LOS ANGELES - Being young and beautiful in Hollywood is not an exclusive club.
You can’t swing a yoga mat over your head in this town without hitting a gorgeous young actress.
That makes for stiff competition for the limited number of plum movie roles being offered.
So why did Jessica Biel turn down director Rob Cohen — not once, but twice — for the role of a tough Navy pilot in the high-profile, big-budget action film "Stealth," which opened this weekend?
And, more important, why did Cohen insist on this particular actress over the rest of the Jessicas, Jennifers and Rachels who inhabit this city?
Sitting in a trendy lunch cafe near her new Brentwood home, the striking and accessible Biel says she wasn’t trying to be troublesome or arrogant when she turned down the role. And she fully understands the competitive nature of the movie business.
"Listen, it’s impossible to not understand that," she explains. "You go out on auditions and you keep running into the same people. You’re all competing for the same roles.
"But I had just come off two action movies ("The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Blade: Trinity"), and I was determined not to be Hollywood’s new action chick. I think I have more to offer than that. I want to go back and forth between genres. I want to do a love story one day and a comedy with Will Ferrell the next.
"That will never happen if you keep accepting the same kind of roles over and over again. And, as long as you’re willing to accept them, they will keep offering the same roles over and over again."
‘THE REAL DEAL’
The 23-year-old actress says she took a break from her career to wait for a different kind of role to be offered, and while waiting for good roles in a competitive market did get a little scary at times, the strategy paid off.
She not only got roles in two upcoming nonaction films (director Cameron Crowe’s "Elizabethtown" with Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst, and "The Illusionist" with Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti), but also a lot of attention from Cohen.
"What I wanted was a real American woman, with a certain kind of heartland beauty, intelligence and integrity," Cohen says. "That’s Jessica in a nutshell. She’s the real deal. She’s so unlike the rest of these actresses we have in this town.
"I’m so sick of these breast-implanted, collagen-injected clones that we’re forced to look at for roles. I wasn’t going to settle for anyone but Jessica in this film."
Biel, Jamie Foxx and Josh Lucas play Navy test pilots who are asked to fly a topsecret mission with an experimental unmanned aircraft guided by artificial intelligence. On the mission, the unmanned craft breaks from formation after being damaged by a lightning strike, and sets out on a deadly mission of its own that could spark a nuclear confrontation.
EARNS HER WINGS
Cohen, who directed "The Fast and the Furious" and the first "XXX" movie, says Biel is about five years younger than most of the female pilots he had met, but she was able to pull it off.
"What can I tell you? She’s got a maturity that makes her believable in this role."
The 5-foot-7 Biel says she worked out extensively for "Blade: Trinity" and continued her six-days-a-week regimen when she began "Stealth."
"I had minimal training on flight simulators compared to Josh (Lucas) because I was busy on another movie, but I did get a chance to work out. It would have been a joke if I didn’t look like I could physically control an aircraft like that."
As for what persuaded her to do another action film, the actress said she doesn’t see "Stealth" as just another action film.
"It’s not just about blowing things up," she says. "It’s a love story. It’s a morality tale. It’s got a lot to say about the future of war. And sure, it’s a summer blockbuster, if you believe the advertising."
IF THE BIKINI FITS . . .
One of her early film roles was the 2001 movie "Summer Catch," in which Biel played a rich girl on Cape Cod being pursued by a young baseball player (Freddie Prinze Jr.) from the wrong side of the tracks.
It is a generally forgettable film, with the exception of one scene by a swimming pool, when Prinze, sweating from mowing her father’s lawn, admires Biel’s form as she climbs out of the pool in slow motion.
The actress laughs when the gratuitous bathing-suit scene is mentioned and says she is not embarrassed to have such a movie moment on her résumé.
"One day, I’m going to be able to show that scene to my grandchildren and say, ‘See how good your grandma looked when she was 18?’ "
A more serious Biel said she understands that sex sells movies but looks forward to the day when her looks will not be the reason she is hired for a job.
"(‘Stealth’) is a serious film, and I don’t believe I was hired for my looks. But even this film has a scene with me in a bikini. When I read it in the script, I didn’t like it at first, but I eventually realized that it fits into the context of the story.
"Of course, I didn’t expect them to be selling the movie using my butt in a bikini."
Jessica Biel’s films
"Ulee’s Gold" (1997) "I’ll Be Home for Christmas"
(1998) "Summer Catch" (2001) "The Rules of Attraction" (2002) "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre"
(2003) "It’s a Digital World" (2004 — voice) "Cellular" (2004) "Blade: Trinity" (2005) "Stealth" (2005) "Elizabethtown" (2005)