Jennifer Beals Is Packing Heat

The L Word‘s lipstick lesbian heads to Chi-town for her new, badass cop show.

by Meryl Gordon
Photograph: Photo: Peggy Sirota

Everyone in the vicinity is shaken up, yet Beals, informed of her close call, is remarkably unfazed. She’s had near misses before. “I was supposed to be at the World Trade Center on 9/11,” she says, prompting Glatter to reply, “I’ve got chills going up my spine.” Beals and Dixon were visiting New York and had planned to eat breakfast at Windows on the World, at the top of the north tower, then watch the opening bell ring at the stock exchange. When she woke at 7:30, she noticed that her usually fastidious husband had left his clothes on the floor. Beals recalls that she heard a voice in her head say, He’s worked so hard, let him sleep. “Luckily,” she adds with understatement, “I listened.”

By the time filming wraps, it’s 10:30. She’s exhausted but still game to meet me for a late dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel. She has changed into straight-leg jeans and a soft gray Marc Jacobs knit top (“I stole it from Pam Grier during The L Word”), and she’s slipped her gold-and-platinum wedding band back on. We talk about the pleasures of her top-cop role in Ride-Along, which gives the actress, who has competed in triathlons, a chance to get physical, brandishing a gun and subduing suspects. “Teresa will throw down,” Beals says cheerfully. “I got to really clock someone the other day. I get to express rage, which women are often reluctant to do.” Comparing Teresa with The L Word’s Bette, Beals adds, “They’re both incredibly strong; they’re both righteous. Teresa is like Bette on steroids. She’s even more driven, not as tenderhearted.”

To prepare for the role, she did a real-life ride-along with Chicago detectives, responding to a call that a man had been shot. “He was bleeding profusely and about to pass out,” she says. “I got to see how a crime scene is set up, who puts up the tape barriers, the detectives following the trail of blood. I helped find the shell casings.” That search sparked a flashback. “I remember on New Year’s Eve, my dad and the people in the neighborhood on the South Side used to fire their guns,” she says. “In the morning, the kids would go out and find the shell casings.”

I ask if her father kept a gun at home to protect the family, and Beals laughs. “Yes. Are you an American? Is it a foreign idea to keep a gun?” she says. “I grew up in an apartment building, and everyone we knew had a gun. My mother taught on the South Side, where kids would bring guns to school on a relatively regular basis. One of the first lessons she would teach the kids was how to dial 911.”

Her dad is long gone, but she feels that his spirit is still with her. Small wonder it’s so emotionally powerful for her to be back in Chicago, a place she hasn’t lived in for nearly three decades but where she is confronted daily with her past. “The thing about death,” she says, grappling for the right words, “in some ways they are there; you just don’t see them necessarily. I don’t believe it just ends when somebody dies.”

Beals grew up in a nonreligious household; her mother is a lapsed Catholic who wouldn’t let her daughter attend church or synagogue. “I really wanted to know who God was,” the actress says. “So I would read the Bible at night to myself. It horrified her that I was collecting different Bibles; I’d find them at the flea markets, and I loved the ones with family photos.” She even wrote away for catechism instruction. Beals’s friends describe her as spiritual—a woman who meditates, gives crystals as gifts and is interested in alternative medicine. “She knows everything about Tibetan herbs,” says Foster. Adds the actress Elizabeth Berkley, a pal for a decade: “She’s a seeker in a beautiful way.”

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