Jennifer Beals: The Chicago Native’s Next Act

Jennifer Beals traded the torn, off-the-shoulder sweatshirt look from her “Flashdance” days for a buttoned-up uniform, playing the city’s first female police superintendent in Fox’s now-defunct “The Chicago Code.”

Before making her mark as a steel worker by day/exotic dancer by night at age 19, Beals grew up mostly on Chicago’s South Side (though her family lived in Evanston briefly), the daughter of an African-American father who owned a grocery store and an Irish-Catholic mother who taught elementary school. She attended the Francis W. Parker School on scholarship, and starting working as a model in high school. She took a break from her first year at Yale to film “Flashdance,” which was a box office smash.

Almost 30 years later, Beals has maintained a successful acting career, including many film and TV roles. Her latest projects include the 2010 post-apocalyptic film “The Book of Eli” with Denzel Washington and Mila Kunis; the indie film “Night for Dying Tigers,” which was recently released in Canada; and “Queen to Play,” a French film with Kevin Kline that’s currently playing at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago.

And when she’s not acting, she spends time promoting peace—volunteering on behalf of the Dalai Lama, who will speak in Chicago on July 17 and 18.

MIB: What was it like starring alongside your hometown on the cops drama “The Chicago Code”?

JB: It was so great. I came home, which is always a welcome feeling. I got to see my family and my friends, and partake of the physical beauty that is this city.

MIB: What do you love about Dalai Lama? Are you a Buddhist?

JB: I am a student of many religions, and I practice Buddhism. But people of all faiths should come to these events. The point is finding the bridge between faiths.

I had the pleasure of hearing His Holiness speak in Los Angeles several years ago. He talked about complex ideas using simple language and a tremendous sense of humor. You felt like you were the only person in the room. I’m very excited to hear him speak about his recent book, “Toward a True Kinship of Faiths,” which is of such an urgent nature. Practicing tolerance and nondiscrimination strengthens our society.

MIB: What charities have you been working with lately?

JB: I worked on “The L Word” for a long time, and I feel like an honorary member of the LGBT community, so I work with the Matthew Shepard Foundation. I also work with the Pablove Foundation, which funds research on pediatric cancers, and Partners in Health in Haiti.

MIB: How do you balance your busy career with being a mom?

JB: Like everyone does—you become a master juggler. I have a Blackberry and an iPad. But truly, old-fashioned lists work best.

MIB: What’s your workout these days?

JB: When I was working on “The Chicago Code,” I started boxing—to get into the character—with some running. And when I was done, I stopped. Now, I’ll exercise a couple of times a week—a yoga class, and some swimming—but that’s really it. The more “yin” the workout, the better.

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