Jessica Biel wasn’t even born when the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was released in 1974, nor had she seen it when she read the script for a remake, but she still had her doubts that she could do the legend justice. “I thought it was risky. The original is such a cult classic,” says Biel, 21, who lives in Los Angeles.
Of course, she was also worried about the cheese factor. “There was the danger of making something campy.” But after meeting first-time director Marcus Nispel, Biel changed her mind. “He was more interested in making a beautiful film, a psychological thriller,” she says. “There was so much attention paid to detail. Not many other horror movie directors are concerned with the way the light hits the sky.”
That much might be true, but Nispel’s artistic attentions are probably the last thing audiences will notice in the film, which hit theaters last Friday. Besides the spine-tingling suspense and whir of that menacing chainsaw, Biel’s performance is creating a loud buzz around town. She doesn’t screech like her horror movie predecessors, but plays it fearless as her friends are slaughtered all around her. “It definitely was a little scary sometimes, working with a live chainsaw. It gets your adrenaline going,” she says. “And being covered in blood all day was bizarre.”
The role is quite a leap from the teenage sweetheart Biel played on the WB hit “Seventh Heaven,” which she’s appeared on since she was 14. She left the show to attend Tufts University in 2000, where she completed 1 1/2 years before realizing that her clock was ticking in Hollywood. “I realized how important it is to take advantage of being young and to work now, since I might not work forever,” she says, though she hopes to transfer to UCLA, where she’s considering either music or ancient religion as a major. The former makes sense, since Biel plays the saxophone and has been singing since she was eight. As for the latter, “I just read ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and I am obsessed. I know it sounds silly to let a novel pick your major,” she admits.
Though she’s still new to the film industry, Biel has already learned some of Hollywood’s tough lessons. Her latest movie isn’t using sex or nudity to sell tickets, but that wasn’t the case when Biel starred in “The Rules of Attraction” last year, nor when she agreed to an interview in Gear magazine in 2000, where the sexy photographs caused her some major grief and all but erased her innocent image. “I wanted to do a photo shoot that was mature, beautiful, and yes, a little sexy. But I was really a moronic 17-year-old kid who thought I was an adult. The men who were my managers did not have my best interests in mind and I ended up in lingerie,” she says. She was horrified when she saw the layout, but kept quiet to minimize any negative attention.
“I learned the hard way that you can’t just joke around and say or do things because they sound funny,” she says. “I learned in front of the whole country.”
These days, Biel is more careful about her clothing choices, opting for feminine, flirty clothes that are more in line with her job as a L’Oréal spokeswoman.
Up next, she’ll don vampire gear for “Blade: Trinity,” filming in Vancouver with Wesley Snipes and Kris Kristofferson. The film has her on a program of weight lifting, boxing, martial arts and archery. But the break she gets promoting “Texas” hasn’t been relaxing. It’s not supposed to be. “I really hope when people see the movie they can put aside their pride and be scared,” says Biel. “It’s OK to scream.”