Planet 51 - Jessica Biel
Jessica Biel recording the voice of Neera © Columbia Pictures

In Jessica Biel’s career, she has tackled many genres of film – horror (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), drama (The Illusionist, Easy Virtue), science fiction (Next) and comedy (I Now Pronounce you Chuck and Larry), but she’s never done an animated movie – that is, until now.

Biel voices the character of Neera in Planet 51, a 16-year-old High School Junior who lives on Planet 51. A wannabe hippie, her desire is to make the world a better place.

Your character Neera is one hot alien. How did you add your sultry sex appeal to this green girl?

Planet 51 - Jessica Biel
Neera (Jessica Biel) © Columbia Pictures

Do I have sultry sex appeal? Thank you! That’s lovely.

It was just about trying to create a 16-year-old girl, who thinks she has this confidence and this sexy, “I am a woman,” attitude and, at the same time, is really still trying to figure it out with boys and is still trying to see how far she wants to push the envelope with authority and what people tell her to do.

I think I was just trying to create that person that I felt like I was when I was 16, which was confident, but insecure, and pushing the envelope, but still feeling like she was a little kid, and thinking she was this strong, independent, sexy woman, but still not 100% there yet. That’s what I was trying to do.

When you saw the final product with the animation, did you see yourself in your character?

I think I saw some physical things that I do myself. It was so weird to hear my own voice.

Did this movie make you want to be a better person or make you want to contribute to changing the world?

Planet 51 - Justin Long and Jessica Biel
Lem (Justin Long) with Neera (Jessica Biel) © Columbia Pictures

What I took was the idea of a more innocent, conservative time. I’ve always been interested in the ‘50’s and that feeling of being simpler. For me, the idea with this movie is to be open to change.

In our world, a lot is changing and, in this world, a lot is changing as well. You should be accepting of change and something that’s different from you, and be excited to experience that because, only through change, can you grow and learn more about yourself, as a human or alien.

What was it like to go through the experience of doing an animated film, as opposed to live-action? Can you have more fun and flesh out your characters more?

I think, in one sense, you really can just be crazy. You can talk with your hands, you can go really broad, you can take it really small. Really, it’s your director who’s guiding you along because you’re not reacting to anything.

Sometimes, I got to see some of the animation that they’d already done and some that was in the process. It was an ongoing process.

How is making a hard-core horror film different from doing family entertainment?

Planet 51 - Seann William Scott, Jessica Biel and Justin Long
Skiff (Seann William Scott) and Rover, with Neera (Jessica Biel) and Lem (Justin Long) looking on © Columbia Pictures

It’s the extreme opposite, for me, at least. Making The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was probably one of the hardest experiences for me, emotionally and creatively.

It was intense because it was at this high level of freak-out, for about a month. It was just so not this world. That kind of emotional strain was so different.

Planet 51 was just fun. I wanted to do it because it was speaking to my inner child. Yes, I want to be an alien. Yes, I want to be green.

For a girl, you have to go through so much hair and make-up, and so many costume fittings. I have to sit in the chair for two hours, in the morning, and it was so nice not to do that.

How did you relate to your character?

Planet 51 - Jessica Biel, Justin Long, Freddie Benedict and Seann William Scott
Neera (Jessica Biel), Lem (Justin Long), Eckle (Freddie Benedict) and Skiff (Seann William Scott) © Columbia Pictures

I related to Neera because, when I was 16, I was pushing it, on every angle, with my parents and the world. I thought I had it going on. I thought I knew everything. I relate to her feeling of risk-taking.

I had a little bit more of a bad attitude, as a 16-year-old. She wants to help this planet and change the world into peace, think for herself and be really independent and a risk-taker. That’s where I really related to her. She’s way more of a positive, charitable person than I was, as a 16-year-old, but the risk thing, the independence I related to a lot.

Do you have any fear of the unknown?

That’s a constant problem. When am I going to work? I don’t know. I try not to think about that too much, but it’s always a little bit there. When will I work and can I pay my bills? Is it going to be creatively interesting? There’s always there for me, a little bit, as much as I try to say it’s not.

What can you say about The A-Team and playing Lt. Sosa?

It’s going really, really well. It’s been a complete blast. It’s really fun. I’m getting to work a lot with weapons again, which I haven’t done in a long time. That sounds kind of weird, but it’s the best to learn about that kind of thing.

The cast is wonderful. Joe Carnahan, our director, is hitting the nail right on the head. We’ve got a really interesting tone going on. I think I was a little concerned, at first, about whether we were going to be really super-cheesy or dark, or what we’d be doing. And, I think we’ve found lots of humor, at the same time that it’s quite emotional with dramatic moments.

I think it’s going to be a lot of different things combined into this one movie. But, there are a lot of throw-backs and a lot of paying homage to the original show. We’re in the middle of it, so it’s hard to know.

Everyone says it’s looking really beautiful and the scenes are cutting together really well. That’s pretty much all I can say.


Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.