As Mary, the oldest daughter in the wholesome Camden clan on ”7th Heaven,” Jessica Biel seemed like the teenage girl next door. But most neighborhood sweethearts don’t pose semi-nude for Gear magazine — a move that got Biel in trouble with her TV boss, Aaron Spelling.. Now 19, Biel is back from a year studying at Tufts University and is beginning her final full season on the WB drama (premiering Sept. 24). She’s also starring opposite Freddie Prinze, Jr., in the new baseball comedy ”Summer Catch.” Here she speaks frankly to EW.com about her college plans and those notorious cheesecake photos.
In ”Summer Catch,” you play a privileged girl torn between pleasing her parents and pleasing herself. Was that conflict something you could relate to?
That was definitely a draw for me because it’s realistic. It’s happened to me, and it’s happened to guys and girls for years. What I like about her is that even though she doesn’t want to disappoint her parents and she sees her father’s trying to do what’s best for her, she’s a young woman and she needs to make decisions for herself.
Speaking of parents, yours must have been pretty freaked about your pictures in Gear.
First of all, I wasn’t happy with those pictures either. I saw pictures that were different from the ones that ran in the magazine. We thought the layout was going to be much more subdued. I’m talking about how much was shown of my chest area. So I was shocked and my family was heartbroken about the pictures that ran. It was really difficult, but you know, it’s over now and I’m OK with it and my family knows that that’s never ever going to happen again.
Have you mended fences with everyone at the WB and the series itself?
Yes, but it really was difficult for a while. That photo shoot was just a really bad decision on my part and I got myself involved with people who weren’t thinking about me and were instead thinking about what kind of a story they could get out of it. I learned a whole lot from the experience, so it was definitely a blessing in disguise. I don’t look back on it negatively like I used to.
There was speculation that you were trying to get fired by appearing too sexy to play Mary.
I think it boils down to the stupidest thing ever. I just wanted to cut my hair and dye it a different color, but they wouldn’t allow it because we were in the middle of episodes. I was 17 years old and totally rebellious, so I was just like, ”What do you mean I can’t dye my hair? You can’t tell me what to do!” I look back now and I’m like, ”God, I was a nutball!” And I’ve really changed from that. I had to learn in front of the entire country, but I guess that’s a really poignant lesson. As far as changing my image, I do want to do different movies and play as many different characters as I can. I want people to see me as a really normal human being who screws up. Just like everybody else.
Why did you decide to come back to the show full time after taking a year off for college?
I love college and I really want to go back. But I know that I could go back when I’m 60 if I wanted to, and ”7th Heaven” is a special thing that’s not going to be around forever. The thinking was that I wanted to be full time for one last year, make it the best year ever, and just enjoy it before I go back to school.
But you’ll be back to make appearances in seasons seven and eight, right?
Yes, I’ll be back for three or four episodes in seasons seven and eight. So Mary’s not going to get smashed by a train or something like that. It’s going to be a great surprise what happens to Mary, but I can’t give it away. And even though I need to get done with school and I’d love to do movies, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t come back to ”7th Heaven.” If the show goes past season eight and they ask me if would want to be a part of it, I would love to.