Jessica Biel discusses earning her first Emmy nomination for ‘The Sinner’

Jessica Biel starred in USA Network’s limited drama series “The Sinner.”
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

In the wake of the tragic deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade earlier this year, an even brighter media spotlight has shone on mental health issues, particularly depression and suicide — which gives even more resonance to Jessica Biel’s mother with ambiguous, violent tendencies, in USA Network’s “The Sinner.”

On Thursday, Biel was nominated for an Emmy for lead actress in a limited series for her role as Cora — a complex character who is not only entertaining to play, she says, but has given her a vehicle to address some pretty weighty and topical issues.

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Where are we catching you this morning and how did you find out you were nominated?

I live in L.A. and New York — but currently I’m in Amsterdam. It’s early evening here – my husband [Justin Timberlake] is on tour. So it was like 5 p.m. for me when I found out — I’d just gotten off a plane from London, I was sitting in the car with my kid.

Does “The Sinner,” and your character Cora in particular, feel especially timely now, in how it addresses issues of mental health? More so than last year, even?

I absolutely think it does. It felt topical to me at the time [we shot it]. And with everything that we’re battling culturally right now, everything in the news about mental health issues, it reminds me – and our whole creative team -- that this was really an incredibly perfect moment to step forward and talk about these challenging things that many of us are experiencing and which is taboo to talk about. Or we feel it is taboo. That’s why certain people don’t get help. So it feels important to shine a light on it and wrap our arms around it as a culture.

Is there a place to address issues regarding the #MeToo movement in your work, given you play such a strong female character, or do you prefer TV as escapism?

My gut feeling is that this movement, the #MeToo movement, is so much bigger than us and our industry. It kind of crosses a lot of borders and is seeping in everywhere – which is a good thing. And we can’t help, as human beings and women, taking things that happened in our lives and finding connections through traumas we’ve experienced, and that our families and friends have experienced. And feel naturally inclined to put that into our work. As artists and creatives, those experiences, to work through that psychologically, is part of what we do.

How will the rest of your day unfold?

It’s 6:40 p.m. here right now. Justin’s flown off somewhere else for a show tomorrow, not in Amsterdam, so I’m gonna toast with my kid.

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