From flashdancer to tough top cop, actress Jennifer Beals has entertained audiences for nearly three decades. Her trademark smile and solid acting skills have landed her roles in more than 50 films. In April, the 47-year old Yale University graduate made People Magazine’s Most Beautiful list. Last month, she graced the stage at The Screen Actors Guild LA for a Q&A after screening an episode of Chicago Code.
Beals portrayed the city’s first female police superintendent Teresa Colvin in the FOX drama. The fast-paced series centered on Chicago P.D. fighting crime and corruption in the Windy City. It also depicted Colvin’s relationships with her family and her colleagues including ex-partner Detective Jarek Wysocki played by actor Jason Clarke. Executive producer and writer Shawn Ryan, who worked with Beals on Lie to Me, created the show, which FOX recently canceled.
Beals, a Chicago native, discussed auditioning for the police procedural. “I walked into the room with my power and didn’t make myself small,” she said. “I focused on the love for the city and the relationship with Wysocki.” After nailing the audition, she began working on her Chicago dialect and even spent time on the streets and at the gun range with city cops.
She credits her time on Showtime’s The L Word, starring as Bette Porter to help her prepare for the Chicago Code role. She was on the popular show for five years. “I loved playing that part. It was a huge experience to a play a part that means so much to so many people,” she stated.
Beals’ life-long passion for acting stemmed from when she was a young girl. “When I was younger, I had a desire to be close to God, to be in my own power. It wasn’t ambition but instead the ability to express myself and play,” she explained. “I’m lucky to be paid for what I do.” She reminded the actor-filled audience they must love auditioning. “When I audition, I’m excited. I say I get to go act this afternoon.”
Her big break came in 1983 after living in Paris and working as a model. The unknown teenage actress won the lead in Adrian Lyne’s Flashdance. She portrayed Alex Owens, a Pittsburg woman juggling two jobs, a welder by day and an exotic dancer at night, with dreams to dance her way into ballet school. The role landed her a Golden Globe nomination.
Beals admitted there are certain parts she’s very connected to from the start. One of those was the Daphne Monet character in the 1995 film Devil in a Blue Dress, where she starred opposite Denzel Washington. Beals said she also fought really hard for a part in The Book of Eli, also with Washington, in which she appeared as a blind woman.
“Acting is less putting on costume, hair and makeup,” Beals said. “It’s the mystery inside coming out.” She reminded actors to give themselves permission to jump into the mystery. “Go towards it with humility and playfulness.”
In comparing roles, Beals described The Book of Eli as a dark void, whirlpool-depression while surviving. However, in Flashdance, she stated her role was about the authenticity to follow your dream of who you are and paying attention to who you are.
“Go down beneath the surface and embrace mystery and shadow. Be unafraid of capability. Ourselves stop us most of the time,” shared Beals, who recalled a director telling her to ‘take responsibility for my talent’. From that moment, Beals said she started expressing herself that way.
At times, some actors hit roadblocks in their careers. For Beals, she’s been fortunate to constantly work and said she never thought of giving up acting. “It’s the only thing I can do besides being a good thumb wrestler. I love it desperately,” she added.
Her advice for actors: always focus on your craft, you’re never done learning and the more you have to offer in a room, the better you feel. “Stay in the process, have humility for the process, it's never ever done,” she added. Quoting Carl Franklin, director and writer of Devil in a Blue Dress, Beals said “the camera sees who you are”.
Beals and her fans hope another network will give Chicago Code a shot and a time slot. Meantime, she’s tapping into a new talent. “I’m not waiting for the phone to ring. I’m writing now.” Beals said, “We are all part of the storytelling process.” With her talent, beauty and creativity, Beals is on her way to even more success.