Q & A: Jennifer Beals on her new show, ‘The Chicago Code’

Jennifer Beals on coming back to series television with The Chicago Code, ride-alongs with the Chicago P.D., and what she thinks The L Word did for her career!

jennifer-beals-chicago-codeThe Chicago Code, Shawn Ryan’s (The Shield, Terriers) great new show on FOX,  stars Jennifer Beals as Teresa Colvin, Chicago’s first female superintendent. She and her ex-partner, Jarek Wysocki (Jason Clarke) band together to take down their enemies, including Alderman Ronin Gibbons (Delroy Lindo).

I got a chance to talk with Jennifer on a conference call where she talked about coming back to series television, her ride-alongs with the Chicago P.D., and what she thinks The L Word did for her career.

The Chicago Code airs on Mondays at 9/8c on FOX.

For the full interview, click the audio link above or download from iTunes

What was it about this part that made you want to return to series television?

Jennifer Beals: I found it so interesting to play somebody who was walking into uncharted territory, in a way.  She’s really creating the template for this job, being the first female superintendent.  I just thought it would be very interesting to take that walk into what kind of a leader does she become in that position, and how do you balance your personal life with the demands of that kind of job.

I thought the relationship to Jarek was also interesting.  It’s a very interesting line that we walk between intimacy and respect and being able to tell the truth to one another and goading one another and making each other laugh.  I just thought that could potentially be interesting.  Of course, for me, working with Shawn Ryan was a real lure because I really admire his writing and I admire the way that he works with his team of writers as well.

We’ve seen so far a really great dichotomy in Teresa’s strengths but also her vulnerability at times, and so far, it’s always been on the job.  So I’m wondering, this season, do we ever get to see her out of her uniform so to speak, like in her personal life

Jennifer Beals: There is an episode where it deals with her family, and so you do see her personal life in that episode.  You do get little glimpses of it every now and again, but really, this is a person who has dedicated everything to their job for better or for worse.  Towards the end of the season, you start to see the toll that that takes on her personally.

Is that something that you enjoy as an actor, like tapping into the challenge of bringing it all into the office so to speak?

Jennifer Beals: Yes.  At times, it gets grueling.  There are times I just wish they had a scene with me drunk and at a bar—that would be great—or karaoke or something.  It gets grueling, and it made me realize that for her it’s got to be grueling

Could you just talk a little bit about what you think The L Word did for your career?  Did it change the way that you thought about TV or different roles that became available to you?

Jennifer Beals: It certainly prepared me for this role.  Playing Bette Porter, somebody who was so driven and single minded sometimes and very strong and righteous at times, certainly helped prepare me for this role.  Definitely, Teresa is much more physically confident than Bette is, and, as far as I can tell so far, is deeply heterosexual.

But being part of The L Word made me realize how much more television can be that what I had experienced in my lifetime in terms of being able to be of service to people.  I had so many fans come up to me who were really deeply appreciative of the show and what it had meant for them and their own sense of identity and their own sense of inclusion in our society and in our culture.

I was wondering how important it was for you that this was set in Chicago, and if that sort of helped you in your decision to do it?

Jennifer Beals: I said to my manager when pilot season came up last year, I said, “You basically have two cities; you have Vancouver and Chicago,” because those are the places that I can imagine spending long periods of time with my family.  So when this series came up, I was very excited.  I was very excited because of Shawn and the part and because I got to go back to my hometown, because I love the city.  I think it’s so beautiful, and the people are so great.

What kind of research you were able to do with the police in Chicago and how they work?

Jennifer Beals: We were able to do ride-alongs with a homicide detective.  So you could go all out all night in a car in a Kevlar vest.  You sign a piece of paper, and you’re able to see all kinds of things.  You get to see what they deal with day in and day out, how to set up a crime scene.  We got to go to the shooting range.  I was able to talk to some people who had more administrative positions to try to understand what that part of my job would be like.  There are lots of things on the Internet.  The Superintendent of Chicago has a blog that he has for everybody; that’s accessible to everybody.  I started boxing … to get more into the physicality of it, the sort of aggressive kind of yang thing that can go on.

What did you see when you did your nights riding along?

Jennifer Beals: Well I saw lots of things.  On the more comic side was a woman who refused to put her shirt on in a fried chicken restaurant.  She just kept taking her shirt off.  She clearly had not been taking her meds, and she thought I was Obama’s sister and that I should somehow save her.

On the more tragic side was … being the first to respond to a man who had been shot, who was about to bleed to unconsciousness on somebody’s front stoop, and watching how— The ambulances weren’t the first to arrive.  It was really the fire department.  I mean, the police were the first to arrive, but the ambulances didn’t get there for, gosh, I don’t know, like 20 minutes or something.  Had this person been relying simply on the ambulances, they probably would’ve died, but the fire department came and helped him medically.

At that time, I was able to see how the police department sets up a crime scene, being able to follow the trail of blood to figure out where he would’ve been shot, where the shooter would’ve been, and looking for the evidence of shell casings, which I helped the detectives find.

Since Teresa’s such a strong character, in what ways does she test your own strength in new ways?

Jennifer Beals: The notion again—I think somebody asked the question earlier of having to devote everything to this job, having to live that within the part.  I think testing my own strength of having to suppress what are stereotypically more feminine kinds of values, or female values, like nurturing and inclusion and all these things.  Because I think really early on in her leadership, as much as she’d like to be inclusive, as much as she’d like to share information, she doesn’t, because it would be perceived as weak and could perhaps put her in a position of weakness, because that is not the nature of the system that she is now a part of.  That was trying sometimes to maintain some kind of balance between more masculine values and feminine values.  That was really trying sometimes.

chicago-codeCan you talk about specifically the role of a woman in the role that your character’s playing?  Did you talk to other women who were in roles of power in Chicago or just in the police force in general?

Jennifer Beals: I did talk to other women.  Obviously, it’s a very interesting position to be a woman who’s in charge of a department or several bureaus who are primarily men and even to ascend to the point where she’s even been nominated for the position because certainly she doesn’t get—I don’t think anybody intended for her to initially have this position.  There were two other men, older men, who had the position before her and through their own misfortune, she ended up actually becoming superintendent.  I really believe that she was probably the token candidate and then is believed to be potentially a puppet for some of the aldermen.  They are surprised by the fact that she’s not a puppet, or not the kind of puppet that they would want certainly.

Having said that, her ascension, I think, comes through expertise.  She’s been in I think lots of different of departments within the Chicago Police Department.  She’s started out as an officer, as a beat cop, was in tactical, was in homicide.  She knows a lot of different departments, which is a feasible idea.  So I think that she does have a great deal of respect among her fellow officers, but you would be naïve to think that to be able to ascend to that kind of level isn’t without a cost.  She’s got to be a bit of a bad … to run that gamete, and I think it’s cost her her personal life.  Everything is about this job, and I think it’s—if we’re fortunate enough to be picked up, you’ll see even more how problematic that is.

Superintendent of the police is a very important position for a woman.  Do you feel you were up to the challenges of the role and were there any reservations when you first received the script?

Jennifer Beals: If I didn’t feel I was up to the challenges of the role, I certainly wouldn’t have taken it because I wouldn’t want to disappoint myself or anybody else.  I knew that I had a great writing team, and I knew that with John Folino, Detective Folino, as our technical advisor that I would have a lot of help in terms of preparing for the role.

So even though in the beginning of shooting I was really sometimes at a loss of what to do— Because to try to comprehend the role is pretty extraordinary.  There is so much that the superintendent does, and to be the first female superintendent is a lot to take on your plate.  So there were so many things that I had questions about that nobody could answer for me, because there had never been a female superintendent in Chicago.  So I, like Teresa, was kind of making things up as I went along trying to find my way.

I just thought it was a great part, and I think Shawn is an amazing writer and leader.  So I had no reservations about it at all.

The show will bring in various directors over the course of the season.  What is that like for you as an actress?  Does it kind of bring a fresh taste to the series each time a new pair of eyes are on it?

Jennifer Beals: Yes.  It’s fun.  We had lots of great directors on The L Word as well.  It’s fun.  You get to experience your character sometimes in a new way.  You get a fresh pair of eyes on the city and on the relationships within the show.  So it’s a lot of fun.

With all of the outdoor shots that you guys do on the show, do you end up doing a lot of ADR with that?  What’s your schedule like as far as that goes?

Jennifer Beals: I haven’t done a lot of ADR, not so far, and we’ve being doing ADR for stuff that’s inside too, frankly.  Actually, I’m just thinking back to my last ADR session.  There was quite a few scenes that were outside that needed to be looped, and that’s fine.  I’m one of those weird actors that really enjoys looping.  I get a kick out of it.  I think sometimes you can make a scene better if you really pay attention.

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