PHOTOS BY GIULIANO BEKOR | STYLING BY KELLY BROWN
Born on the South Side of Chicago to an African-American dad and Irish mother, Jennifer Beals rose to fame in 1983’s “Flashdance” — just her second on-screen role — but stardom wasn’t what she was looking for; she wanted something deeper.
“I was [never] the person who was practicing my Academy speech,” says the actress, 51. “I wasn’t the person who sought after fame. But there was something that happened when I acted that was really intriguing to me — [the idea] that I could be transported to another place and another field of energy was really beyond addictive.”
In her latest role, she’s searching for something bigger too: evidence of life after death. “Proof,” the Kyra Sedgwick-produced drama premiering on TNT June 16, has Beals as Carolyn “Cat” Tyler, a heart surgeon hired by a famous tech billionaire to find out — scientifically and definitively — if there is an afterlife and, if so, what it’s like.
“I’m in the middle of the greatest mystery of all,” the actress says about the role. “Sometimes I feel like I’m Alice, gone down the rabbit hole. … I’m a bit of a science nerd, and I also practice meditation. So it was this perfect combination, where I could explore things that my heart told me were so and things that had to be proved by my mind.”
The plot may have Beals questioning her beliefs, but it’s not the first role that has had such a profound effect on her.
Filming “Flashdance” as a teenager, she learned the price of being in the public eye: “[You get] the notion that there are these dual realities going on,” she says. “There’s the you that you experience, and then there’s the you that everybody else seems to think they know.”
Maybe for that reason, a series of smaller roles followed until, in 2004, Beals resurfaced in Showtime’s groundbreaking show, “The L Word,” on which she went outside her comfort zone as lesbian Bette Porter. “I didn’t know anything about that community, [or] the issues regarding that community,” she says. “I learned so much about activism and social justice and compassion and perseverance that I took with me to the next gig” — the short-lived “The Chicago Code,” which brought her back here for a time in 2011. “Everything builds on itself and you have the opportunity to use those other aspects you’ve explored … and bring them into your life if need be, or you can leave them at the door if they don’t [suit] you.”
Of course, Beals brought them into her life, becoming an icon in the gay community and earning the GLAAD Golden Gate Award in 2005 and the Human Rights Campaign’s Ally for Equality award in 2012.
“[Being on ‘The L Word’] made me an unapologetic activist,” she says. “It made me realize how important it is to use your voice to stand up for what you believe in — it’s just crucial. And you can say that — and people go around in their lives and they give that idea lip service — but the fact is, there are moments where it is difficult to stand up and do the right thing, and you have to be extraordinarily brave.”
Gay rights isn’t the only cause Beals champions: She also serves on the board of Mount Sinai’s Environmental Health Center in New York, despite living in LA. (She doesn’t get back to her hometown Chicago much, since “my mom has elected to leave Chicago in the winters and come live [near] me,” she says.)
Now, filming “Proof,” Beals is learning more tangible skills, throwing herself into the role with her usual vigor. “My character is an avid runner — she’s much faster than I am — and so it was important to me to make sure that my running form was good, because I thought hers would be very good,” the actress says. “So I worked with a coach who has worked with Olympic athletes. … And we [have] various surgeons and med techs come to set to advise us — [though] I will not be performing heart surgery anytime soon,” she laughs.
Though Beals never chased fame, it’s suited her quite well — for three decades she has stayed relevant but avoided glaring scrutiny — and she certainly wouldn’t be the same without it. “For me, it’s always been about the pursuit of the things I love the most,” she says. “What I didn’t realize is that when you’re acting, you have the possibility to expand into areas you know nothing about.”
TNT sent Splash a screener of the first three episodes of “Proof,” and we’re already hooked. It incorporates elements of some of the greatest, most successful TV series of the past, and rolls them into an edge-of-your-seat, pseudo sci-fi drama premiering June 16. Here’s why you should tune in:
… then “Proof” is just supernatural enough for your taste. There are ghosts and other paranormal situations but — like with the time travel and tropical polar bears in “LOST” — it somehow still feels believable.
… then the drama in “Proof” will keep you totally engaged — and you’ll get to see a somewhat softer side of actor Joe Morton (above).
… then the secondary characters (portrayed by Edi Gathegi and Caroline Rose Kaplan, above) will amuse you with their cute quips and adorable eccentricities — think Abby Sciuto — while Beals and the rest of the core cast show off impressive character development.
… then you’ll be thrilled with the surgeon-speak and medical mysteries. Real-life doctors advise the actors during filming, so the situations are especially realistic.
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