Originally from Chicago, Jennifer Beals, after leaving high school, audition and was chosen to star in popular movie Flashdance, but knowing how important an education is, she put her career on hold and attended Yale University, graduating with honors.
What followed was a myriad of different roles in such TV shows as The L Word and Lie to Me and in the movies The Book of Eli, Vampire’s Kiss, Devil in a Blue Dress and Runaway Jury.
In her new TV series The Chicago Code, Beals portrays Teresa Colvin, the city’s first female superintendent, in charge of a 10,000-member police force. While Teresa diplomatically governs amidst the city’s complicated politics, her former partner, Jarek Wysolcki (Jason Clarke) works the streets to clean up corruption and crime.
Jennifer Beals spoke of her new and intriguing role at the TV Critics tour.
Can you talk about what fascinated you about playing Teresa Colvin?
I think, for me, what was so interesting about the part was not only her strength, but her fragility in her position. It’s a very tenuous position to be a woman with that kind of responsibility.
In this first season it was interesting to try to play that balance between what it takes to lead 10,000 men, primarily, because I think in the Chicago Police Department only 25 percent are women, between what is feminine leadership and what is masculine leadership? How do you get 10,000 men to follow you?
What does that leadership look like? And I think that we were constantly playing with that. Is she a transformational leader? Or is she more of a, I don’t want to say ball-buster, but I’m going to say ball-buster.
What kind of leader did she have to be in order to have these men trust her and be willing to follow her?
Shawn (Ryan, the series creator) is portraying Chicago as a great city with a lot of corruption. What’s your take on it?
What’s interesting about the city is that you have corruption in terms of the history of the city. From day one you’ve had corruption, but you’ve also had in equal measure people who are willing to reform the city.
Sometimes those two get mixed up together, and the reformers become the corrupters, and the corrupters all of a sudden find some reason to reform. I think that’s one of the things that is so dynamic about the city and dynamic about the show.
Can you talk about growing up in Chicago? Were you aware of the corruption that permeated the city?
It’s funny. When I was a kid, I didn’t think that much about politics, to be honest. I was just aware that Jane Byrne was able to remove snow from the street and so, therefore, she was elected mayor.
That’s when I became aware of the power of being able to help out when the weather got bad. Mostly I thought about it in terms of the beauty in which I was surrounded.
There was this incredible dichotomy in the city where you would go downtown or anywhere in the city and see the most amazing architecture, and yet you were also aware that you could not cross over that avenue because you could get beaten up because you look a certain way.
So the city, to me, is like this incredible prizefighter who has an astute sense of what is beautiful and an astute sense of architecture, but if you look the wrong way, that fighter will take you out for the slightest reason.
What kind of research did you do for the role?
We all did ride-alongs with John [Folino, the series’ technical advisor], and with different police officers, and it was just astounding to see what they have to go through every day. It just blew my mind. I wouldn’t last on the street for 30 seconds. I would hide in the car.
The ride-along that I went on after I had shot the pilot was very different because I felt much more confident on the street and things didn’t affect me quite as much. I wasn’t quite as sensitized to it. But I have to say, now, when I’m in Chicago and I see a cop car go by, I say, ‘There are my boys.
Those are my girls.’ I feel really proud of them because they work hard to keep us safe. And I know that sounds so corny, but they do it under such incredible circumstances.
When you were first approached to do this role, what were your thoughts?
I just thought it was an incredible character; that you had a woman in this position and it has not been done before. So she’s really creating the template in a way. And what is that journey going to be like? You can’t possibly be self-confident all the time.
There’s got to be moments where you don’t really know what you are doing, but you are sometimes getting by with bravado.
She’s certainly been in the police force long enough, and been working in different departments, to have quite a bit of respect and self-respect, of the knowledge that she does have, but there’s not template.
So it means that she has to be so on-her-game and so aware that if she makes a mistake, she ruins it for the women who come after her.