Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake have been unofficially dating for the last year or more, and it’s done much to raise her professional profile. She’s dated celebrities before – including former co-stars Chris Evans and Ryan Reynolds – but being with ‘the world’s most eligible bachelor’ has pushed her into a place she’s not certain she wants to be in. ‘It’s hard,’ she says, ‘the hardest part of this whole wonderful, bizarre lifestyle and profession. You have to be Zen about it, because it can make you crazy. There are times when I’ve been followed by men with giant cameras in giant SUVs all day long. It scares the crap out of me and I literally come home and emotionally erupt and cry it out and sit on the floor and think, “Do I really want this?”’ But she does. Badly. And she’s not going to let a few men with large lenses steer her away from her destiny – she's worked too hard for it.
‘For a very long time, I wasn’t thought of as anyone with any credibility in the film world,’ she admits. ‘Everybody is tramping through the swamp every day in this business. “I’m worth it, I’m credible – believe me, give me a shot!” That’s the way I feel on a consistent basis.’ The good material was thin on the ground: she did a romantic comedy (Summer Catch), a slasher movie (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), a vampire sequel (Blade: Trinity) and an action movie (Stealth). Then came the critically acclaimed The Illusionist, and everything changed.
‘I was so thrilled to get that part,’ she says of the 2006 award-winning drama. ‘It was such a joy for me – oh, it was great.’ Biel says she finally felt challenged, working with Edward Norton, Paul Giammati and other noted thesps. Next, we’ll see her in a film she was offered without even auditioning, starring alongside Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas in Easy Virtue, a cinematic take on the Noël Coward play. Not that her change in fortunes has eased her troubled mind.
‘As much as I hate auditioning – it’s so hard and awkward – it’s way better to walk out of that room and win a role because of what you did,’ she says. With another four projects already in production, isn't she tempted to sit back on her laurels now? ‘For me, it just gets more intense. I’m having some of the opportunities that I’ve been craving, so now I’m just craving more. I definitely don’t feel I’m sitting back going, “Yeah! I made it,”’ she says, spreading out her arms and leaning heavily into the sofa. ‘Every day, I think, “What else can I read, what’s this person doing, what’s that girl doing, and why didn’t I read that?”’
She says she’s pushing herself physically, too, maintaining the healthy diet and lifestyle she had growing up with her health-conscious parents – but she loves to give in to pasta and bread and pizza in the down time. ‘It’s so hard for months on end to maintain a strict diet and exercise programme,’ she says – but, from where I’m sitting, there are precious few signs that she’s struggling.
We talk of what happens when the years roll by, what happens when the beauty fades, and Biel admits her biggest fear in life is ageing. How will she cope?
‘I don’t know – I better start figuring it out,’ she says. ‘I feel my knees changing – like, why do I have this pain when I’m running on the treadmill? What’s going on with my lower back when I wake up in the morning? I just feel changes. And I’m definitely fearful in a very vain manner about my body ageing. I think it’s freaky weird to look at a picture of your grandmother when she was a young woman and look at her now.’
Would she go the plastic surgery route? ‘I am really afraid of blades on my face,’ she says. ‘That freaks me out beyond belief. I would way rather have wrinkles than have some slice-up going on.’
And what about throwing it all in, getting married and having babies? ‘I kind of go back and forth about marriage and kids,’ she says. ‘I feel like, if it’s an organic way for me and the right time in my life, then, yeah. If it’s right, it’ll be right – but, at this moment, that seems completely foreign.’ Plus, let’s not forget, she’s only 26. ‘That’s what I say!’ she laughs. ‘I tell you, I have so many friends having babies and getting married, and they just want to put me where they are so we can go to nursery together and stuff. I’m like, “Noooooo!” I’m resisting.’
This is an edited version of the full interview, which features in the December 2008 issue of Marie Claire.