In a world of increasingly outlandish headlines, the story behind “Limetown” — in which an entire community in rural Tennessee disappears overnight — seems plausible. Even Jessica Biel, who executive produces and stars in the Facebook Watch television adaptation of the hit 2015 podcast, was initially convinced that it was real.
“I just thought I missed it because our world is so insane that anything is possible really, right?” Biel told Variety at the premiere screening at the Hollywood Athletic Club on Tuesday night. “It was definitely a swift learning curve of okay, this is not real, but it’s so fascinating. And we are right at the cusp of maybe this could be real. The technology that we are talking about could possibly happen, so we should tell this story and we should talk about connectivity and how far do you go and what’s too far? Those sorts of bigger themes are part of the reason why I was really interested in doing this thing.”
Biel plays the central character of Lia Haddock, a journalist and podcast host, who sets out to investigate why 326 residents of a neuroscience research facility vanished without a trace. The series explores larger issues surrounding the downsides of advanced technology and its impact on human interaction, issues that Biel explained are particularly concerning to her.
“Especially because I have a child and children are growing up and iPads and tablets are part of their world,” Biel said. “They know how to use these things; they get obsessed with these things and I think that scares me more than anything else.”
“I’m obviously a part of social media and I’m trying to always find a good balance of that with my life,” Biel continued. “But I’m much more of a dinosaur. I’d rather have a conversation over the phone or take someone to lunch or do something kind of old school like that. But it’s scary, I really do think because of these young people and how easily it can be very isolating.”
Fans of Biel’s Emmy-nominated turn as Cora Tannetti in USA’s “The Sinner” shouldn’t be surprised at the actress’s ability to embrace darker material but showrunner Josh Applebaum revealed that some of her edgier story contributions even stunned him and podcast creators Skip Bronkie and Zack Ackers.
“She had ideas that literally made me, Skip and Zack say, we’re just going to step out of the room right now,” Applebaum told Variety. “The boys were often shocked by her, Michelle [Purple, executive producer] and Rebecca [Thomas, director]’s ideas. It was like, ‘We’re not taking credit for this!’”
“Anything that’s really dark and morbid really came from her brain,” added Biel’s producing partner Michelle Purple.
Purple told Variety that Biel was drawn to the intrigue of the story and Lia’s complicated character. “I think it’s exciting for her to try something different and to push herself and to scare herself and to see if she can go there and that’s sort of the parts she looks for and wants to create for herself.”
But ultimately, Bronkie and Ackers think that fans of the podcast — which hit No. 1 on iTunes within two months of its debut — will be pleased with its on-screen adaptation.
“I think they are going to love seeing Lia come to life,” Akers told Variety. “When you are listening to the podcast, it’s just Lia’s broadcast so you are only getting a sliver of her life and the world around her but with the show, we got to build that world and see what’s happening and fill in the gaps from episode to episode that you couldn’t see in the podcast.”
“And I also think that people like the show because it’s dark and it’s interesting and it’s scary and I think the television show is all of those things in ways that even people who are fans of the podcast won’t expect,” Bronkie added. “I think they will like the DNA of our show if they are a fan of the podcast.”