Interview: Jessica Biel on terror and truth and the power of transformation in ‘Candy’
Jessica Biel might be at her best when she’s playing a psychopath. While anyone has seen her in 7th Heaven or any number of romantic comedies over the years could disagree, we can’t ignore the facts that in The Sinner she was absolutely terrifying. For Candy, she’s taken things to a whole new level. Are we witnessing an evolution of Biel as a performer? Perhaps, we are only now realizing her versatility as an actor.
In Candy, we see Biel step into the title role. The limited series event, which is currently streaming on Hulu, details the brutal murder of Betty Gore and the story that tore apart a small Texas town in the 1980s. The series is careful to not make any pronouncements and allows the viewers to make their own judgements as to Candy’s guilt or innocence.
In this interview, we had a chance to speak with Biel about her performance in Candy, and how excited she is when taking on projects which push her limits. We talked about the amount of preparation that went into taking on this role, how Biel was able just to snap into character and working closely with co-star Melanie Lynskey.
Dewey Singleton: I got to tell you, Jessica, I’m so excited to speak with you, but I don’t know if I’m more excited or more afraid to speak with you based on what I just saw in Candy. You frightened the hell out of me. So how should I feel about this?
Jessica Biel: Thank you very much, first of all. You should feel good because I get out all of my angst at work. So, I’m a peaceful, calm person at home.
DS: I guess that’s a good thing for Justin in a lot of different ways. But the thing that I found inspiring about this whole series, and by the way you’re brilliant in this, you were just so great, is that it’s another example of you picking material that pushes you in your craft. Is that something that really gets you the most excited as an actor to just find things that push you?
JB: Yes, 100% percent. I don’t want to do anything that I’ve done before. I don’t want to do anything that’s like a linear move. It just doesn’t seem creatively interesting to me. It takes so much work and so much time to put these shows together and you’re away from your family. And it’s just you put your blood, sweat and tears into these things. And I want to be terrified every day and not sure if it’s the right thing to do. Can I actually do it? I just love that adrenaline and I love the risk factor. I really do. I want to be taking a risk all the time.
DS: I mean, I’ll be blunt. It’s a hell of a risk to take on a story that’s as well known as Candy and you dove right in and you can tell you did the work, the research, everything down to the minute detail. Just how much preparation was there prior to you even started filming?
JB: There was months of it. There was months of detailed research combing through court documents, every bit of evidence that we had, evidence, photographs, gosh, like a 30 or 40-page synopsis transcript, which just goes through everything that happened in those four, five hour sessions. I mean, they go on and on and on, and there’s so much to mind there and you really get transported when you’re reading these actual documents. It’s fascinating. I read this incredible book called “Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs” written by two investigative journalists John Bloom and Jim Atkinson. That was like a bible I kept going back and forth on. Anytime it was my touch point, if I was unsure about something or needed to remember and needed to just wanted to fill in a blank, I would always go back to that book. I would read it and listen to it on my audio books and go to certain chapters and just remember all the time I would be touching base with that piece of material. And it was constant. It was before, it was during, and it was, I mean, we’re done now, so I’ve let it go. But it was a lot of amazingly interesting stuff to understand.
DS: So you arrive on set and you obviously got to prepare with the certain makeup and the wig, et cetera. Was there a part of Candy’s attire that you would put on and you could fill yourself snapping into that character? Or was there something that you did to get you into that head space? Because damn what a head space that would be in if I was in it, but go right ahead. I’m sorry.
JB: No, no. You’re right. It’s some days the head space was very strange and other days it wasn’t, right? Other days it felt like we were making some sort of weird Coen Brothers comedy or something, but truly the last thing I would put on every day would wear the glasses. Wig would go on, makeup, costume and I’d get to set. And right before we started rolling, my wonderful prop guy, Mario, would hand me the glasses, I’d pop those babies on and was almost like I saw the world in a different way. It was stunning how much those were an important element of the transition into her.
DS: For sure. And the other part that people will probably not focus on, but stood out to me was you had to get the dialect right. It’s not just the dialect, it’s for that particular region where the story took place. Now, did the audio transcripts help you get to that that accent or was it other research that you did to help to get there because you nailed the accent?
JB: Thank you. There are no audio transcripts. It’s fully just written documents. So, I never heard her.
DS: You didn’t?
JB: No. So this is definitely my interpretation of what she could have sounded like back then. And, I mean, I agree I feel like we were really trying to access that place and that part of the world at that time. And that was the goal. The goal was to really be specific and detailed about Wylie, Texas, of all places. But I’ve never heard her speak actually.
DS: Did you feel like you were in another place when the camera started, you may have been channeling her in that moment because when I look at you on screen, you sure as hell didn’t look like Jessica Biel and looked like I was looking at Candy, the person who was accused of that grotesque act that of course she was acquitted for. Is that how you felt about during this role?
JB: Yes. Many levels, yes. I mean, acting is a weird thing, right? You go into this weird trance sometimes. I mean, I definitely feel like there were some sequences like the court sequence where I’m retelling the story and it’s super emotional. And then the fight sequence where sometimes you would yell cut and you snap out of it like what just happened? I don’t remember what choices I made. What just happened in that take, there’s a moment, there’s an ability to kind of step away from your body on some level if that makes any sense at all.
DS: It makes all the sense.
JB: And I think with something like this, that’s important because I connect with her on many levels, but obviously I’ve never done anything like that before right? And I hope to God, it never happens to me. And I’m not a violent person neither was she, right? So, I understand these things but I don’t know her real experience. I love that line that Raul who plays my lawyer says, he goes, “She lives in this world of experience that none of us will ever live in.” And that’s so true. I can’t really live in it, but I’m adjacent like knocking on the door, like trying to understand what that would be like.
DS: And I’m guessing it had to help just slightly to have Melanie [Lynskey] as a scene partner. I mean, she’s kind of okay and stuff.
JB: Yeah. She’s got potential. (Laughs)
DS: She’s going to get there. (Laughs)
JB: She is brilliant, like quiet, whisper genius. You know what I mean? She’s like a sleeper. She comes out of nowhere. And what I love about Melanie is she’s just so, God, she’s so nice. First of all, she’s the nicest person ever on the planet. And she’s so powerful by doing nothing. She can sit very still and sometimes I can get a little like, “Whoa, like a little all over the place” and she’s not that way. She’s just a still powerful person. And it’s amazing to be on set with her. And she’s just able to be still and stare at you. And you’re so affected, like profoundly affected. She’s heartbreaking, she’s terrifying, like she’s able to conjure up all of these feelings by doing almost nothing, which is amazing.
DS: I mean, you guys are equally brilliant in your own ways and quite frankly, Ms. Biel, I think this is your best work I’ve ever seen you and it blew me away.
JB: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
Candy is a 5-episode limited series event streaming exclusively on Hulu from May 9-13. Jessica Biel is Emmy eligible for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie.
Photo by Hulu