Jessica Biel talks unraveling the mystery of Limetown and her favorite podcasts
Jessica Biel is getting behind the mic for Limetown.
The Sinner alum, 37, stars in this eerie adaptation of the hit podcast, debuting Oct. 16 on Facebook Watch. Biel plays an American Public Radio journalist named Lia Haddock, who’s investigating the unexplained disappearance of more than 300 people. Fifteen years ago, Limetown was a small but bustling scientific community in Tennessee, filled with researchers and their families — when one day, every one of the town’s residents vanished without a trace.
Lia’s beloved uncle Emile (played by Stanley Tucci) is among the missing, and in the present day, the APR journalist launches an investigative podcast determined to find the truth.
Before the show’s premiere, EW caught up with Biel to talk about unraveling Limetown’s mystery.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When you first listened to the podcast, what was it that hooked you?
JESSICA BIEL: Well, number one, I thought it was real. I’m going to out myself and say that. [Laughs] Sometimes news cycles go by so quickly [that] I thought, “Oh my gosh, I’ve missed this!” I called my producing partner and said, “We have to get involved in this! This is crazy!” and she stopped me and was like, “This isn’t real.”
But it was so well done that it got me! What can I say, it got me. But initially, I was so excited and turned on by the idea of this story [about] this technology and this woman who is on this relentless path to find the answers and find the truth. I just thought, God, what a crazy idea and something that is really very close to being a reality for us in our time right now. It felt topical, it felt terrifying, and it was just so well done and so smart.
You play a Sarah Koenig-esque journalist with a personal tie to Limetown: Her uncle is one of the missing.
I think that personal connection is the thread that makes this story unique and sets it apart from other stories about an investigation, the trauma of when this uncle was basically taken from her life. What must that feel like to go on this quest and to have spent your whole life defined by this absence, this hole in your life?
Did you spend a lot of time practicing your radio voice?
We talked a lot about what that could be for her. I spoke to a lot of journalists and read a really interesting book about podcasting and how to manipulate your voice to express different things — how to slow it down when you really want to get people’s attention, to drop the octave a little bit to pull people in.
We didn’t want to change my regular speaking voice, necessarily. We just wanted it to be very authentic because if you’re listening to podcasts these days, people are not trying to have big, booming voices like the guy who does Wrestlemania. These people who actually have their own podcasts, they pull you in because they sound so real. The more authentic you can be, I feel like the more outreach you can have and the more listeners you have.
This is a story that was originally written for an audio format, and now you’re playing it on TV. Did that affect how you approached your performance at all?
We really thought about that in the development process. [We wanted] this story to come through in a way where you’re not just using your imagination anymore. Because that’s what’s so great about podcasts, right? It’s like reading a book: You’re using your imagination to create what you think happened and what it looks like, and now we’re showing what it looks like [through TV]. So it was about the right moves in the development process to build the sets to make them look a certain way.
We also wanted to expand Lia’s character: What is her family like? Is she dating someone? Is she not dating someone? Is she married? Does she have kids? What’s her home life look like? What does APR look like? Being able to really flesh out those ideas let me just concentrate on giving the performance that I would give no matter where it came from or what it was: grounded, truthful, powerful at times, vulnerable at times, imperfect. So I just concentrated on trying to create something authentic for her.
Other than Limetown, what are your go-to podcasts?
Of course All Things Considered. I’m listening to something right now called The Clearing, which is a true-crime investigation kind of thing. The Bright Sessions. Hold on, let me look at my list! [Switches to speakerphone] I really like [Janet Lansbury] Unruffled, which is a parenting podcast. Atlanta Monster, This American Life, Sword and Scale, Embedded, Up and Vanished, Dirty John… I really like podcasts.