Jessica Biel on 'The Sinner' Season 2 and the "Satirical Puppet Series" She's Developing

Sinner -Season 1 - Still 1 -  Jessica Biel - Publicity-H 2018
Peter Kramer/USA Network

The actress opens up about starring in and producing USA's limited series, her 15-year hiatus from TV and what she's working on next.

Best known for her onscreen roles, Jessica Biel was a central figure in developing The Sinner — USA's eight-episode limited series about a quiet mother's very public murder of a young man — and stewarding the mystery drama to TV, and into a second-season renewal. She and producing partner Michelle Purple became attached to the adaptation of Petra Hammesfahr's 1999 novel when the story was just in its manuscript stage.

"I really got a very authentic, shot-out-of-the-cannon experience as a producer for the first time in a really big way," Biel says. The 36-year-old star spoke with THR about how the show resonates in the wake of the #MeToo movement and plans for season two.

What were the changes or directions that the series takes that you advocated for?

I think you can see my handprint in the casting. Also in really developing the Harry Ambrose character [played by Bill Pullman]: That core character was very well-developed and thought-out in the book, but for the television audience and format we wanted to expand that character.

The Sinner is in so many ways about trauma that women experience. It aired just before the #MeToo reckoning. What do you hope people will take away from the story in this context?

I hope it's part of the conversation and the narrative that now, as female collaborators around the world, we take a piece of art like this and say once again, "This is another reason that we have to stand up and speak out and not be afraid of the consequences of saying the truth or the shame or the guilt."

The Sinner was the top new cable series of the year. What accounts for that success?

Maybe there was an undercurrent of something going on [before the #MeToo movement] that was subconscious, that we couldn't put our fingers on but was touching a nerve, culturally. This business also has such an element of luck, like lightning in a bottle — sometimes you catch it and most times you don't, but this particular time we maybe had a little luck on our side.

The Sinner was renewed for a second season. Will you be involved?

I'll definitely be involved as a producer. I can't really say much at this point without giving anything away how much I will be involved onscreen — that's still being developed and looked at. But lucky for me, no matter what I will always be able to be a part of the show and I'm very proud of it.

You took time off from TV after 7th Heaven. What was behind that 15-year hiatus and what brought you back?

There wasn't like a driving force behind it. I got on a path of doing films. But, as we all know, the film industry has become very limited. I wanted to take control of my career again, which is what I had in mind when I started this small production company [Iron Ocean Studios]. I felt that it was my duty to step into my own and say, "You can't just sit back and wait for someone to call you; this is not how careers are built. You have to step forward, develop material, find things and get behind them." I felt finally confident in my life, as a person, to do that. Also, television was changing: It's become such an incredible place where if you have a thought-out, interesting, fresh idea, you have a great opportunity, especially as a woman, to put something on television.

What are you working on now?

I'm developing a satirical puppet series called Going Doll that's Muppets meets South Park meets the Housewives. We're developing a couple of other TV shows and producing a film based on a popular YA book. I'm working on my [sex-positive initiative] Tryst Network content, and being a mom and trying to have my own time and do things for myself.

This story first appeared in a May stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.