Jessica Biel on Executive Producing Her First Series, ‘The Sinner’: ‘Sometimes You Just Got to Do It Yourself’

Jessica Biel may have began her career as a reverend’s daughter on “7th Heaven,” but viewers won’t see the same squeaky-clean portrayal of religion on her new show, USA Network’s “The Sinner.”

Aside from the darker portrayal of religion, “The Sinner” is also the first time Biel has stepped into an executive producing role on a television series — something she calls “gold.”

“Sometimes you just got to do it yourself,” Biel said at “The Sinner” premiere at New York City’s Crosby Street Hotel on Monday night. “Not that I’m doing this all myself, but I have this opportunity to develop this material with my producing partners, be a part of the casting process, work with the writers, work with our creator, and really be hands-on with the character arcs. As a creative person, that’s the gold.”

“The Sinner” — based on Petra Hammesfahr’s book of the same title — follows Cora Bender (Biel), a young mother and wife who, on a day trip to the lake, commits a public and seemingly random act of murder. The eight-episode miniseries progresses to unravel Cora’s motives and flashes back to her childhood, a strict, shame-oriented Catholic household.

Derek Simonds, the show’s creator, sees “The Sinner” as an “inverted” take on a classic whodunnit crime-mystery by focusing more on the “why,” rather than the “who” or “what,” which are revealed in the premiere.

“This inverted idea, we know the who, the what, the where, but we don’t know the why,” Simonds said. “That I hadn’t really seen in such a clear way as this story. Instead of looking for the DNA evidence that leads you to the killer or a cat-and-mouse game, it is all about the psyche of the person. Always asking the question: ‘What could have triggered her to do this?’”

As for the show’s understanding of religion, Bill Pullman, who plays Detective Harry Ambrose, the investigator working on Cora’s case, argues that the “The Sinner’s” idea of “sinning” isn’t specific to religion, but is extended to the simple nature of right and wrong.

“People, even beyond the church-going experience, have co-opted this idea of what is right and wrong,” Pullman said. “Sinning, whether they think of it the same way as a Catholic would, it still means that they understand that there’s some baser aspect of themselves, that they’ve broken some convenance they’re living under. We’re all doing it all the time. We’re all sinners.”

“The Sinner” premieres August 2 at 10 p.m. on USA Network.

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