She's done movies that either weren't finished or went straight to video. The "break-out role" hasn't happened.

But just when you write Jessica Biel off as Justin Timberlake's girlfriend, or the new face of Revlon, or more "celebrity" than actress, she goes and does Noel Coward on you.

It's not just about the money, being in a hit, Biel says. I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry was her biggest.

"If you do something out of the norm, something creatively different, more demanding or challenging, it's easy to get excited about work. I look for that."

Easy Virtue, a British period piece about a brash American creating waves in a family of stiff, upper-class Brits, was Biel's big stretch, a chance, as she puts it, "to play a great broad" and trade barbs with the creme of British acting.

"We knew we'd made the right call when Colin Firth comes over to me and goes, 'She's going to steal the bloody movie from all of us,' " laughs director Stephan Elliott (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert). Just because she's beautiful and being romanced by a pop star, don't think that Biel, who turned 27 in March, couldn't use a break. Her much-ballyhooed "stripper" drama Powder Blue went straight to video. Another edgy film she was in, the David O. Russell satire Nailed, halted production and was never finished. Even Easy Virtue, which Elliott and his co-writer freely adapted from a 1924 Noel Coward play, was panned by the U.K.'s Coward purists.

"It's really hard to make a decision about what you want to do," Biel says. "And worry about what could happen to the movie outside of my control makes it even harder. 'Is this movie going to come out? Will anyone see it?' You have to let all of those things go...

"But sometimes, it is hard not to think about those other possibilities that could derail your train."

She was "devastated" by the Nailed experience, in which the money ran out mid-filming. "If I'd had an idea that it might happen, would I still have done it? I don't know. Probably. It made me a better actor."

But the break-down of Nailed was closely followed by a bit of good news. Easy Virtue played at the Toronto Film Festival and the reviews were glowing -- "Biel sparkles," Variety enthused. One way she sparkles is in doing something she's long wanted to do in a movie -- sing.

"Turns out, she'd had all this musical theater in her younger days," Elliott says of Biel's rendition of "Mad About the Boy." "She was so delighftul in that scene that we had other actors start singing. It really changed the film."

Biel laughs.

"It sounds really cheesy to say it, but singing is one of those things I do that makes my heart, my gut, feel really happy. It's like I'm nine years old again, living a dream I had all the way back then. It really makes all the bad things that happen worthwhile."