This morning, Lainey sent me a clip of Jessica Biel on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and before I watched it, I told myself I was going to write this post without mentioning Justin Timberlake. I thought that with so much emphasis on him, all the time, why not shine a light on her career regeneration? But we got to the 00:27 mark and the first mention of Justin was dropped, and it continued from there.
Jessica and Justin, like Ashton and Mila and Dax and Kristen, have a “cool parents, cute couple” schtick they all do when they go on Ellen. All three couples make a point to not post their children on social media a lot or encourage pap shots, but when they go on Ellen, the adorable anecdotes come up. It’s a safe space for them to tap into a demographic that wants to hear stories about diaper mishaps.
And all three couples lean into each other’s fame. Jessica Biel was there for work and while she and Justin do not work together, when it comes to promotion, they have the same job – to hype their projects as much as possible. This is how she chose to hype her job, with some benign talk about her children (nothing too personal, it was about sleep training and teething) and lots of mention of Justin.
I can appreciate why she does this because, at the time of writing this, headlines about her appearance had already made it onto E! and US Weekly (“Jessica Biel Shares Rare Glimpse Into Her Life With Justin Timberlake”). The strategy works for both of them: she gets headlines for her new show and he gets the passive good press he needs right now.
Let’s talk about what Jessica was there promoting, a new show she produced called Cruel Summer, a crime thriller set in the 90s) Jessica’s work on the first season of The Sinner earned her an Emmy nod and really revitalized her career. She is a producer on Cruel Summer and because of her star power, she is the one called to do press for it and bring along the lesser-known stars of the show. It’s a great turnaround for her as for years, her career was kind of a blank space – she didn’t quite get on the lifestyle train (she had tried a few things, like the restaurant Au Fudge and an athleisure line collaboration) but didn’t have any standout projects, either.
She’s tapping into the never-ending popularity of “true crime” (Cruel Summer and The Sinner are not based on a true stories, but have that feel). She told Ellen she’s into the Datelines and the podcasts and in a way, Jessica is also the embodiment of the kind of person “ripped-from-the-headlines” stories focus on: a beautiful white woman, a charismatic husband, two wonderful children, the perfect life. When the narrator says, “her smile lit up a room”, you know she’s in trouble. (Spoiler: it’s the husband. It’s always the husband. It’s never not the husband.)
Even with the podcasts and Datelines, there’s still lots of space for storytelling within the thriller genre, with steaming services and smaller networks ready to scoop up content. Look at the success Reese Witherspoon has had with Big Little Lies and Little Fires Everywhere (not a thriller); her production company has optioned books like Ruth Ware’s In A Dark Dark Wood, Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive and S.J. Watson’s Second Life. Bidding on these hot books is competitive (can you imagine how much the price goes up when people find out Hello Sunshine is interested?) and starts before the books are released to the public, with many titles like The Last Mrs. Parish, The Girl Before, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Something in the Water, and The Other Woman (all in my library) already scooped up, many by Reese. There’s a lot of competition but I can’t imagine it’s worse than spending years auditioning for roles in movies and, this is pure conjecture on my end, this work seems a lot more rewarding than being sixth on the call sheet for movies like Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve.