I was born on March 3rd, 1982, in Ely, Minnesota – the temperature outside was 37 degrees below zero! At the time, my Dad was the Program Director for the Minnesota Outward Bound School, which is an outdoor, adventure-based program. We lived 17 miles out of town near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in a little cabin on the Kawishiwi River.
I come from a very outdoorsy, adventurous, and extremely active family! I have lived in 6 states, but I like to call Boulder, Colorado home because that is where I spent the most time in one place. My closest, and best friend, Jesse Peterson, is from Boulder, and we have the greatest and wackiest memories from all our years together. She was actually on the cover of Jump magazine with me in 1998.
The question I get asked the most is, “How did I get started in acting?” As a young girl, I took dance lessons, gymnastics, and voice lessons. I was also influenced by a lot of musical family members, so getting in involved in local musical productions was a pretty natural progression for me.
When the movie Annie first came out, I became one of the obsessed 8 year olds who dreamed of being Annie. My first attempt was for the The Fairfield Playhouse in Fairfield, CT and the call-backs were at the Jeoffrey Ballet in New York City. I had no clue what league of talent I was competing against, I just knew I wanted to sing, “Tomorrow”. I did get selected to be a “back-up” for Annie, which was a great compliment, but never put me on stage as Annie because the lead never missed a show! Eventually, when we moved back to Colorado, I did get the part of “Annie” in a local production. I lost my voice at the dress rehearsal for the opening night, but still was able to perform! Another night, Sandy, the dog took off after a cat that was backstage, so the audience had to wait as I called and called and called him. Finally, he returned. Pretty funny!
“Hollywood” was not even part of my thinking or vocabulary during this time. I was content to perform for any local musicals and performing arts camps, but basically was a pretty normal, 9 year old kid who went to school and loved gymnastics, roller-blading, mountain-biking, dancing, and playing soccer.
The Early Hollywood Years
It wasn’t until I signed with a Denver talent agency that Los Angeles became part of my reality. On the encouragement of my Denver agency, I went to the IMTA (International Modeling & Talent Association) convention in LA in January of 1994. (Check out their website at: www.IMTA.com) I was 11 years old and was competing against hundreds of kids, but the cool part for me, was that I did really well in all my categories and won an acting scholarship to the Young Actor’s Space in Los Angeles – one of the best acting schools for young actors run by Diane Hardin and Nora Eckstein, two of Hollywood’s finest ladies.
For the next 3 years (from January to March), I took schoolwork from my Boulder, CO teachers, and headed to LA with my family to concentrate on acting classes and auditions, but school always came first, as LA has important laws to protect child actors. Auditions could only take place after 3:00 each day, so I still spent most of my day in school. I auditioned for every TV show, film, or commercial that came my way. I landed the role of Mary Camden on 7th Heaven after 3 years of spending 2-3 months per year auditioning and training in LA.
In the same week that I became Mary Camden I was offered my first role in a feature film, Ulee’s Gold, which filmed in Florida first. As soon as we finished shooting, I flew to LA to shoot the pilot for 7th Heaven. What an amazing year!
All of this excitement and success was the culmination of years of training and commitment and from being surrounded by great supportive people. There were no complaints coming from me…. I was shooting scenes with Barry Watson! (Matt Camden) I totally had the hots for him!! So did Beverley Mitchell. We used to fight over who would get him. That crush faded only after we shot several episodes of 7th Heaven and Barry became just our older, annoying, protective, television brother, who in real life, was interested in girls a lot older than Bev and me!
The entire TV cast of 7th Heaven became my second family – they are amazing people and my time on that show has been a “once in a lifetime experience”.
High School & College
My high school years were spent on the set of 7th Heaven. Being tutored on the set of a television show definitely had its pros and cons – like having plenty of time to study for an test before it was given, or having the coolest set teacher for all 4 years (that’s my teacher, Cheryl Diamond, in the picture with me). The downside was having no other classmates and sometimes barely getting a grasp on a geometry theory before being pulled out of school to go shoot a scene!
Of course, during these years, Beverley Mitchell (Lucy) became my best friend and real life older sister. (Bev is 1 year older than me.) We will be close for the rest of our lives. Bev and I have shared some of life’s greatest joys and sadness. We have been through a lot together (like growing up) and it hasn’t always been easy, but we know and appreciate how blessed our lives have been.
Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed of going to college, so in the fall of 2000 I became a freshman at Tufts University. I lived in a small dorm room with my roommate, Jennifer. Our narrow room, on the bottom floor of the building, had a view of the garbage cans outside! After spending a year at Tufts, I returned to 7th Heaven to finish out the 6th season of the show, then returned to Tufts for another fall semester. Someday I hope to go back to school and complete my college degree.
I made some great friends in college – here we are after a Tommy production that I appeared in at Tufts University.
The New Millenium
Since leaving Tufts, I have focused my professional efforts on my movie career. In the summer of 2003, I filmed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 100 degree weather outside of Austin, Texas. Yep, that’s real sweat running down our cheeks! Great cast, great crew, and very intense emotional scenes. During one scene, I did do a total face-plant while running through the woods that never made it into the movie, but it might be in the DVD “behind the scenes”.
Recently, I finished a small role in the New Line film, Cellular, due out in the spring/summer of 2004. By February, 2004, I will complete 4 months of filming my role in Blade: Trinity with Wesley Snipes and Ryan Reynolds. I play Abigail Whister and Kris Kristofferson plays my father. My character is skilled in martial arts and is a master marksman with a crossbow. This action role has required me to train extensively for the past several months not only to look the part but also so I could do as many of my own stunts a possible.
Even before finishing “Blade: Trinity”, I have begun research for my next project – Stealth . I will keep you updated on the progress of the film.
Written by Jessica Biel, JessicaBiel.com