One of Jennifer Beals’ deeply held beliefs is leap and the net will appear. “Certainly you prepare for the leap and prepare for the leap, and prepare for the leap,” explains the actress who has been featured in more than 50 films and on some of TV's most successful series. “You learn focus and discipline and then you leap. And sometimes just the act of throwing yourself off a cliff with courage alleviates the fear.”
As an actress, producer and entrepreneur she takes that advice to heart. While playing a cardiothoracic surgeon in the series Proof, Beals' OB/GYN advised that she do a stress echo test. Her father had passed away after having a stroke and her doctor wished to monitor her heart. Beals considered it a great idea. She thought, I can do some research, talk to the cardiologist, and since I’m a runner, I’m going to crush this.
During the test, the medical technician had Beals remove her top and attached electrodes, connected to long wires, to her chest. After taking ultrasound images of her heart she was asked to get on the treadmill and run as fast as she could to get her heart pumping its maximum rate. “I said, ‘fine, I’m just going to put my bra back on,’” she explains.
But Beals was told that she couldn’t wear a bra during the test. The test was designed for women to run without them. “I was enraged,” she shares. “I said, ‘just so you know, I’m stressed already right now.’ This test was obviously designed by a man for men at a time when people thought that heart disease was just a man’s issue. Now, we know one in four women die of heart disease.”
Beals took the test. And while the results were normal, she was determined to take action. A seed was planted in her. “I told my doctor, I want to design a bra that is compatible with this test,” she says. The HEARTLANTA, which takes the stress out of the stress echocardiogram and improves test outcomes, was born. Beals was able to patent the bra, had a designer from Victoria’s Secret help make it look lovely and appealing and even beta tested it. She hopes to show that it helps improve test results and is for a partner to get it out in the world.
For Beals it was one of those take a leap situations. She thought, solve the problem to the best of your ability and don’t be afraid. “Don’t don’t tell yourself, ‘no, I can’t do it.’ Or somebody else will,” she explains. “YOU do it because there are women out there who are uncomfortable. And there are test results that come out inaccurate because of the way the test is designed.”
In business, producing and acting, Beals continues to take on projects that challenge and inspire her. She stars in Taken, the NBC series adaptation of the hit movie franchise. Beals also has a recurring role as glamorous Margo Taft on Amazon’s The Last Tycoon. And she can currently be seen the film Before I Fall. “I really try to go towards things that will deepen me as a human being and artist,” she says. “There are times when I have taken jobs for financial reasons, but even then I try to use whatever I’m playing almost like a sketchbook to try out new things. Everything, no matter what you are doing, is an opportunity.”
Jeryl Brunner: What do you love about playing Special Deputy Director of National Intelligence Christina Hart in Taken?
Jennifer Beals: I really liked the space of moral ambiguity in which the character inhabited. I thought it would be interesting as painted by our writer and showrunner Alexander Cary. Additionally, my friend Alex Graves was directing the pilot. Working with him always makes me a better actor.
I really love that Christina has the strength and capacity to hold all of these dark secrets that would crush a mere mortal. I love that she has sacrificed everything for her job. Despite all of the darkness she holds, she is still tenderhearted towards her colleagues. When she loses a colleague it is meaningful and painful for her. She feels a tremendous amount of responsibility for her colleagues, particularly the people on her team. This is not to say that she is incapable of doing very problematic things in order to get the job done, because she is.
Brunner: How does the series connect to the original film?
It’s not a complete prequel, but it’s not a rebooting and it’s certainly not a televised adaptation of the film. It’s really an interesting modern day telling of Bryan Mills’ origin story. You think you know who Bryan Mills is based on the character in the film, but you don’t really know him until you watch the TV series. This shows you a whole different side of the character who you have come to know and love in the film. It poses the question: how does a hero become a hero? How do you get there?
Brunner: You are also in the movie Before I Fall with Zoey Deutch
Beals: Before I Fall is a beautiful film directed by the miraculous Ry Russo-Young. Zoey does a phenomenal job. Structurally its kind of like Groundhog Day with Mean Girl elements. It’s the story of a girl who is a high school senior who has to relive the last day of her life over and over again until she gets it right. She’s part of a mean girl group. She doesn’t instigate the bad behavior, but just by being a bystander she is part of the bad behavior. She has to examine her life and actions. I play her mother trying to support her through this process.
Brunner: Margo Taft, who you play on the Amazon series based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel The Last Tycoon, is about 180 degrees away from Christina Hart.
Beals: The series is set in the 1930s and Margo is a big movie star and master negotiator. You see her navigate her way as a woman trying to get past barriers that are set in place in that studio system and getting what she wants. She is very glamorous.
Brunner: Throughout your career, you have played so many eclectic roles.
Beals: It’s really about wanting to be part of a great story and wanting to work with really wonderful people and learning from them. For the most part I think, what story do I get to be a part of and who gives me a visceral reaction to the character.
If I am afraid that’s a good sign. For example, to play Christina Hart there are aspects that you have to go into where you’re asked to hold that dark space and understand. You have to go inside her mind, inside her soul and hold those spaces. I recognized it was a great part. The fact that I was so terrified was a really good sign. I thought, okay, I have the first script. Let’s get to work on it. I’m going to leap. But I had to be prepared so I kept doing research and imagining. And then once you get on set, you jump