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Interview: Jennifer Beals

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Do you believe in an afterlife? TNT’s brand new series Proof takes a look at that possibility and near-death experiences. The series stars Jennifer Beals who plays Dr. Carolyn "Cat" Tyler, a surgeon who recently lost her son and also had a near-death experience.

She is contacted by a rich tech inventor who is suffering from cancer and doesn’t have long to live. He convinces Dr. Tyler to investigate cases of near-death experiences and reincarnations to find evidence and proof that death is not final.

Today, we sit down with Jennifer to talk about what attracted her to the series, what she did to prepare for this role and why The Chicago Code still holds a special place for her.

Pop Culture Principle – What you first received the script for the Proof pilot, what was it that attracted you to this role and the series?

Jennifer Beals – I loved the complexity of the character, and the fact that you had this person whose basis of reality is founded in hard science. She’s being asked to investigate something that is so out of her purview. Obviously, the aspect of doing that within the context of losing her son was really fascinating to me. Also, I met the producers, who were all wonderful, and I realized that this was a team I wanted to be part of.

Pop Culture Principle – Your character has two conflicting sides. One side is the skeptic and one side wants to believe in life after death. Do you enjoy playing a character like that?

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Jennifer Beals – Oh, definitely! It makes every day really exciting because you can start layering in different aspects within any given moment.

Pop Culture Principle – How did you prepare for the role of Dr. Carolyn Tyler and did you have any pre-conceived notions about life after death?

Jennifer Beals – I leave whatever I believe aside, because it’s not about what I believe. It’s helpful to recognize your own beliefs so that they don’t get in your own way. I just followed completely what she would believe and luckily, in the past few years, I’ve been a little bit of a physics nerd, so having that exposure to quantum physics certainly helped. Not that I understand any of it, mind you, because I have to reread every paragraph like five hundred times before I can even understand a little bit.

I was cast at the last moment, so really it was trying to understand what it meant to be a surgeon. I would go online and look at YouTube videos of surgeries and reading as much as I could about that aspect, because the pilot opens with this long surgery scene. All of a sudden I was confronted with a completely new vocabulary and a completely new way of being and trying to figure out what is her style in the OR. So I really focused on that and I deeply, deeply delved into the relationship with my son.

Pop Culture Principle – One of the main relationships in the series is between your character and Matthew Modine’s character. How have you enjoyed working with Matthew again?

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Jennifer Beals – We worked together way back in the day on a movie, and I don’t remember much about that movie but he remembers so much more. What I do remember is being so fortunate to be in Italy, and really getting a kick out of him.

Working with Matthew is an incredible pleasure because he is so adventurous and open as an actor. So because we’ve worked together before and because we’ve come up with the same kind of cultural lexicon, we trust each other. I trust him implicitly, and he knows he can trust me and that I’ll be there for him no matter what.

Pop Culture Principle – Do you know if the writers of the series based any of the episodes on actual cases?

Jennifer Beals – I don’t know about that. I haven’t been in the writers’ room and I don’t know what their research process was like. I did say to them when I first met them at the beginning that is was really important to me that science was represented strongly. We’ve seen faith-based shows quite a bit and they are beautiful and inspiring, but I was really interested in that conflict or where there was overlap between scientific arguments and faith-based arguments.

Pop Culture Principle – While filming this show, have you had people from set or people you may know come forward with their own near-death experiences?

Jennifer Beals – So many people have, and it’s fascinating knowing how many people have had near-death experiences - you would never know. Death is not something that we talk about and it’s really more taboo than sex at this point. It’s not until you have examined death thoroughly that you can try and understand life, because life is so brief and, to have some kind of context, you need to contemplate death. People don’t talk about it because, understandably, it can be terrifying. Even contemplating the size of the universe or contemplating what infinity is will blow your mind.

It’s funny because, when I was a kid, it didn’t terrify me at all and I was really excited. I thought it would be a big surprise party and it was going to be really fun, and I wondered who was going to be there. Someone told me once that the animals you had would come first and I thought it would be one big party!

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Pop Culture Principle – Kyra Sedgwick is the executive producer on Proof. How involved is she with the series?

Jennifer Beals – First of all, she is very involved with the series and very involved with all the stories and casting. She has a great sense of story and she really tracks the characters to make sure they are tracking correctly from episode to episode.

Pop Culture Principle – How much input and freedom do you have with your character?

Jennifer Beals – In terms of freedom, I’m not rewriting stuff and sometimes I may have suggested a few rewrites. The scene where I wake up after the car accident I designed a bit with Alex Graves. I was thinking about it and thinking about what I would really do, and I talked to Rob Bragin about it and that was redesigned. Other than that there are just small, little changes.

Pop Culture Principle – A series like Proof makes you think and want to explore the subject even more. Do you enjoy those types of show as well?

Jennifer Beals – Yes, I do, but I can go all kinds of ways. I love Inside Amy Schumer and I think it is a great show, very interesting and I love Amy Schumer. But at the same time, I love Empire and Charlie Rose, so for me it runs the gamut. I think what’s so interesting about Amy Schumer is that she is so entertaining, but she is bringing us topics that are really complex and really interesting. She is calling out questions that haven’t really been asked yet, and that’s what I love watching.

Pop Culture Principle – What can fans look forward to with the rest of the season?

Jennifer Beals – A total rollercoaster ride of a finale, that’s for sure! Some of those days were some of my favorite days ever of shooting on any project: very interesting and really fun.

**Bonus Question**

Pop Culture Principle – Can you talk a little bit about your time working on The Chicago Code?

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Jennifer Beals – I loved playing that character because she was a total and complete badass, yet she loved her guys so much and loved protecting them and would stand tall for them. I loved working with Jason Clarke, which was a huge education for me. I also really loved working with Delroy Lindo and Matt Lauria, who were also fantastic.

I just didn’t understand the cancelling of the show because it was very, very good, and the writing was very good. When I look at the episodes they moved quickly, the writing was good, it was compelling and very entertaining. I don’t completely understand it and I am just wondering when I think back on it that maybe it was at that cusp of a time when people weren’t taking into consideration the Live +3 and the Live +7 numbers. No one was really taking into consideration this new technology which was really kind of coming up, and those numbers perhaps would have been different.

I loved working on that show and loved being in Chicago. I made a lot of really great friends in the Chicago police department. There is an episode in Proof where I walk through the hall and I am surrounded by cops who hate me because they think I let the wrong person die, that scene was so hard and I was really conflicted. It was a great show and Shawn Ryan was amazing!

We would like to thank Jennifer Beals for taking time from her extremely busy schedule to talk with us. You can catch new episodes of Proof every Tuesday night at 10/9c on TNT. If you would like to keep up with all of Jennifer's latest news and projects, you can follow her on Twitter here or her Instagram account here.

**Proof photos courtesy of TNT/James Dittiger/Ed Araquel**

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