LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actress Jessica Biel wishes that in real life she could wield the mean wit that comes so easily to her character in “Easy Virtue” but says she is too nice to cut down her rivals.
Biel, 27, said she loved playing the brazen American race car driver who marries into a snobbish British family in the movie, which is based on the 192Os play by Britain’s Noel Coward.
“I don’t get many of these opportunities,” Biel told reporters.
“What was very different for me to really grasp was just her incredible comebacks. I wish I was like that. I’m just a little bit too nice. It’s really boring.”
Biel, who sprang to fame as a rebellious teen in 1996 on the U.S. family television show “7th Heaven,” said she studied the screen work of the late Katharine Hepburn and her contemporaries to play the role of Larita Whittaker.
“Just how they deliver their sarcastic, amazing put-downs with a smile,” said Biel, whose past films include 2006 mystery “The Illusionist” and 2007 comedy “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry.”
“Easy Virtue” opens in limited release in New York and Los Angeles on Friday. The movie, directed by Australian Stephen Elliott, is not a typical adaptation of a play by Coward, whose work chronicled British high society in the mid-20th century.
For one thing, Larita accidentally sits on a small, yapping dog, and the pet’s death leads to a secret burial. During a fox hunt, Larita rides a motorcycle and zooms past the country gentry and their galloping horses.
Those episodes were among a number of additions the filmmakers made to Coward’s original story, but Elliott said he thought the playwright, who died in 1973, would not have minded.
“He would hate his work to become museum pieces, and unfortunately that’s what was happening, people were afraid of his wit and how clever he was,” Elliott told Reuters.
In the movie set in England in 1929, Larita Whittaker (Biel) is an American race car driver who marries into an upper-crust British family with crumbling wealth.
The matriarch (Kristin Scott Thomas), sees Larita as an interloper, and tries to drive her away. But even though Larita’s new husband (Ben Barnes) is not always on her side, she relies on her own wit and on the support of the family patriarch (Colin Firth), a man damaged by World War I.
Elliott said he viewed the animosity that Thomas’ character shows toward her American daughter-in-law as an echo of British resentment at the loss of their empire.
“There’s a lot of old rage in there and I don’t ever blame these people for continuing to fight on,” Elliott said.
Biel, who dates pop star Justin Timberlake, said that in her own life she would be less cool under pressure than Larita while fending off any future mother-in-law.
“My heart would be pounding a million miles an hour,” said Biel.
Editing by Jill Serjeant