mom, Napoleon did this!” Like all this stuff I never knew anything about and I’m just rattling it off and feeling very confident and smart – that I can talk to anybody about so many different subjects. And that feels really good to me. I want that.