Over the last two decades, Jennifer Beals has gone from a small-town dancing queen an to American icon. With new projects on the horizon, she’s staying focused on being an amazing woman and devoted mother.
by bonnie siegler • Photography by elisabeth caren
assisting by shane o’donnell, rachel langosch
Styling by cynthia summers • Make Up by Barbara Guillaume
Hair by adam campbell, Craig Gangi
special thank you to Beth Moskowitz for the generous use of her home
Long before Jennifer Beals was crowned the unofficial spokeswoman for same-sex partners by starring as Bette Porter on The L Word, a Showtime drama about lesbians and their relationship woes, before graduating from Yale with an honours graduate degree in American Literature and before becoming mom to her four-year old daughter, came a small 1983 movie about a small-town dancer you might have heard of — Flashdance.
At 46, Beals is definitely dancing to a new tune. Dressed in dark jeans paired with a black-and-white striped top, the actress sits in the makeup chair painting a picture of tranquility and contentment. “I love getting my eyelashes curled,” she shares softly. “It’s like giving them a massage and stretch.” These days, the Chicago native’s career is on an uphill trajectory. With her current role on the FOX series Lie To Me, a co-starring role alongside Denzel Washington in next year’s The Book of Eli, and a coffee table charity book chronicling her L Word years, Beals has got new acclaims coming her way — and that’s already on top of a career that includes diverse performances with Dustin Hoffman, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Kelsey Grammer and many more.
Being mom to her daughter takes centre stage in her heart and home. “By nature, I am a hermit,” she admits. “Only by being a mother have I been forced out into the world that I was so able to shut myself off from before.” However, entering this elite club of motherhood has also forced Beals to take a look at her own longevity in a different light. “When I’m on a bike and going down the mountain, I don’t go as fast so I don’t quite push the limits as much as I did previously.” In some ways though Beals is still the accomplished actress who takes on challenges both on and off the screen. “I read a script recently and the woman [Penny Chenery] is a champion barrel racer, so I started barrel racing, which is incredibly hard, but so much fun.” In fact, Beals has come a long way from her childhood dream after seeing the racing legend and her Secretariat’s Triple Crown win. “I wanted to be a jockey then, but I started to get too tall,” she remembers, “and in high school I exercised polo ponies.” These days, Beals keeps her fit 5’8″ body toned with regular running and bike riding. “I’ll run anywhere from five kilometres to 18 kilometres, depending on how much time I have. Sometimes I’ll just put on my running shoes and tell myself I’m going for a walk in the woods to just relax; before I know it, I’m running through the woods.”
Always enjoying some form of running, distance runs came to the actress rather late in life. It wasn’t until she had her daughter that Beals found the discipline to go the distance. “I think childbirth really puts a whole new spin on the idea of pain,” she laughs. “But I learned something a friend taught me before I gave birth where she said don’t try and take your mind away from the pain. Go right in the centre of the pain because when she did that, she found the pain dissipated. It’s true, for me anyway, but it’s not always possible, I admit. It has become a valuable exercise to apply to different things in life, of not avoiding or disregarding pain or bad feelings. I just have to remember that nothing in life is ever stagnant and that this grief or ache is going to change because everything in life changes.” Now Beals runs triathlons on occasion. “I found if I can give birth without any drugs, I could get through a triathlon. The only difference is at the end of a competition, nobody is on the other side of the finish line holding a beautiful baby for you, but it is rewarding. It’s the journey. It’s trying to get to a place of freedom and to a place of childlike joy. That’s what I aspire to when I run.”
Beals motions to a brown bag that she received from her acupuncturist and requests a cup of warm water. “I’m going to make my stinky tea. It’s something to promote my general health and it helps maintain a balance in the body so it can heal itself.” The one constant in her hectic life is the quest to preserve some sort of balance, calm and health through a holistic care regimen that includes flaxseed oil, cod liver oil, Chinese teas and supplements like arnica after a workout and rhodiola after a run “because it’s an anti-inflammatory and supports adaptive homeostatis. Our primary doctors are TCM practitioners and homeopaths.” Beals has been a fervent believer in holistic care and alternative medicine for many years. “I had a mole on my eyebrow that was enlarging and my dermatologist was concerned it was some type of melanoma. She wanted to cut it off in order to do a biopsy, but I was shooting that week and couldn’t have a bandage on my face. So I took copious amounts of selenium and the mole completely disappeared, never to return.”
Today, the actress credits homeopathy with giving her the stamina to withstand the exhausting full days that go along with being a busy actress, mom and wife. “Meditating is something that I do on a regular basis to help me relax and slow down, even if it’s for a few minutes during the day. If I can take five minutes to go sit and meditate, that will completely colour the day. It’s not a formal meditation in that it’s restricted, but it’s formal in that there is a form.” It seems Beals has developed a sense of serenity and a feeling of calm in the midst of this crazy world. How important is it for her to find overall balance on a daily basis? “It’s crucial to maintain in order to stay alive in a meaningful way, to get through the day in a manner in which I’d like to get through the day. For me, meditating is the most efficacious way to do that. Certainly making sure that I eat properly and making sure I get enough sleep all contribute to balance.”
Since the fourth and fifth grades, as a young child with her raw fruits and veggies in tow, Beals has been a vegetarian, “but I discovered my body every now and again really wants a piece of meat. And I found that in order to be a vegetarian, it requires extraordinary mindfulness when you’re putting together your meals to maintain your nutrition. Running around like I do now, I find I don’t have the time I did in elementary school. I did become a master with tofu in fifth grade,” she laughs. Today her kitchen is stocked with yams (“I love them!”), eggs, oatmeal and filtered water. And during certain periods of her life, especially having been diagnosed with energy-zapping Epstein Barr disease in the ’90s, Beals eliminated sugar, wheat and caffeine from her diet and began to follow the guidelines outlined in Dr. John Matsen’s book Eating Alive, in which he states that the human body can self-adjust and naturally heal itself. “I changed the way I ate,” she notes plain and simple. “I cut out certain foods because I feel they threw my body off, but I will have them occasionally. I’ve come to learn that moderation is the key for me.” And if fatigue starts to set in, “I’m aware that my body can heal itself now.”
No matter how much intelligent effort an ambitious woman puts into taking care of herself, there are those afternoon slumps due to stress, sleep deprivation or just a busy day. “I find having a whey protein powder shake will help me on a particularly harrowing day. Or some miso soup. If I’m really tired, that generally means I need to stop. I find meditating for five minutes and slowing down actually makes me feel so much better. It’s a discipline to make yourself stop, and it’s hard sometimes because everything is at our fingertips and at any moment, at any given point during the day, you can do 500 million things.”
Surprisingly, Christmas decorating and cooking are not on the 500 million things to-do list. “Christmas was never really our big holiday growing up — it was Thanksgiving,” Beals reflects. “We celebrate Christmas but not with special traditions except being with family. As a kid, my mother had to wake us kids up Christmas morning. I mean, we had a tree, we had decoration and my mom made gingerbread houses and Santa was fun, but I was more excited about seeing the little paw prints of the Easter bunny.” Beals is not only enthusiastic about paw prints but also about recycling. “My neighbours must think we never keep anything because we do gobs of recycling at home. I try to teach my daughter simple eco-friendly things like not running the water when brushing her teeth or washing her face, turning out the lights and biking instead of driving the car. And I shop for organic foods instead of processed ones.”
After rising well above “Hollywood starlet” status, the iconic Beals’ latest roles have taken on more nurturing characteristics. Bette Porter on The L Word eventually became a mother, her Lie To Me character Zoe is a mom and Claudia, in The Book of Eli, is also a mother, but in an apocalyptical world. “As a woman, you have a myriad of choices that can happen as you get older and certainly motherhood is one of them,” says Beals on both her personal and professional maturation process. “In films, that’s often the story that’s told of a woman becoming a mother and the different variations of what motherhood looks like.” At this point in her life, Beals is content to focus on her career, herself and her family. She has developed the confidence to change her look and evolve, emerging as a woman who is comfortable within her own skin. “Well, it’s because you know you’re going to die,” she states flatly. “Don’t get me wrong. There are times I look in the mirror and go ‘Holy God! What happened?!’ It’s not so important anymore to be the most beautiful, the smartest, the fastest. It’s just important to be here right now and enjoy who you are, cultivate who you are and discover who you are.”