Almost a decade ago, Jennifer Beals Two women in their 60s approached him on the street. They were a couple and had been for decades, but they had never told their families…until they saw The L Word. Inspired by the pivotal lesbian drama series, they had finally worked up the courage to live and love openly. “I have to say that as a straight, cis woman, it’s really a tremendous pleasure to be able to give back to a community that has taught me so much,” the show’s star smiles. “She has always been incredibly moving for me. Meeting these women showed me the power of storytelling, and how those stories can change us and push us to action.”
Beal’s queer appeal began more than thirty years ago. In the first minutes of flashdancebetween sparks, rompers and melodrama, the actress – who was 18 years old – emerges from under a welding helmet, shaking her curly hair and disturbing the rigorous masculinity of the steel mill in which her character works. Her seniority as lesbian icon has already reached four decades, with The L Word relaunched in the form of Generation Q. Eleven years after the original show ended, Beals reprized her role as powerful gallerist Bette Porter, alongside her alumni Leisha Hailey and Katherine Moennig, and a new cast of lesbian, queer and trans characters.
The new series begins with Bette immersed in Los Angeles politics and hit by a series of personal calamities. The show itself, meanwhile, is just as brilliantly erratic as its predecessor – deeply moving and funny, with a tendency to go off course from time to time. Nothing in the episodes provided to the press has been as disturbing as the final (2009) season of the original show, in which a notoriously loathed character ended up dead in a swimming pool. “Even with his imperfection, he created a lot of good things,” Beal says of the less refined elements of The L Word. “Yes, it was entertaining, sometimes soap opera-like and sometimes a bit farcical, but it always had an element of truth. He had the ability to reflect a whole group of people who had not always been able to see their stories reflected.”
Both on and off screen, Beal exudes calm. He has strong convictions, but he presents them with a soft, comfortable lullaby. He is the kind of person who could take an eye out of your face without you getting mad. If she ever stopped acting, she would make a spectacular motivational speaker.
His career opportunity came out of nowhere. She was a Chicago native, the daughter of a black father and a white mother, Beals was studying American Literature at Yale University when she auditioned for her starring role in flashdance. In the previous years, she had worked as an extra and as a model, and acted in local theaters, but flashdance it was by far his most high-profile opportunity. She played Alex Owens, who worked as a welder by day and an exotic dancer by night, dreaming of a career as a professional dancer. The film was the embodiment of the most extravagant excesses of ’80s cinema: voluminous hairstyles, a catchy song, and a notoriously party producer like the late Don Simpson.
Also it is the only such role on Beals’ résumé. Once the film was released, she turned down additional job offers and returned to her studio, returning only to appear in independent and arthouse films, and admirable flops like VampireKiss, Nicolas Cage’s horror film (1989). His collaborators include Quentin Tarantino (in Four rooms1995), Alan Rudolph (in Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle1994), Whilt Stillman (The Last Days of Disco1998) and French New Wave pioneer Claude Chabrol (corporation for crime, 1990). She credits her relationship with cult filmmaker Alexandre Rockwell, to whom she was married from 1986-1996, for she was exposed to the kind of jobs that would eventually lead to her most fulfilling creative experiences.
“Being with an author was really exciting,” he recalls. “I was exposed to the independent film community through my relationship with him and I think it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t married Alex. I met the people he knew and that became our circle. It was from being at Sundance at the time, before the media fair that it is today, when filmmakers could really go to lunch together, hang out and share ideas. And that was attractive to me (as an actress), to be able to be in a focused vision.” But surely it must have infuriated her agents at the time to turn down lucrative opportunities in favor of more artistic endeavors, right? “I never surrounded myself with people who were going to question that,” she replies.
While her marriage to Rockwell gave Beals a cinephile education, The L Word shaped her as an activist and ally. “I didn’t know anything before the show,” she laughs. “Really, nothing.” She describes her early adulthood as “a hermit in my own little bubble,” highly educated but ignorant of politics. She “she had lived in New York and obviously she was aware of the AIDS epidemic, but she didn’t really understand the politics at all. I wasn’t a political animal for most of it,” she recalls.
He says that lack of awareness continued for a while as he got to The L Word. Instead of acknowledging how integral Bette’s sexuality was to her view of her world, Beals focused on investigating her character’s professional life. “I didn’t even think too much about her being a lesbian, which is really dumb to say,” he explains. “I was preparing for the role primarily as a gallery owner and someone involved with art because it was a world I didn’t know much about. Shortly before filming began, her husband leaned in for a kiss in a restaurant and she had an idea. “If we had been a gay couple, that action would have been a huge deal at that particular restaurant, and potentially a dangerous one. That was the first awakening.”
Beals speaks proudly of what happened next, from working for the Obama campaign in 2008 to aligning with trans activists and participating in the Standing Rock protests. “The L Word He taught me to be helpful in any way I can,” he explains. “It was quite an education. Certainly not that I know much now, but I do know more, and I know that I must remain curious and humble in my ignorance, and dedicated in my desire to be of help. We have a long way to go, all of us.”
The first batch of The L Word it coincided with the Bush administration, before closing just after the start of Barack Obama’s. Generation Q coincides with the last months of Donald Trump’s first term. It seems like a deliberate backlash against culture for a show starring queer characters at a time when queer rights feel most threatened. Beals agrees.
“I think the program is particularly necessary at times like this, but I also think that queer stories are always necessary because they are a counter-narrative to the heterocentric narrative,” he says. “There are never too many love stories. We would never hesitate to have another straight love story, because that’s the way the culture has taught us, isn’t it? So I feel like there will never be too many stories about the queer community, because it’s not a monolith. There are many stories to tell, so we need to keep telling them. Not only for the benefit of the queer community but also for all those who are not in it, to change the paradigm of thought. Sighs. “It benefits us all.”
* The Independent From great britain. Special for Page 12.
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Jennifer Beals: “Queer stories are always necessary” | The “Flashdance” Actress Stars in “The L Word: Generation Q”
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