By Andrew Plotkin
When my Grandma Re thinks about high-brow British comedy, Jessica Biel is certainly not the first name that comes across her mind, and not just because she hasn’t heard of a celebrity younger than Larry King. It’s because the actress, who was the “Sexiest Woman Alive” in 2005 according to Esquire Magazine, and #1 on Stuff Magazine’s 2007 list of “100 Sexiest Women,” in addition to being the 4th hottest woman I’ve ever bedded, is not widely known for her true acting abilities, which is precisely why her role in Easy Virtue, an adaptation of the Noel Coward play of the same name, is such a delightful revelation.
Set in Britain during the 1920s, Easy Virtue, which is now playing in NYC and LA, tells the story of Larita, a glamorous American race car driver who impetuously marries a young Englishman and then must deal with her new in-laws. (Studio pitch-style summary: Imagine the cinematic lovechild that would be birthed if Meet the Parents did the horizontal polka with just about any old British movie)
Throughout the film, Biel’s character is the proverbial whipping boy, er, girl, for her new family, the Whittakers, and most specifically, her mother-in-law, but Larita for the most part is able to take it on the chin and keep on truckin. “I relate to [Larita] in the sense that she’s this strong, onionated woman who really cares about the integrity of who she is.”
Biel was concerned about how well she would be able to hold her own on-screen against Brit-com veterans Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas. “I mean, I can be fun, and sill, but being really funny, and dry, and witty, like killing somebody with a comment and a great smile, that shit is hard.”
While Biel had her reservations about her own abilities, she relished the opportunity to act in a period piece. When asked what was her favorite aspect of the era in which the fim takes place, the actress said it was “definitely the ‘glamour’ factor. I mean, people got dressed, to go to the market, even just to have dinner in their own home.” (I sometimes don’t get dressed when going to the market, in which case I usually don’t spend too much time in the freezer aisle.)
Biel’s acting chops aren’t the only abilities of hers that are on showcase in this thoroughly enjoyable film. The beauty is a featured vocalist on a number of songs on the film’s soundtrack. While most actresses would have opted for the vocal equivalent of a butt-double, JB saw this opportunity as the one she had been waiting for. “Ever since I was eight years old, I had been taking voice lessons. That was my dream. I wanted to be Whitney.” (To Biel’s benefit, that dream never came true. Speaking of which, Rest In Peace, Career of Whitney Houston)
When addressing the topic of Larita’s position in the film as the “outsider”, Biel said that she was able to play that role by drawing somewhat from her own current position in life. “I feel like an outsider all the time. This whole aspect of ‘celebrity’, it’s just strange. Everybody knows you, you don’t know anybody.” The actress continued, “Everybody feels like they should get to have a piece of you, and you’re just trying to live your life.”
Easy Virtue is now playing in NYC and LA, and will surely be getting a wider release as the summer rolls on. Bottom line: Jessica Biel has the acting chops, so Hollywood, start giving her more chances to show that. Suck it, Grandma.