Down through the first century of film, male viewers have been crossing their fingers and hoping they'll get to see their favourite actresses (or actors, in a nod to those who lean that way) in a state of nature. While some managed to get lucky even back then - this link has more info - it's still surprising on those occasions when such pictures from the silent era turn up, and maybe if censorship had been less strict then there'd be even more... you just know there were 17-year-olds wishing people like Maureen O'Sullivan or Barbara Stanwyck would turn up naked. (Joan Crawford? Not the same.)
Today as then, some actresses see it as all in a day's work (Crash - the David Cronenberg one - features no less than three veteran screen nudists in Rosanna Arquette, Holly Hunter and Deborah Kara Unger) while others are understandably fiercely protective of what they've been given (we call this Kathy Ireland Syndrome). So while it's lovely when Laetitia Casta, Charlize Theron et al strip off, it's even more special when it's someone you never thought would do it, or when you've been waiting for a while and it finally happens. Which brings us to Jessica Biel.
Oh, Jessica. My second favourite Jessica after the Alba. For some the only reason to watch 7th Heaven on a regular basis (until 2002, obviously - actually a bad year for fans of sexy Jessicas, what with Dark Angel getting axed), for others the only reason the projectionists at cinemas showing Blade: Trinity and Summer Catch weren't lynched. The sporty tendencies both in real life and on screen (her 7th Heaven character Mary Camden was a basketball player, remember?) plus the throaty voice and well-developed arms all say "butch," but the closer attention is paid, the more signs there are that she's all woman. All woman with questionable quality control re script choice, but as both Big Bird and Hannah Montana have pointed out, everyone makes mistakes - and had Powder Blue gotten a cinema release of more than token status we'd be talking pre-Tom Cruise Katie Holmes status at least (remember The Gift?) instead of it being more like Anne Hathaway in Havoc. Still, it's called breaking down barriers. Not that it's up there with apartheid ending or anything, but you get the point. (I have to admit to being pleased that this seems to have caused less of a stir overall than Cindy's creamed-up Allure layout or her bikini shots earlier this week, though...)
Watch her in the most gratuitous bikini scene ever, constantly about to explode out of her naval whites and, as The New York Times put it, "wiggling her shapely rear through the North Korean backcountry," and Stealth becomes bearable. See her at premieres in clingy dresses and Justin Timberlake becomes... even more killable than usual. Listen to her sing (as she did on 7th Heaven and in Easy Virtue; see the video below) and you realise "What, she can sing as well? Fuck me!" Basically, what I'm saying is she's hot. And this is or could be the start of something big.
She gets bonus points for her last name - with all due respect to three-time Emmy winner Jeff, Beal is wrong (probably because it's close to Neal, which is one of my least favourite names ever. I don't know why). And even more bonus points for, at the time of writing, being due to sign on to romantic comedy Valentine's Day alongside the Alba, Jennifer Garner, Anne Hathaway, Julia Roberts... and Ashton Kutcher. Into each life.