Interview with Jennifer Beals
by Lesley Goldberg (After ellen)
An interesting interview with Jennifer Beals we found on After Ellen)
June 3, 2010
Does Jennifer Beals really need introducing? After six seasons in power suits as Bette Porter, Beals has been keeping busy: She thanked fans with a book of photos from The L Word set and recently landed the lead in her first post-L Word project — as Chicago’s first female superintendent of police on Fox’s RideAlong.
AfterEllen.com caught up with the actress to discuss why L Word fans are the “most amazing” she’s ever had, flirting with women on set and how RideAlong’s Teresa is “Bette times 100.”
AfterEllen.com: What sort of feedback have you gotten from The L Word book?
Jennifer Beals: I feel like I’m making a family album available for sale, which is kind of bizarre, but people seem to get a kick out of it. We just made the prints available for sale, and that’s been going well. The print sales right now are benefiting Partners in Health, their women’s health program initiative that they have in Haiti; and City of Joy in the Congo.
AE: You ranked No. 7 overall on AfterEllen.com’s Hot 100, No. 1 in Women Over 40 and No. 1 in Women of Color. What does having such a large lesbian following a year after The L Word ended mean to you?
JB: Wow! I have to say, and I tell this to my co-stars on RideAlong, that The L Word fans are by far the most loyal and the most amazing fans I’ve ever had. People don’t want anything from you — they just want to say thank you and it’s just really lovely. They’re the best fans that I’ve ever had by far, and even still, it perplexes me.
I get women coming up to me saying, “Thank you for taking on this role,” as if it weren’t the most extraordinary thing that’s been put in my professional lap. Not only did I get to play a great part but by virtue of the nature of the show, and the show’s place in history, it gave everybody on the cast and crew a sense of agency. So you weren’t just there doing a job; there was a certain purpose there and I think people really took their characters seriously.
AE: The show has done so much for lesbian visibility.
JB: I know that people, as much as they love the show, they love to pick it apart. It’s a healthy thing in a democracy. But I am looking forward to the day when it will be replaced with something else on television; another fictional show based on these types of stories. I just don’t know when it’s going to happen, to be honest. It’s really frustrating, but it’ll happen. It will just take someone who has the will to get their stories told. Ilene (Chaiken) was very driven to get these stories told and at the end of the day, that’s how it happened.
AE: What was it like reading scripts and projects again after so many years of being in the relative comfort of such a female-centered, female-driven show?
JB: To be honest, it was really nice to be on a set where I could get a whiff of men! [Laughs.] But it was also very confusing because I had spent six years playing Bette and flirting with women and being with women as this character. So when I got to Lie to Me, being on a set and being in a power suit, my brain thinks I’m playing a lesbian character.
So I’m on the set flirting with Kelli Williams’ character in a scene and Tim Roth is like, “Wait, wait! You’re not supposed to be flirting with her, you’re supposed to be flirting with me! This is the set-up!” And it was almost automatic that my character was flirting with this woman. It was like automatic pilot.
AE: Do you miss flirting with your co-stars?
JB: I never flirted with my co-stars but within the scene, it was always interesting. I’m not really good at flirting with women on a day-to-day basis. It gets a little confusing, and I don’t want to confuse anybody. I think sometimes people think I may be flirting with them when I ask them where they got their jeans or something. I don’t know if they think it’s a come-on line, but it can be confusing. So I just try to steer clear. I don’t want to confuse anybody. [Laughs.]
AE: Has The L Word changed the way you select your projects?
JB: I have a lot less tolerance for bulls–t. I really have a lot less tolerance for being subjugated to simply being the emotional center of a story, rather than being the active portion of the plot. It’s as if women can’t drive the action so often in stories. I don’t know who made up that rule but it can get very frustrating if there’s not more to play.
There are times when that’s interesting — if it is complex enough. I read this one script where she’s just supposed to comfort the guy all the time. She doesn’t question anything that he does, she doesn’t question herself or who she is or what she wants in life. And the director said she’s just really there to listen to him and support him. I thought, “My God, that just sounds like the ’50s and so boring and there’s no way in hell that I would want to potentially dedicate years and years of my life to playing that part.”
AE: Is the fact that Teresa drives the story line what attracted you to the role on RideAlong?
JB: It’s funny. In the beginning, both of them really drove it and I think Teresa and Jarek (Clarke) still drive it. She goads him into doing things that he wouldn’t necessarily do now, whereas it used to be the other way around in the original pilot. But it’s very attractive to play the first female superintendent in the city of Chicago. That’s a very intense position. It’s really Bette times a hundred. She has to be very righteous and very confident. Not only intellectually confident, but also physically confident, as well politically confident.
The politics were appealing. The idea of what it means to be a female police officer was interesting. How do you maintain the feminine in such a masculine context? It was really interesting to be able to go on ride-alongs with homicide detectives in Chicago and see what they see and to try and understand what they go through on a day-to-day basis, which is extraordinary. And to try to wrap my mind around what it means to be a woman in that context.
AE: Do you think the gay fans you’ve cultivated over the years will relate to your character on RideAlong?
JB: I hope so. In her strengths, I would imagine they would. And having to fight against a stereotype, I’m sure they would. And they might find the uniform fetching, I don’t know. [Laughs.] I think if people like Bette, they’ll like Teresa. She’s more intense than Bette, for sure. Even more focused. Not as emotional. She’s got a bit of a Chicago accent. She’s very intense and very dedicated to trying to do the right thing. We’ll see if she ends up doing not so much the right thing, in order to achieve the greater good. I don’t know what’s going to happen to the character. I haven’t met the writers yet. It’s just going to be a surprise. I think it’s going to be a really interesting show.
AE: We’ve certainly already enjoyed you in trench coats.
JB: [Laughs.] There’s times when the superintendent just gets to wear the trench coat and power suit [but] every now and again, she busts out her uniform. I do get to wear a gun all the time, which is really fascinating as well. I’ve been to the firing range and practiced firing the gun and that was really interesting. It does change you to hold a gun, it really does.
AE: Next year you can be No. 1 on the Hot Chicks With Guns list.
JB: [Laughing] Oh my God!
AE: Kidding, of course.
JB: [Laughing] Who knows! Maybe next year there will be a new category.
AfterEllen: Well, no matter what people say about the show, we’ve always loved you and the role of Bette.
JB: That’s all Rose Troche and the writers.
AE: You’re being honored this week (June 5) by the Orange County Gay and Lesbian Center — they’re awarding you its Torch Bearer Award.
JB: I know! I’m not sure why, but I’m thrilled!
AE: The award is given to those who have “gone bravely ahead, lighting the way for others in the community and who have helped non-LGBT community see the humor and irony in the separation of LGBT people from the mainstream limelight.” What does this recognition mean to you?
JB: It’s an amazing award. I’m really excited. And in Orange County, no less. Rose Troche is going to present it to me. I’m so excited! I don’t think she’s seen the book yet, and it’s such a love letter to her in so many ways. I can’t wait for her to see it.
AE: Do you still keep in touch with everyone?
JB: Off and on. I’d love to have a reunion; I tried to organize one so I could show everyone the photographs, but it really was like wrangling cats.
AE: A cast reunion would be great — to hear what everyone’s working on and how the show has changed them.
JB: I think the show has changed everybody so intensely. I feel like I’ve been really lucky that the sets I have gone to have been very inclusive and very nurturing. It was an eye opener for a lot of people. To move to a set where things didn’t really have a larger meaning would be very odd and frustrating.
AE: Have you seen any of the trailers for The Real L Word? What do you think?
JB: No, I haven’t, but it sounds hilarious! I would only suggest that they get Ilene to write them some scenes. But it’s a completely different animal.