Flashdance made Jennifer Beals the icon of the '80s. She taught us to cut up our sweatshirts, take off our bras with flair and dance until we sweat. She continued her career with diverse roles in films such as Devil in a Blue Dress, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, The Anniversary Party, Twilight of the Golds and Roger Dodger. Then came her role as Bette Porter in the lesbian Showtime series The L Word.
Beals is coming to Chicago for a Oct. 6 benefit for GenderPAC, and Windy City Queercast's Amy Matheny chatted briefly with her about Chicago, her film career and, of course, The L Word.
Amy Matheny: You were born and raised in Chicago. What are some of your favorite things about the city?
Jennifer Beals: Well, the lakefront; my sweetest memories are at the lakefront, whether it was running or going biking with my family. And the architecture is so spectacular.
AM: Do you get back often?
JB: No, I don't. So I'm really, really excited to come home.
AM: After superstardom in Flashdance, you chose to go to Yale. What was it like for you to immerse yourself in school after Hollywood and the L.A. life?
JB: Well, I had never had the L.A. life. I was in school when I found out that I got the part. So I went and took a term off to go do the film, and then I came back to school. I had already been acclimated and I already had friends there, so it wasn't that difficult. It really was a relief, because I knew how to go to school, and Hollywood was so unfamiliar to me.
AM: So they already knew you as Jennifer. Even though you'd done the big film, they brought you back down to earth.
JB: With that kind of course load, that will certainly bring you back down to earth. But I don't feel like I wasn't on the earth in Hollywood; it just felt very bizarre, like it was just very surreal.
AM: I could talk forever about the films that I [ mentioned above ] , because those are films that I really like a lot.
JB: Roger Dodger…when you mentioned that one, that made me really happy. I had such a good time on that film. Working with my friends and being in New York and telling that story was just so much fun.
AM: It's interesting to look at your film history, how you've had this…core group of people, from Alan Cumming to Tony Goldwin to Marlee Matlin [ that you have worked with and known for a while ] . But let's talk about The L Word. How was the series pitched to you and the character of Bette Porter?
JB: Well, I read the pilot, and they told me to keep in mind who I would rather play, whether it was Bette or Tina. I felt like I didn't understand Tina as much as I understood Bette. I really liked all of the complexity that was written in already from the pilot with that, and it's lucky that I chose that because Lauren Holloman is so fantastic as Tina. I never could have done as good of a job with it as she has with that character. It was proposed to me that it was this group of friends and…we're going to deal with their lives and see where it takes us.
AM: What was the most intriguing thing about the show? It was obviously groundbreaking at the time.
JB: I never thought about it as being groundbreaking, I just thought, 'Wow, this is a fantastic character to play,' and she's complicated and interesting and it was just a wonderful gift more than anything else.
AM: And I imagine it's also such a unique experience to work with a mostly female cast and so many women in production.
JB: [ Laughing ] We all tend to cycle at the same time.
AM: It's got to be a very unique, being around that many women all the time.
JB: It's a fantastic cast, it is. Everybody is incredibly supportive of one another. The other night we had an eight-page scene around a fire, with 11 characters, and we thought, 'How are we going to get through this?' So I just [ had ] everybody come into my trailer the day before we had to do the scene, and we all ran through [ it ] until we all knew it…just so that there were no wrinkles when we finally went to camera, and it was great, and everybody was really helpful to one another, and respectful of one another.
AM: You've been friends with Marlee Matlin for years.
JB: I have.
AM: And she has recently been your love interest on The L Word. Did you suggest that she come on the show?
JB: I didn't. I was told that she was going to have a meeting, and I was really excited about it. It's just been wonderful. She's so funny. The only down side is that she makes me laugh. She's the only person that's ever made me break in a scene, made me die laughing. … You know, she doesn't have to sign anything or, you know, she'll just look at me and it just kills me.
AM: What is in store for Bette this season?
JB: God. Lord, have mercy. It's going to be drama constantly, super drama. Bette and Jody have all kinds of things they're going through.
AM: The L Word has definitely expanded your activism. Obviously, before The L Word you were not being asked to be the grand marshal of the Pride Parade in San Francisco.
JB: That was an amazing experience! It was really so much fun. I just wanted them to turn that car around and do it all over again. People were so supportive and sweet, and it was just such a rush. It was such an incredible rush.
AM: Well, I'm sure they would have turned it around and done it all over again for you. They were probably still partying. … They would have wondered if they were having déjà vu. You're in town with your co-stars from The L Word, Marlee Matlin and Danielle Sea, for the Gender PAC third annual celebrity cook-off. Tell us a little bit about what you're going to be doing at the event. Are you really going to be cooking?
JB: I'm going to be humiliating myself.
JB: I'm going to be humiliating myself, because I don't cook. Like, I'm not just exaggerating for the sake of storytelling. I really don't cook. Under duress I can cook Thanksgiving dinner, you know, with a lot of thought. But…eating a gourmet meal is not at the top of my list. To me, food is energy and I just move on and get through the day. Now I'm being asked to do something beyond opening a can of tuna. So this will be really fascinating.
AM: Do you know what you're going to make?
JB: Hell, no! Am I supposed to? You're scaring me.
AM: I don't know. I just assumed that if it's going to be a cook-off, we're going to be watching you make chili and Marlee make…
JB: All I ask is to be the sous chef. That's all.
AM: Well, make sure you get to be Art Smith's sous chef. He's the personal chef to Oprah, [ and he ] also will be there. I'm sure he'll give you some tips.
JB: Well, I'm hoping to learn something. That's my goal. AND to not have Marlee make fun of me too much. I can guarantee you that Marlee Matlin is going to be incredibly entertaining. I guarantee it right now.
AM: Do you have a favorite food?
JB: No, I don't really have a favorite. I mean, I like cereal. I've been in love with cereal for most of my life.
Gender PAC's 3rd annual Celebrity Cook-Off is Sat., Oct. 6, at the Chopping Block at Merchandise Mart. For tickets and information, visit www.GPAC.org/l-word. To listen to this entire interview, go to www.windycityqueercast.com .