'Limetown': Why Jessica Biel Was the Perfect Choice for the Podcast's TV Adaptation (Exclusive)

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Biel and creators Zack Akers and Skip Bronkie talk to ET about working on the Facebook Watch adaptation of the hit podcast.

Like Julia Roberts before her, Jessica Biel is helping usher another hit podcast series onto screens by executive producing and starring in the Facebook Watch adaptation of Limetown

In the series, the Emmy-nominated actress plays American Public Radio reporter Lia Haddock who wants to find out what happened to the 300 residents of a Tennessee neuroscience research community, including her uncle (played by Stanley Tucci), that seemingly disappeared overnight. After one survivor unexpectedly emerges, Lia -- who is perhaps an addict for answers -- finds herself pulling on a thread of clues as she attempts to unravel an ongoing mystery that’s been years in the making. 

Created by Zack Akers and Skip Bronkie, who also serve as writers and executive producers on the TV adaptation, Limetown may be one of many podcasts to recently make the leap from earbuds to television, but when it was launched in 2015, it was the first of its kind. 

Realizing there was a void at the time, Akers turned to Bronkie with an idea to produce a narrative, fiction podcast. “One day -- I don’t know why -- I called Skip and said a town disappeared. He asked me why and I said, ‘I don’t know.’ And that’s how we started crafting this story,” Akers recalls. “Eventually, on the other end of it, we came out with this idea of Limetown and this town and what was going on there.”   

What unfolded was a creepy (and sometimes scary) story about investigative journalism told in the style of This American Life. While it came in the wake of Serial, which legitimized podcasting for many people, the creators stress that the series is broader than most true crimes. Limetown tackles a bigger event and talks about different things while playing on the tropes of public radio with an introspective narrator and going deep with single characters. 

Soon after its release, Limetown was named one of Vulture’s Top 10 Best Podcasts of 2015 and was downloaded over 10 million times. A second season debuted in October 2018, shortly after it was announced that Biel would play Lia in a TV version of the series debuting a year later on Oct. 16, 2019. 

While an audio broadcast limited what the creators could tell in terms of story, switching mediums allowed them to expand the world of Limetown and its characters. “With the TV show, we’re actually able to spend time with Lia Haddock and explore the psychosis of a character who knowingly put herself and the people she’s interviewing in great danger to get to the truth,” Akers says, adding that it “was something we just had been wanting to explore forever. And also to live in Limetown as each of these survivors as they’re reaching out to Lia were all the things we hoped we could do in television.” 

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From their very first meeting with Biel, it became clear to Akers and Bronkie that the actress was perfect for the project. “I was so struck by what graft she had on the character,” Akers recalls, adding that she had done so much work on her own to think about who the character was and would be on screen. “One of the things she said that’s always stuck out to me [was when] she’s like, ‘Lia Haddock is the kind of character who could accidentally break her own finger in anger.'" It was in that moment that it was "completely obvious” that she had to play Lia. “She was perfect for it,” he says. 

And that was confirmed when they actually got to work with her, Akers adds. “As an actor, she was a lot of fun to work with. She really got into her character,” confirms Marlee Matlin, who plays Deirdre Wells. The actress also says, as a producer, Biel “was helpful. She asked us if we needed anything.” 

“It was the most wonderful set to be on,” adds Janet Kidder, who plays Lenore Dougal, someone who’s part of the upper echelon of management in Limetown. She says Biel “was nothing but positive and supportive and excited about every day.”

To her credit, Biel came to play. This being her second time executive producing and starring in a series after The Sinner on USA Network, the actress was prepared for the work that comes with the dual roles. “It’s still not without its terrifying moments and hard work and adrenaline-pumping issues,” she says, revealing that she worked with her Iron Ocean Productions partner, Michelle Purple, to outline “very, very separate roles.” She adds that Purple is amazing at handling “the dirty work.” 

Meanwhile, for Biel, it’s “really important -- because I’m an actor first -- to make my actors comfortable and I want them to feel that they have a safe place to do their job, which is a very hard job and it’s very exposing in many ways,” she says. “I just want to go out of my way to let them know they have somebody on their side. Most of all, that’s my job as a producer.” 

“She made the show infinitely better and the character infinitely more interesting [because] she brought great depth to it,” Akers says, with both of them concluding that Biel “took it to such a great level for us.”

Limetown premieres Oct. 16 with two episodes on Facebook Watch with new episodes streaming every Wednesday.