Jennifer Sue Beals was born in Chicago on December 19, 1963 as the second child of Jeanne Anderson and Alfred Beals. Her mother, an Irish-Catholic retired elementary schoolteacher, still lives in Chicago. Her African-American father owned a grocery store on the South Side of Chicago where she spent the first decade of her childhood, near 82nd Street and Indiana Avenue. Her older brother Gregory, born in 1958, became a journalist after graduating from Yale and works for United Nations. Her younger brother Bobby, was born in 1964.
Jennifer’s father died in 1974 at the age of 61. Her brother Greg would later describe it as "a stroke induced by overwork”. After his passing, the family moved to the North Side of the city near Lincoln Park, where she attended the prestigious Francis W. Parker School.
Jeanne and Alfred Beals
In 1981 her mother married nephrologist Edward Cohen.
"In my early days, kids used to call me ‘whitey’ because of my light skin. I guess that ribbing made me a natural loner. … When we moved to the North of Chicago, I was not as conscious of race as I was of class because I went to a school, Francis W. Parker, where it did not seem in any way that my race meant anything. I was much more aware of who had Topsiders and who did not have Topsiders, who had a Lacoste shirt and who didn’t". - "I don’t know that I’ve ever fit in and I don’t say that in a bad way. In some ways it is a relief not to fit in because you get to look at different sights equally. I don’t know that I have always found my tribe". - Q with Jian Ghomeshi 2011
A young Jennifer modelling for Vogue Magazine
In order to earn some extra money to pay for college tuition, Jennifer worked selling ice cream at Baskin-Robbins and as a babysitter of Steve Edwards’ kids (“Good Day L.A.”), who was a friend of the family. She was only 13 years old when she applied for the job at Baskin-Robbins but they hired her because she lied about her age. Jennifer told them she was 16 years old. Her "career" did not last very long though; the job was too boring. She also served on the board of the Illinois Teenage Institute on Substantial Abuse during several summers.
At the age of 16, wanting to earn more money than her previous jobs would pay, Jennifer began modeling and she appeared in local print ads and began working with the famous Chicago photographer Victor Skrebneski. She posed for store catalogs and magazine fashion spreads and during summer breaks, she did modeling stints in New York and Paris for Town and Country, French Vogue and Les Jardin Des Modes.
Jennifer in her first film "My Bodyguard" (1980)
As a teenager, Jennifer was a volunteer usher at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. She attended a workshop at the Goodman School of Drama at DePaul University where she studied playwriting, acting, directing and set design. Jennifer made her debut in film while still in high school in 1980 as an extra in a movie called “My Bodyguard”, a comedy drama starring Matt Dillon, Adam Baldwin and Joan Cusack. Jennifer's name was not among the credits.
The director, Tony Bill, encouraged Jennifer to pursue acting as a career and she was also influenced by two schoolfriends from the Francis W. Parker School, Daryl Hannah and her sister Page.
"I grew up with Page and Daryl Hannah, who were like my sisters in a way. I was very influenced by them and the choices they made. I would see them go to auditions and I thought it would looked like fun. I don't think I would have ever seen that if I didn't know them". - Orange Coast Magazine 1992
Jennifer in Flashdance (1983)
During her senior year of high school Jennifer applied to Yale University and she was accepted. She graduated from highschool in June 1982 and entered Yale in January 1983.
When she was about to start her first year in college, she auditioned for the role of Alex Owens in "Flashdance”. Jennifer was chosen among three finalists that included Demi Moore. During her second year at Yale, Flashdance was released and turned into a pop culture phenomenon. The film would not just give her instant fame but also made her a fashion icon (off-the-shoulder chopped sweatshirts and legwarmers).
Flashdance earned Jennifer a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress.
“When I was in high school, I had a favourite sweatshirt that had remained in the dryer for too long, so the hole for my head was too small, I couldn’t get my head through. So I cut around the hole. “I wore it to one of the auditions and they liked it". - The Star 2011
As soon as filming was finished, she returned to Yale in order to pursue her B.A. in American Literature.
In 1987, she graduated from Yale with honors. However, a college degree was not enough, Jennifer also studied acting with Ed Kovens at The Professional Workshop in New York City.
“It was always clear to me that I would return to college once we’ve finished shooting. I loved going to school and frankly, I was good at it. I was one of these perverse kids who loved the little blue book tests. You need to have a life first; you need to understand who you are before you start acting. I was never the little girl who wanted to be famous and I always knew that I could make money later. It’s not that I don’t like money, but to me it was always more important to learn new things and to get to understand how things intersect and how nothing really exists in isolation". - Q with Jian Ghomeshi 2011
During her summer breaks she filmed "Cinderella" (1985) and “The Bride” (1985) and she also turned down many other roles, a fact that almost made her agents lose their minds. They believed that one should strike while the iron is hot, but as someone who never lived her life to please someone else, she favored education over fame. Actually, the 19-year old Jennifer quickly alienated herself from producers and the Hollywood system when she told the media about Marine Jahan, a French dancer who was used as her dance double, but then left out of the credits. Her honesty was not well received. All of a sudden she was facing a backlash storm by the media who accused her of cheating even though she was not involved in the decision making of the final cut at all.
She also continued modelling and promoted a $3 million ad campaign for French designers Marithé and François Girbaud and Japanese cosmetics Shiseido.
Jennifer and Alexandre Rockwell in 1990
In 1986 Jennifer married film director Alexandre Rockwell. They wed only a couple of months into their relationship in a private ceremony held in upstate New York. After a brief honeymoon, Jennifer returned to Yale and after graduation the couple lived in Manhattan. Jennifer starred in four of his films. Her first movie with Alexandre was "Sons" (1990), where she played the role of a transvestite.
In 1992, three days before shooting, Alexandre lost the financing of his movie "In the Soup". Jennifer's mother and stepfather helped them to finance the movie. The film won the Sundance Film Festival's Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the Deauville Film Festival.
In 1995 Alex directed Jennifer on his segment "The Wrong Man" in the film "Four Rooms".
Although Jennifer and Alexandre divorced in 1996, she was again directed by Alexandre in 2002 in the comedy "13 Moons".
After graduating from Yale in 1987, Jennifer resumed her acting career, starring in some low budget indie movies, working in Europe and in some critically acclaimed movies like “In the Soup” (1992), “Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle” (1994), “The Twilight of the Golds” (1996) and “Roger Dodger” (2002) just to name a few.
One of her biggest film roles came in 1995 with the thriller Devil In A Blue Dress, set in 1948 starring Denzel Washington and based on the novel written by Walter Mosley (a favourite author of Jennifer). Jennifer fought really hard to get this part, she really wanted to play the role of the femme fatale Daphne Monet and she gained 20 pounds in order to fill the blue dress.
"Usually is very hard for me to fight for a part, even if I love it because I think I don't deserve it, that there are so many people that are so much better. But for this one I just thought I really, really want this. I was supposed to play this part, my character is very much like Montgomery Cliff's A Place In The Sun, she is romantic and willing to do anything to get what she wants". Movieline 1995
In the 90’s Jennifer was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus, chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus and thyroiditis that kept her energy levels very low. She sought help from alternative medicine that made her change her nutrition habits and fitness. She took up yoga and started crosstraining. Hiking with her dogs, swimming and pilates are part of her fitness activities.
In 2008, she participated in a triathlon in Vancouver to raise funds for her chosen charities.
Jennifer and Ken Dixon in 1997
In June 14 1998, Jennifer married Canadian entrepreneur Kenneth L. Dixon in Bangor County, Michigan whom she met through mutual friends. Ken has a son and a daughter from a previous marriage.
In October 2005, Jennifer became a first time mother after giving birth to a baby girl. The family splits their time between Los Angeles and Vancouver.
“When I gave birth to my daughter , leaving the hospital, my mind completely blown open. You realize that with every single person on this earth there was some woman who gave birth to them. It's such a simple idea but all of the sudden I felt like I joined the sisterhood of being a mother” . - Hello Magazine 2011
In 2003, Jennifer was cast in the role of Bette Porter on the Showtime’s hit drama series “The L Word”, a show that was set around a group of lesbian women in West Hollywood. The series premiered on January 18, 2004 and Jennifer's touching portrayal of Bette Porter and the magical chemistry with her co-star Laurel Holloman, who played her partner Tina Kennard, turned her into a gay icon and a passionate spokesperson for LGBT rights and her career soared once again.
“When I was working on the pilot, I once casually kissed my husband in a restaurant and suddenly I realized that if we were a gay couple, that moment would have been a very big event in that particular restaurant. It awakened in me my sense of otherness that certainly connected me to this role . When I work, I always want to tell the truth and when I choose a project it’s always about the story.” - Q with Jian Ghomeshi 2011
When "The L Word” ended in 2009 after six successful seasons, Jennifer became a recurring guest star in "Lie to Me”, where she played Zoë Landau, the ex-wife of Dr. Cal Lightman (Tim Roth). She also appeared in “Joueuse” (2009), “The Book of Eli” (2010) and “A Night for Dying Tigers” (2010) before Shawn Ryan (“The Shield”, “Lie to Me - Season 1") lured her away from “Lie to Me” in order to play the leading role of Teresa Colvin, the first female superintendent of the Chicago Police Force in his new show called “The Chicago Code”. Even though the show received nothing but positive reviews, it was not renewed by FOX for a second season. Jennifer contines to work in television and films and she has appeared in more than 50 films and TV shows.
The L Word's Kate Moennig and Leisha Hailey photographed by Jennifer
Besides being a very talented actress, she is also a great photographer. She became interested in photography in high school (her boyfriend had a darkroom) and studied photography at Yale. During her time in college, Jennifer became friends with actress Jodie Foster, also a student at Yale, and she was one of the first people to buy some of her photos.
"My first photos were quite morbid as I used to take pictures of road kills and stuff like that.”
- Marylin Denis Show 2011
On 9/11 2001 Jennifer was in New York and she took her camera downtown to make her own record of that fateful day. Later in 2001, she donated some of her pictures to the Art Heals Benefit for Sept 11th Fund where all money raised from the event, with artwork created by celebrities, went to the aid of victims of the attacks in New York and Washington.
When she is working on a film or a show that is near and dear to her, she usually brings her Leica and takes photos on set. When it is time to say good-bye, she offers her co-stars a photo book as a farewell gift.
This is how the "L Word Book”, a photographic journal of the tv show "The L Word", came into fruition. Published in 2010, the book was made available to fans of “The L Word” along with selected prints from the book.
The book gave a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the groundbreaking TV show and contained over 400 photos, cast commentary, bits of scripts, callsheets, production memos and more. All proceeds of this book and prints went to a few selected charities, "Matthew Shepard Foundation", "Pablove Foundation" and Mia Kirshner’s "I Live Here Projects".
Jennifer is a calm and spiritual person who took Sanskrit classes and who never ceases to be curious about the meaning of life. She is a student of many religions and practises Buddhism. In July 2011, during the Dalai Lama's visit to Chicago, she gave a speech on bridging the faith divide through art at the Dalai Lama's public talks.
"One of my early quests as a kid, other than wanting to be a jockey, was trying to figure out who or what God was. I think I had a notion that there was this mystery that I did not know anything about and I wanted to try to figure it out". - Q with Jian Ghomeshi 2011
Despite calling herself a hermit, she engages herself in LGBT issues, women’s rights and lately she tried launching a recycle campaign in Chicago.
During the 2008 presidential election campaign, Jennifer volunteered for the Obama campaign early on in the primaries. She went to Ohio and Pennsylvania twice, working phone banks and knocking on doors specifically focusing on the LGBT community and issues.
"As much of a hermit as I am, I realized after the first time I heard Obama speak that I had to become involved. He was the only candidate I saw that could bring everybody back to their most powerful self.” - H Monthly 2009
Among Jennifer’s many friends are Elizabeth Berkley ("Saved By The Bell", “Showgirls”), Isabel Snyder (Photographer), Marlee Matlin (“Children of a Lesser God”, “The L Word”), Jodie Foster (“Silence of the Lambs”) Pam Grier ("Foxy Brown", "The L Word") and Quentin Tarantino (“Pulp Fiction”).
Jennifer is an avid reader - “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman or Greek mythology are among her favorites and even though she hardly has time to watch TV, she loved “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”.
Jennifer is bright, eloquent, outspoken and grounded but also highly professional, i.e. exacting at work. She is constantly attuned to whether the words and the ideas are worthy of her character and this can be quite challenging for producers. Warren Beatty once said about her: “If she hadn’t chosen to be an actress, she could be president.” According to Jennifer, this is something that is definitely not on her list - just like fame. "I’m not willing to relinquish my family to be an actor.”
© Biography compiled by Pebbles70 and BM for Jennifer-Beals.com
• Image Awards 1984: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Motion Picture - Flashdance (1983)
• NAACP Image Award 2008 Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series - The L Word (2004)
• NAACP Image Award 2007 Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series - The L Word (2004)
• Satellite Award 2005 Outstanding Actress in a Series, Drama - The L Word (2004)
• NAMIC Vision Awards Best Actress Drama - The LWord (2004)
• DVD Exclusive Awards, Video Premiere Award 2001, Best Supporting Actress - Something More (1999)
• Satellite Award 2001 Best Performance by an Actress in a Miniseries or a Motion Picture Made for Television - A House Divided (2000)
• NAACP Image Award 1996 Outstanding Lead Actress in a Motion Picture - Devil In A Blue Dress (1995)
• Jupiter Awards Best Actress Drama - Flashdance (1984)
• Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical at Golden Globe Awards - Flashdance (1984)
Tributes and Recognitions:
• Human Rights Campaign’s Ally for Equality Award (2012)
• Matthew Shepard Foundation Making a Difference Award (2011)
• The Center Orange County TorchBearer Award (2010)
• Glaad Media Awards: Golden Gate Award (2005)
• Power Up Artistry Award (2004)
• Maverick Tribute Award Cinequest San Jose Film Festival (1999)
Jennifer was among the stars featured in a photo book about celebrity knitters by photographer Abra Edelman called 'Celebrity Scarves'.