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[Interview] Jessica Biel On Defying Convention With Pascal Laugier And The Ending Of ‘The Tall Man’

Now on VOD platforms (and in theaters August 31) from Image Entertainment is The Tall Man, featuring Jessica Biel (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Blade: Trinity, Total Recall). A few journalists (including myself) hopped on the phone with Biel to discuss her character, whether or not seeing Martyrs gave her any pause in taking the part, and the challenging nature of the film’s ending.

Directed by Pascal Laugier of Martyrs fame, “In an isolated, slowly dying mining town, children are vanishing without a trace – abducted, the townsfolk whisper, by a mysterious entity known locally as “The Tall Man.” Town nurse Julia Denning (Biel) seems skeptical…until her young David disappears in the middle of night. Frantic to rescue the boy, Julia lives every parent’s darkest nightmare in this twisting, shock-around-each-corner thriller from acclaimed director Pascal Laugier.

Silent Hill‘s Jodelle Ferland also stars with Stephen McHattie (Pontypool, Watchmen), William B. Davis and Samantha Ferris.

So had you seen Martyrs before coming onboard? If so, were you concerned about the content?

Is it weird to say that I saw Martyrs and I loved it? I knew it was going to be torture and I did it anyway.
What were your initial thoughts when you read the script for?

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 was so impressed by Pascal’s work, I had to work with him.

Without giving anything away, your character is fairly complex. How did you find your way into her?

I was really interested in the psyche of this woman. Basically, the backstory 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 bullsh*t 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.

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.

The ending of The Tall Man could be considered challenging. Did you have any concerns about that going into the project?

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. 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.

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. On the surface, you could say an American filmmaker would do something totally different, but that’s not entirely true. David Fincher, doesn’t make obvious movies with obvious endings.




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