Jessica Biel on Easy Virtue, the Status of Nailed, and Her Deferred Dream of Being Whitney Houston

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Photo: Courtesy of Sony Picture Classics

In Easy Virtue, based on the Noël Coward play, Jessica Biel plays Larita Whittaker, a glamorous American who upends the stuffy rural rhythms of her young British husband's life and squares off with her new mother-in-law (Kristin Scott Thomas). Vulture spoke with Biel about her song on the film's soundtrack, the status of David O. Russell's Nailed, and doing her own stunts.

Was shooting in England and tackling Noël Coward at all intimidating?
Definitely. I was more familiar with Coward's music, actually, than his plays, but I terribly look up to Kristin Scott Thomas and love Colin Firth, and everybody there had been through such intense drama school that at first it was scary. And it's nerve-wracking going to live in a new place, a different country. Thank goodness I speak the language, though; that makes it a lot easier. And I didn’t know what a crumpet was, but after I found out about them, I had them every day.

Did you relate at all to Larita?
I related to her in her fish-out-of-water feeling. I think I've always felt that way growing up. I went to a lot of different schools and was always the new kid. You're on television, you go to college, and then you're the kid on television that everybody knows, but you don't know anybody. I really connected with her stoic, I'm-gonna-survive-this-situation attitude. What was very different and hard for me to grasp was her incredibly witty comebacks ... I wish I was like that! I'm just a little too nice.

Larita has quite a bit of activity in the movie, from riding motorcycles to some wild dances. Any favorites?
That wasn't me on the motorcycle, unfortunately. I love doing my own stunts, and I always request to do it, but the insurance wouldn't allow it. As far as the dancing, the cancan is so hard, it's a really aerobic, relentless dance. The knees are up to here [indicates chest], and with the abs, it's pretty serious. It was really fun, though.

You sing a version of "Mad About the Boy" over the credits, too — how did that come about?
They were moving forward with [Ben Barnes doing it], but found out by looking into Coward's will and things that he wrote about his music that he said no man could ever record that song again. I guess he was in love with somebody and that was it — no man was going to record that again, so you can only find women singing and recording it. So it was very random. I hadn't planned on it, and it was such a treat to get to do that because — and I know no one really knows this about me — I really started in musical theater, with Annie and The Sound of Music. I mean, I wanted to be Whitney Houston, that was my dream.

You've mentioned in other interviews that people have resisted seeing you in auditions. How frustrating is that?
I'm always trying to do new and different things, simply for me not to become bored. "What is going to scare me to death? Okay, I should do that." And yeah, sometimes I don't get in the room, and that's frustrating — to not be seen for whatever reason. You don't want it? Fine, that's okay, I understand that. But at least let me have a shot.

And is there any update on David O. Russell's Nailed?
I think we have some more work to do on it. It will definitely be coming out at some point, though. It was a fantastic experience, and it will be a wild movie.