"I don't know if I could have made it back then," Biel told The Playlist. "I feel like back then, you had to be a triple threat -- acting, singing, dancing. And you had to go through all these changes in your appearance to be who they wanted you to look like. And the rehearsal process used to be so much bigger. Even when I first started out, you could rehearse for two weeks, three weeks, a month, and we don't do that anymore. Now, you're on your own, in your room, crossing your fingers, hoping you're going to get it right."
According to the script written by director Francesca Gregorini, after Biel's character Linda loses her child, a therapist suggests that she put some of her maternal feelings into a lifelike doll, which she can carry around to help her through the grief process. But Linda goes overboard, since she's feeling "the guilt and the shame and the societal pressures of, 'What did you do wrong? You're her mother. You let your baby die,' " the actress explained. "People judge you and yet you did nothing. It's such a mindfuck to these parents."
Unlike "Lars and the Real Girl," which took a comedic approach to a character with a delusion that a doll was a real person, "Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes" is a "darker take." "I could be wrong, because I haven't seen the final product," Biel said, "and there are some funny moments, but it's darker. It's about a really psychologically damaged person, and how that woman manipulates a really fragile and emotional young girl with her interaction with this 'baby.' "
Biel said she looked inwards for the character, finding her own guilt and shame "so I can infuse that into my work." "I'm not even going to pretend that I can really understand what it would feel like to have that experience as a mother," she said, "but I could just touch on that. It's very complex. In her own way, she understands that this baby doesn't exist in reality, and hasn't existed. But she goes in and out of that, because it's too painful to think it's not real."
One of Biel's other upcoming movies, "The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," also deals with the subject of grief and loss, only this time it's Biel who plays the deceased -- the dearly departed wife of Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who tries to move on without her. This doesn't mean she'll have limited screen time, however.
"She's in the beginning, and very quickly, this tragic accident happens, but she keeps coming back into everybody's psyche because people talk about the story how she and her husband met," Biel said. "So we have a lot of flashbacks, because she's in the mind of all these people, constantly."
The story (or stories) kept growing, because Penny lied to everybody, telling different people different versions. "She'll tell one person, 'We met in the jungle, and I was following the gorillas,' " Biel said, "so people are like, 'Did you hear about her following the gorillas?' And someone else will go, 'Oh, no, no, they met on a cruise ship. She fell overboard!' And every time you hear a story, it's kind of an interesting flashback."
Biel said there might be some reshoots to embellish the flashbacks, or make the stories more realistic. "We might make it more like she just fibbed a little -- maybe it wasn't a cruise ship, maybe it was a train," the actress said. "But each story she told somebody was just a little bit off." The real story, as it turns out, is "the most normal, mundane, and banal" encounter, which perhaps is why Penny felt compelled to liven it up.
Originally, Penny -- "this eccentric, crazy artist person" -- was in the film a lot less, Biel said, which is what appealed to her, since she was also a producer on the project. But even with the extra scenes, "I can do this real easy," she said, because it didn't require a lot of heavy lifting. (Unlike, say, playing Viper in the next "Wolverine," which she had to bow out of because "we weren't able to make it work out, unfortunately. Scheduling conflicts! I know, I know -- it would have been cool.")
Still, Biel welcomes the challenge of more demanding work -- producing for now, and perhaps directing down the line. She's already got one short under her belt called "Sodales," which she said was "cool" to do. "I enjoyed it a lot, so maybe I'll do more!"
"Hitchcock" is now in theaters.