Jennifer Beals interview

 

In anticipation of the release of the Lword book, we interviewed Jennifer and asked her about the working process behind the book, her new movie The Book of Eli which will be released on January 15th and new projects she'll be working on in 2010.

The book will be released online on February 1st 2010 and all proceeds of the book and prints will go to three different charities: the Matthew Shepard Foundation, Mia Kirshner's I Live Here project and The Pablove Foundation.

 

J-B.com: Can you tell us about the working process of the book – did you get to choose the photos on your own or the rest of the cast helped you choose?

Jennifer: I did a first pass at everything, and it was an enormous selection. Then I went to the cast one by one or everybody that I could sit down with. Some people I wasn’t able to sit down with but almost everybody, I was able to. Those people that I wasn’t able to sit down with, I sent them their photos to go through and edit what they didn’t want to have shown or to tell me what they liked so it was sort of a combination. I did a first pass and then everybody else went through their stuff and told me what they felt comfortable with and what they didn’t feel comfortable with, that’s kind of how it went. And then the designers looked at it and decided what would work with the book. So it was sort of a group effort.

 

 

J-B.com: Do you have a date for the book, we heard it’s going to be next week – is that correct?

Jennifer: Next week? Gosh, wouldn’t that be lovely! It’s going to be February 1st. We’re going through the proofs right now and doing test runs to make sure, because I really want to make sure that when the book goes up that everything runs smoothly, so we’ve been in the mix of doing some test runs to make sure that when people upload their own photographs into the book, that that goes smoothly and people would be able to put their own dedication on the book if they choose. I want to make sure that goes smoothly so it’s all about getting the technical aspect up and running because the book is ready. The text and the photos and everything is ready but it’s just a matter of making sure that, you know, somebody from China uploading their photograph is going to get the correct book.

 

J-B.com: Why did you choose to sell the book online rather than a more conventional way of selling the book in a bookstore?

Jennifer: I did get a very lovely offer from a great company to publish the book but they wanted to give me such a small royalty and because the book is a charity project, it’s not a vanity project, I just thought I want the charities to see more money, that’s all. Kodak had approached me quite a while back to do a project with them so I contacted the representatives at Kodak and I said that I was thinking about doing this book in a different way – what do you suggest and how can we work together. They suggested this process of people being able to upload their own photographs and they introduced me to a company called ColorCentric who’s very experienced at doing this, as experienced as anyone can be in the 21th century with these things. It’s been a really great partnership so far. We’ll see what happens, it’s just a complete experiment . Frankly I appreciate that the publishers need to charge that much and not to give away their profits because they have so much overhead. So I don’t think they’re being greedy by any stretch of the imagination, I think they’re just trying to conduct their business and trying to stay afloat but I just realized that with online publishing, you do have the opportunity to create more revenue for whomever and in this case, it’s the charity. Stuff like that is really helpful and it’s interesting – it’s a brave new world, it’ll be fun! I thought it would be fun but really its mind boggling, like I thought it would be so simple and it really, really isn’t.

 

J-B.com: I think it’s a great idea because we have the opportunity to actually upload our pictures and it’ll be kind of our own book – we’re going to be a part of it.

Jennifer: Yeah, see that’s what I realized when I went to the convention – gosh it’s been a while now, back maybe a couple of years ago – you know you realized very clearly that it’s a communal show. The show doesn’t just belong to me or the cast or the crew or Showtime or Ilene – it belongs to everybody so I thought it was important to have those people who supported the show, kind of made the show what it is, be part of the archive of the show.

 

J-B.com: It’s going to be really special for all of us.

Jennifer: I think it’ll be fun! People will get a kick out of it, you know, it’s images that you’ve never seen and really the book is pretty much about the cast and sort of what we went through behind the scenes and it’s all pictures of people on the set or at dinners or at their house, you know, with their families or pets or whatever. Pets take up a big part of the book. (laughs). It’s not like some great tome, it’s not "War and Peace" and it’s not some kind of “tell-all” but it does give you a glimpse into what our day-to-day life was working on the show in Vancouver.

 

J-B.com: How many pictures does it have?

Jennifer: Well, there’s over 220 pages right now so I can’t really tell you how much pictures I have in there but in addition to the pictures, what I did was, when I was showing the cast members the images, I also interviewed them to a certain degree and let them have their responses to their photographs on tape so then I transcribed those interviews and those are in the book as well. So you have people talking about the photographs and what they’re doing in the photographs and their relationship to so and so – you know perceptions and misperceptions that we had of each cast member. You kind of get a sense of how these separate individuals grew to be a family, basically.

 

J-B.com: Do you have a favourite photograph from the book?

Jennifer: There’s two that come to my mind. There’s one of Leisha jumping through all the clothes at the Vanity Fair shoot and then I also have a picture of Laurel when she was very very pregnant, she was about to give birth in a couple of days,
I really really love that one too but there are several and I love them for different reasons. Some of them that I really loved aren’t necessarily great photographs but they remind me of something. They have a meaning to me and the rest of the cast and hopefully, the fans will be able to see and understand.

 

J-B.com: We love your B&W work and just wondering, what makes
you choose to photograph something in black and white over colour?

Jennifer: Well, I have learned to process black and white. I don’t know how to process colour on my own. If I went to a lab, I wouldn’t know how to process colour but I know black and white so I understand it a little bit more but I wanted to play with colour so I shot some in colour just for fun just to see what it would be like. It’s always a process, right? You never know what’s going to happen. You know, you do your best and then the rest is a surprise and that’s also what I like about film, there aren’t any real surprises on digital and I like the surprise that film has. You’re pushing something to stop, you don’t really know what it’s going to look like. You have a sense but you don’t really know exactly what it’s going to be and so it’s fun, I like the surprise of it.

 

J-B.com: When did you start taking photos seriously as you do now? Did you take any course ?

Jennifer: I probably started in high school, it was always around boyfriends. At first I just started photographing – my boyfriend had a darkroom so wasn’t it great to be in the dark room with my boyfriend? (laughs) So that was always exciting and yeah. His mother couldn’t open the door. (laughs) And then I had a boyfriend again in college, I’d never taken a class and my boyfriend took a class with some really wonderful professors at Yale, and I wasn’t sure if I could cut it in the class because there was a certain amount of being unsure of myself. So I took a portrait of him and I said can you submit this in your class as self-portrait?. Every week the students put up their work on the wall and they would have a critique, the professor would critique the work. I said, could you put this up on the wall and say it’s a self-portrait and just tell me what they say. He said the professor really liked the photograph blah blah blah and then at the end of the year, the professor picks two photos of each student to put in the final show and the professor picked the picture I had taken to represent my boyfriend's work. I was thrilled because I thought, oh ok, alright so I can take a class and I won’t be...torn apart. So then I started taking photography when I was at Yale and I didn’t really start studying until I was at Yale.

 

J-B.com: You have friends who are professional photographers, do they give you any tips?

Jennifer: Oh sure, I always ask them about one thing or another. But I haven’t been photographing that much lately. I’ve been so busy with acting and it has to be a particular moment, for me anyway, to be able to bring a camera onto a set. I can’t always do it because I do need all of my faculties for the acting most of the time. I’m not like Jeff Bridges who can just seem to go in and out of character very easily and pick up his camera and be so facile with it on set. Really, he’s a remarkable genius actually so I’m envious of him in that way because I can’t always do it. Most of the pictures taken on the set are more of a snapshot, not all of them are very considered, there’s only a handful that are truly considered.

 

J-B.com: You seem to like photographing people, if you had the chance to photograph anyone , who would it be and why?

Jennifer: It’s not like I want to photograph a specific person... when I was very young, I was interested in very close portraits, I was very interested in the person’s face, just the face and now I’m more interested in how the person is in space and how the environment informs the person and how the person informs the environment and I think as I get older I’m also more interested in landscapes, which is why Alexandra Hedison’s work really affects me. What’s really cool is that before she put up the show, she came to work one day with 8x10’s of her work and some of them were just Xerox copies and in her trailer she put them all up and she numbered them and she asked everybody to go and number which ones they liked and which ones they didn’t like and why and we all did it anonymously. While she was working on the L Word, she was editing the show and she enlisted everybody’s help and opinion which I thought was really lovely and brave.

 

J-B.com: In general, what is the one lasting impression you want to leave with your photos?

Jennifer: Gosh, in general – I don’t know. It’s really documenting where I was at a certain time and I don’t think I have any kind of agenda in that way. To me, it’s just about partially remembering but not in a sentimental or nostalgic way but it’s kind of putting things back together and re-figuring things and sort of figuring things out in a way that a journal would. Sometimes there are certain things that I’m just so in love with, like I’m just so in love with the way something looks that by photographing it I’m part of it. In a way, I become part of it and it’s exciting. If you love a character, you get to be part of that character, if you love a story and you get to be part of that story. I think sometimes with photography, I get so excited that it makes me very excited to be in the world. A very simple thing like seeing a pattern of fabric on a chair, sometimes it gets me really excited in a way like a light will hit it and when you look at the detail like that – it just makes me excited to be in the world, anything to make you happy to be alive is a good thing.

 

J-B.com: You seem to be very observant…

Jennifer: I tend to be a lot more when I have a camera in my hand. It slows me down quite a bit which is a good thing, for me to slow down, so it’s very helpful.

 

J-B.com: Let’s talk about another book, The Book Of Eli. What can you tell us about Claudia, your character and how did you prepare for this role?

Jennifer: First of all we’re talking about a post-apocalyptic landscape. The character is blind, she’s been blind since birth and the fact that she is still alive is a testimony to her resourcefulness. She has a young daughter under 20 who she has cared for and the fact that they are both alive is extraordinary. She is the paramour/queen to Gary Oldman’s king and she is trying to hold onto hope in this time of real desperation and she thinks there is no more hope. The only hope she has is her daughter and then Denzel’s character Eli comes through town and things start to change.
In terms of preparation there were little things that I tried to do, there is this necklace that my character wears in the film that I made myself, out of things that she would have found and each thing on the necklace represents a memorable event in her life, so as to not forget. Her life has been so incredibly painful that it would be very easy to forget everything and that would perhaps be a way that you would survive, but she doesn’t want to forget. For her, to forget everything means you are no longer human, really. But I had a great time working on the film, one of my favourite experiences that I have ever had on a show or a film or anything else, it was so wonderful. I mean, it’s huge, I could go from the l word to this huge testosterone driven movie, but at the helm of this big testosterone action movie, that has a big heart, actually, are the Hughes Brothers. They are two wonderful men, who are biracial twins and Allen Hughes told me that he had heard a lot about my show and I said, oh how’s that and he said well, my mom’s gay, she’s a lesbian. So, they were two biracial boys raised by a lesbian mom and I was like: ‘I gotta meet your mother! When is she gonna visit the set?’ She raised them to be pretty great men, artists.
We filmed in New Mexico, in the high desert with basically no oxygen in the air and when you’re running you feel like you are dying but when you get back to a regular altitude you feel like a super hero. Working with Denzel was really fun and easy and Gary Oldman was amazing, he is so dedicated to acting and so much fun to be around, very inspiring. Mila Kunis was great too.

 

J-B.com: We heard that you and Mila wrote a song for Gary, is that true?

Jennifer: Where did you hear that!?! Yes, we did, I wish I could remember it… “Gary is not scary, on the contrary....”, he’s something...
I can’t remember. I made it up, I’m always making up dumb songs and I had to, because he should have his own variety show, he’s so funny. I probably wrote it down somewhere, I can’t remember what the tune was. He’d be sitting in hair and make-up and he would make us all laugh. Certainly he is scary when he is in character but as soon as he is out of it...you know we’re sitting singing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang songs between takes. He’s really amazing, I’ve never seen anybody so intent on not giving up until he has solved the problem, the acting problem and doing it with such joy. I’ve never met an actor quite like that, he’s a very interesting man.

 

J-B.com: Are we going to see you in more episodes of Lie To Me?

Jennifer: I shot a couple of episodes but I don’t know when they are going to air, you know how the networks are. We could be shooting things in December that air in June...

 

J-B.com: Do you have any other projects that you might be able to share with us?

Jennifer: I have a film coming up called A Night For Dying Tigers that I’m going to shoot soon, that’s the next project.

 

That was all the time we had with Jennifer, we thanked her for taking the time to talk to us and Jennifer left with a message to all of us: "Thank you so much to all the tibetters, I’m very, very appreciative !! "

 

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