In Pascal Laugier’s latest film, The Tall Man (review), Jessica Biel stars as Julia Denning, a woman whose son goes missing, which seems to be tied to a string of disappearances in her small town that has left the quiet community shaken to its core.
Soon, it’s up to Julia find the elusive boogeyman known only as “The Tall Man” who has been haunting the area, kidnapping young children and tormenting those left behind.
Her role in The Tall Man is just one of Biel’s many contributions to the genre world- she’s also starred in films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot, Blade: Trinity and Sacha Gervasi’s upcoming semi-biopic Hitchcock, which finds the actress portraying real-life actress Vera Miles.
Recently Dread Central participated in a roundtable conference call with Biel in support of The Tall Man, which is opening in limited release on Friday, August 31st, courtesy of Image Entertainment. Check out the highlights of our interview below!
Question: Had you seen Martyrs before coming on board this movie, and were you concerned at all what the content might be when you were first approached for The Tall Man?
Jessica Biel: Is it weird to say that yes, I saw Martyrs, and yes, I loved it? (laughs) I knew it was going to be torture, and I did it anyway.
Question: What were your initial thoughts when you read the script for The Tall Man?
Jessica Biel: You know, I was completely surprised by the script; every page I got further into it, I had no idea what was going on. Then, after the first twist and then the second twist, I just said, ‘My god, I have to do this movie.’ I loved Martyrs; it was so hard to watch and brutal, but it was elegant. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but I was so impressed by Pascal’s work, I had to work with him.
Question: You’ve been in other genre films before, but they were a bit more high energy; here the tables are turned in your position of power so how did Pascal help you find that place?
Jessica Biel: It was incredibly challenging to get through this performance; Pascal and I were constantly walking this tightwire in The Tall Man because what was the right reaction for this particular woman, whatever moment we’re talking about, that is authentic for what she knows is happening. And what is authentic for what we want the audience to know, which was very different for me. It was super challenging to get that right every time.
To find the character of Julia, I was really interested in the psyche of this woman. Basically, the back story we had created was that she was part of an organization, like Doctors Without Borders, and was able to experience all of these different clinics all over the world dealing with underprivileged children and families. It was the bureaucracy bullshit and red tape of the bullshit she deals with that overwhelms her because of her inability to help everybody. So she broke a little bit and has become obsessed with saving all of these kids in sort of a ‘micro idea’ but in a ‘macro way'; that is really who Julia is. She’s just trying to do good and has gone way overboard, but she believes that in the end what she’s doing is right and that it is the only way to get through all of the crap.
Question: Did you stick to the script for The Tall Man while filming, or were you allowed to work with Pascal a bit to help flesh Julia out even more while shooting?
Jessica Biel: Pascal and I definitely worked together to create a real, intense human being who had all of this back story. Julia was definitely on the page, but we were constantly feeling her out- how can we make this woman more genuine and more sympathetic? That really is Pascal’s specialty. Yes, Pascal wants to make the movie look beautiful, and yes, he cares about the suspense and the scares, but he was so diligent and relentless with me about character that it was always highly important to him that we got it right.
We would not stop until he got some performance for me, almost like I had to surrender to it or something. I had to surrender to my own performance and transcend it so we could get something that was so… I don’t know even know the word for it but magic I guess. But it’s when the real emotion comes out, and obviously since I don’t know anyone who has had this experience myself, we just tried to capture it the best we could. This movie and this role are about the human need to protect, even if it’s in a messed up way.
Question: The ending of The Tall Man could be considered challenging to many; did you have any concerns about that going into the project?
Jessica Biel: Definitely; the ambiguity of the ending is very concerning. No one knows how to market this movie- it’s been a real conundrum for everybody (laughs). I mean, how do we put this movie out there to a mass audience. I know the ending isn’t fulfilling, I know you wind up feeling like, ‘I don’t know what I like or what I feel,’ but I think that’s what Pascal wanted. So, in that, we succeeded at what we wanted to do. It’s kind of like a foreign film in a way in that it doesn’t wrap anything up and you’re wanting to discuss it, and that’s what we want to do from the start.
Question: So, Jessica, in that vein if there was an American storyteller or director who tried to tell this film in the Hollywood system, do you think it would it have worked as well then?
Jessica Biel: You know, I don’t know; if we’re talking about with a big studio and a big director, no, that would not have been the film we would have made, and I think that’s what was interesting to me, that I was doing something that was really different and it really is character driven.
People don’t like the ending? Oh well; we’re making art and that’s what this is. I think it’s hard to compare what a French filmmaker would do to it compared to what an American filmmaker would do to it, but I guess, on the surface, you could say an American filmmaker would do something totally different, but that’s not entirely true. David Fincher, for example, doesn’t make obvious movies with obvious endings.
These kind of films don’t happen often. That’s why this was a great opportunity for me to play an incredible character; I have to take that kind of risk from time to time. These moments only come along every so often, and I have to take them whenever I can.
The Tall Man is available on VOD right now.
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