EXCLUSIVE: ‘The Sinner’ Star Jessica Biel Talks Her Grittiest Role Yet

There’s been a lot of chatter about Jessica Biel’s return to TV in USA’s newest anthology drama, The Sinner. Biel has grown in leaps and bounds from the girl on the family-friendly series 7th Heaven to an A-list movie star with serious acting chops, and her latest role as Cora, a seemingly normal mother and wife who finds herself confessing to a very public and very violent murder, is case in point.

We asked Biel about how The Sinner came to her as both a producer and an actress and how she felt her way through playing her darkest character yet.

REVIEW: ‘The Sinner’ is the Last Great Show of the Summer

Beyond starring in The Sinner, you’re an executive producer on the show — why did you want to take on this project? Had you read the novel?

The Sinner is an eight-episode limited series that follows a seemingly normal young mother who, overcome one day while at the beach with her family, commits a very violent public crime. The series then takes the viewer on a journey into the psyche of my character, Cora, while the investigation is led by a detective played by Bill Pullman, who becomes obsessed with uncovering the motive to this murder. Yes, I [had] read the novel and was a big fan of the book. I loved the material so much – the book consistently shocked me.

A lot of A-list movie stars are taking a ride through the TV landscape these days, were you already looking to jump back into TV or was this just too good of a project to pass up?

Universal Cable Productions brought my producing partner, Michelle Purple, and me this project, and we immediately knew this was something that we couldn’t pass up. So, we started to develop and produce the show. We brought on our creator, Derek Simonds, who made the story even more compelling, and ultimately, I was drawn to the intrigue and mystery of my character, Cora. We were lucky enough that USA Network picked up the series, and here we are, almost wrapping production!

This is arguably the grittiest role you’ve played to date. How did you prepare to play Cora?

Cora is a really complex and layered character. First and foremost, I wouldn’t be able to do this role if I didn’t know what it was like to be a mom. Cora lives in such a dark place, yet she loves her son so much.  Another thing I found very relatable was that everyone has something in their past that they struggle with or wish they could change.  It was these elements that helped me dive into the role.

What was the most challenging part of tapping into Cora’s mindset after unknowingly (or perhaps knowingly?) murdering someone?

The actual murder was an incredibly visceral and disturbing sequence. It was almost like a complete out-of-body experience for me, but channeling the scene’s surreal terror helped tap into Cora’s mindset for the rest of the series.

This first season of The Sinner is set as an open-and-close 8-episode stint. What does the future look like for this anthology series?

With television being so ever-changing, the idea is that this could be an anthology series that continues with different cases if Bill Pullman is up for it. We will definitely be closing out Cora’s case this year and giving the audience the answers they’ve been looking for. There is a possibility that my character could be involved in some way in the future, but it is too early to say for sure.

Catch up on The Sinner now on-demand, and don’t miss new episodes Wednesday at 10pm ET on USA.

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