Over two decades have passed since Jennifer
Beals, 41, won over the world with her warm smile and off-the-shoulder baggy
sweatshirt. An unknown actress, whose only film credit was as an extra in
"My Bodyguard," Beals skyrocketed to pop icon status for her starring role
in the 1983 dance flick, "Flashdance." Although the film was a cultural
phenomenon, Beals went from A-list to scandal queen when it was revealed
that the young actress' famed dance moves weren't entirely her own. As crazy
as it sounds, audiences felt betrayed, and a star was remarkably unborn.
The Yale-educated actress spent the '80s starring in a number of box office
disappointments while pursing her education. Efforts in such films as "The
Bride" and "Split Decisions" did little to boost Beals' career. In fact, it
wasn't until the late '90s that critics began to finally give Beals
long-overdue praise for her acclaimed efforts in "Mrs. Parker and the
Vicious Circle," "Devil in a Blue Dress," and "The Last Days of Disco."
Beals proved she had the ability and toughness to not only survive Hollywood
but to conquer it. Starring roles in several critically acclaimed indie
films followed, including "The Anniversary Party" and "Roger Doger."
These days, Beals is enjoying the success of Showtime's critically acclaimed
series, "The L Word." The lesbian version of "Sex in the City," "The L
Word," also starring Mia Kirshner, Pam Grier, Laurel Holloman, Erin Daniels,
Leisha Hailey, and Karina Lombard, has become the surprise smash hit of this
past season. The series, which will air its final episode this Sunday, April
11th, was recently renewed by Showtime for another season.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Jennifer Beals about the success
of "The L Word" and her thoughts on Mel Gibson, fame, doing interviews, and
of course ... "Flashdance."
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ChauncÚ Hayden: Congratulations on
the success of "The L Word" this season. Since the series is about the
personal experiences of several lesbians, are you at all surprised by the
level of mainstream success it achieved?
Jennifer Beals: Thank you. To be surprised,
I would have had to have an inclination as to how the show would do. But I
had no idea how it would be received, so that left no room to be surprised.
But I am delighted that there is mainstream acceptance of the show.
Is it risky career wise for a straight
actress to play a lesbian in a television series?
As you just pointed out with the previous
question, it's not risky because there's mainstream acceptance.
Yes, but the success of "The L Word"
doesn't have anything to do with how Hollywood perceives you after the show
is off the air.
It's not something that I even consider or
think about. For me it's just a great part, and I love playing great parts.
Playing the devil's advocate, wouldn't
you agree that part of the success of "The L Word" is based on the fact that
men like to watch girls have sex with girls?
Well, let me ask you, do you think it plays
to a guy's fantasy the way the sex scenes are portrayed?
To be honest, of course it does. You can
describe it a million different ways, but at the end of
the day you have a show where
beautiful women are having sex with other beautiful women. Like it or not,
that will attract guys because guys like to watch lesbians.
I don't think it plays up to that male
fantasy at all. I think it tells a story. Yes, there are moments of intimacy
between two people that are important to the story. Those scenes aren't
meant to titillate the male audience. The love scenes are meant to tell a
story truthfully. If people are titillated by that, then that's their
Did playing a lesbian come naturally for
you, or did you have to do your homework and hang out at gay bars and talk
to gay women?
I've been to gay bars before, and frankly,
my character is not the kind of person who goes out to a lot of gay bars.
Her main focus is her work. So most of my research was directed at the type
of work that she does. It was more important to find out exactly what a
director of a museum has to do to get that job, and what does that person
have to do to keep that job. That's really what my research was much more
Showtime's "Queer as Folk" didn't do
nearly as well in the ratings as "The L Word." Does that send a message that
viewers are less threatened about a show that features lesbians than they
are about a show that features homosexual men?
I don't know. I really don't know the answer
to that question. I don't think the subject matter is as important as how
you tell the story. There's a million love stories told, but it's how you
tell that story that makes it unique.
Does the success of "The L Word" send a
message to politicians that being gay is okay?
I don't think it's sent any message to the
Bush administration. It's not okay with our current government at all.
They're not willing to extend the same rights and privileges that
heterosexual couples have. There's a great deal of discrimination going on,
and while it may be "in" to be gay in some urban circles, the country still
has a long way to go.
Do you think President Bush is out of
touch as to how the country feels about homosexuals?
I don't know. I really don't know what the
rest of the country thinks. There's a problem with the word marriage, that I
do know. The word carries a lot of weight and a lot of tradition and
expectation, and I think it's a very interesting time. It was like this in
the '50s when it came to interracial marriage.
Do you feel a show like "The L Word"
helps middle America become more accepting of the gay lifestyle?
Well, what is a gay lifestyle? What's a
black lifestyle? What's a heterosexual lifestyle? What does that mean?
I'm sure you can see where two people of
the same sex living together can have its problems, no? I mean, if a gay
couple didn't have problems, we wouldn't even be having this discussion. A
gay couple has to deal with issues that a heterosexual couple simply doesn't
That's true. That's true. Well, in that way,
I think the show does bring those issue to light. Hopefully. But most
importantly, I think the show makes clear, all of us have the same issues of
love, loneliness, work, ambition, and family. We share all of those
concerns. "The L Word" helps normalize these relationships. So many people
have someone who's gay in their family or know someone who's gay, so it's
not that out of the norm with people's experiences anyway.
a show like "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" shed a negative light on gay
people as being too over the top or flamboyant?
I don't think so at all. I think what is
really lovely about "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" is that those guys are
genuinely trying to help people transform themselves, not only in a
superficial way, but in a deeper way as well. I think they really care about
the people they're trying to help. It's actually a really moving show.
You've always taken risks with your
career by taking roles that most other actresses wouldn't dare consider.
What roles have I taken on that other
actresses wouldn't dare take?
You played yourself, which most actors
That's not so risky. A lot of actors have
done that. That's not a big deal. I really don't think I've taken any risks.
You're going to make me bring up "The
Bride." The film was trashed by the critics and didn't win any fans with
moviegoers either. Do you regret that taking on that role?
Everybody wanted that part in Hollywood! I'm
serious. I'm not kidding. Looking back, I had a great time and it was a
great part. I don't regret anything I've ever done. I've never been much of
a careerist anyway. It's really about the part and the story for me.
But then doesn't that make you different
from your peers? Most actors do consider their career when they take on a
role, but you just said you're not much of a careerist.
I've taken stuff just for the paycheck in
the past, trust me. When it came time to pay my mortgage, I've definitely
taken jobs just to get paid. I'm not above doing that. But given the choice,
I don't go and put myself in a movie just to be seen if I don't like the
story. By the way, excuse me if I'm getting worked up. I apologize if I am.
I just want to clarify all my ideas and I know the nature of the beast, and
you're going to have to edit stuff and then everything can be taken out of
context. So it's just frustrating.
Don't worry, this is a Q&A and I'll try
to keep it as intact as possible.
Thank you. But even with Q&As I've had bad
experiences. Words were just put in my mouth! So Q&As aren't even Q&As
I promise not to do that to you.
You're intelligent and talented ...
(Laughs) That's debatable!
It's true. That said, intellectually
speaking, have you been frustrated by Hollywood and the way it can often
play to the lowest common denominator when it comes to content?
God, never! I never feel intellectually above anybody. (Laughs) Really!
Ever! A lot of people in Hollywood are very smart and they have certain
intelligence on how to get things done. They are able to execute things,
which is really extraordinary. To get a movie made is really a Herculean
act. I have nothing but respect for people who can get any film made. Some
of the ideas are not necessarily my favorite, but I'm amazed how people can
get things made. I just wish there were more of a variety of storytelling.
What are your thoughts regarding Mel
Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ"?
I think that whenever you start talking
about religion and somebody's relationship to God, things can get incredibly
incendiary. In some ways the controversy is out of proportion, and in other
ways it's really important to point out how he's treating the gospel,
because a lot of people take them literally.
But isn't it just a film?
Yes, but not all people will see it that
way. Yes, it is just an interpretation, but it becomes complicated because
Mel Gibson believes it's the actual gospel. I believe it should be
criticized as a work of art and nothing more. I don't know ... he must have
known he was going to get bombarded from all sides when he entered that
Then there's reality TV.
(Laughs) Yes, then there's reality TV! But
let me just say that I'm excited to see "The Passion of the Christ"! As a
girl I used to read the Bible every night before I went to bed.
Are you religious?
Let's just say I'm a spiritual person. At
one point I wanted to be Catholic but my mother wouldn't let me, so then I
wanted to be Jewish but she wouldn't let me do that either.
Sounds like you have a need to belong to
No, I just wanted to know God. Plus all the
cute guys went to temple school! I thought I could get to know God and that
cute kid named Ian.
You once said, "I don't have the
fortitude to stand the kind of attention that Julia Roberts gets."
No, I don't. I don't know how she does it. I
have no idea.
Are you afraid of fame?
It's not about being afraid. I'm just not
wired to be able to endure it. Fame is really just how other people see you.
It has nothing to do with how you see yourself. I just like to be by myself
a lot. I really enjoy being by myself.
But your career is very hot right now,
thanks to "The L Word." Are you able to still keep a low profile when you go
out in public?
(Laughs) I really don't go out very much! I
live out in the middle of the woods. So I don't see many people. Yes, I feel
more people looking at me when I go out, and all I can say is that I hope
I've done a fair amount of grooming that day. That's about it. It's not
about hating fame, it's about wanting to be by myself.
Why did Quentin Tarantino give you a
special thanks in the credits to "Pulp Fiction"?
Because Quentin and I are friends.
Yep. Well, he stayed at my house quite a bit
during the making of that movie, so that's probably why he thanked me.
What makes Tarantino a great filmmaker?
He's utterly passionate and utterly
committed to his vision like nobody else. One hundred million percent.
So why hasn't he put you in one of his
I've never requested that. My friendship is
important and I don't need to be in every friend's film. I've worked with
many friends in the past and I love it but ... (Yells) You're such a
careerist! Listen to you! You sound like an agent!
It's just that Quentin is known for
putting his friends in his movies.
Well maybe you should write him a letter! It
doesn't really concern me though.
If you want me to, I will, if you promise
you won't be embarrassed.
(Laughs) That wouldn't embarrass me at all!
Do you ever get tired of talking about
Um ... I don't get tired of it, but there
are times when it's inappropriate.
Is this the wrong time to talk about it?
No, as long as it's not the only thing we
talk about. What's interesting is when I'll go on a talk show and we
literally only have four minutes to talk about the project I'm promoting,
and somebody will ask about "Flashdance," which was 20 years ago. That's
when it's inappropriate.