Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.

The actor: When an actor’s first big break is a box-office blockbuster, they can often find it to be an albatross. But even though Jennifer Beals may still be predominantly known to many for her starring role in the 1983’s Flashdance, she’s never let her career be defined by that film. Over the course of the past few decades, Beals has worked in a variety of genres, taking on leading roles (The Bride) and memorable supporting roles (Devil In A Blue Dress, Roger Dodger) on the big screen as well as starring in TV series The L Word, The Chicago Code, and most recently—Proof, which airs Tuesdays on TNT.

Advertisement

Proof (2015-present)—“Dr. Carolyn ‘Cat’ Tyler”

Jennifer Beals: I read the script, and I loved it and loved the character, so when they started the casting process I came in and had a magical experience in the room. I got to read with [executive producer] Kyra Sedgwick, who can throw the ball precisely over the plate. I got to work with Alex Graves, who gave me interesting direction during the audition. When I go to audition, I just say to myself, “Well, I’m very fortunate that I get to go act this afternoon,” or “this morning,” or whatever. Then to have that experience of his direction and the kindness of all those people was something that put it over the top. I went home and I told my husband what a great experience it was, and I said, “You know, I really want to work with that director, whether it’s this project or another project, because he gave me really, really smart direction.” Then I found out that they’d invited me to the party [Laughs.], and off we went! It’s been my favorite experience so far in my career. I mean, there’s other things that have resonated with me and have been important to me, but I think this project and this character are something special.

Advertisement

The A.V. Club: When you signed on, was Matthew Modine already on the project?

JB: No, nobody else was. They were talking to Edi [Gathegi], but that’s as far as they were.

AVC: You and Matthew had worked together eons ago.

JB: Yes! When they brought up his name, I was so excited. I thought that was a great idea.

Advertisement

AVC: So how would you sum up the character of Cat Tyler?

JB: Brilliant. Wounded. Acerbic. Searching. [Laughs.] That was my word-association part of the interview.

AVC: Given the premise of the series, at this point you must be sick of being asked about your own feelings on reincarnation, life after death and the like.

Advertisement

JB: I have a tremendous amount of faith, and I’m not so egotistical as to presume that I know everything, but I feel that there’s something else. And even when I think about the fact that energy can become matter and matter can become energy, I have a very strong feeling that there’s something afterward. Whether there’s consciousness in the way that we experience it now is another matter altogether. I don’t believe that there’s a guy with a beard. [Laughs.] I don’t know. I have no idea! But I do believe in multiverses, and I just think there’s something more.

One of the things that I love about the show is that [it conveys that] when you start contemplating death, it doesn’t have to be a morbid exercise. I think you end up turning everything on its head when you truly contemplate death, and you are contemplating life. You’re contemplating, “Who do I want to be, what do I want to do with my life, and can I live every moment as if this is the first moment?” Not “This is my last moment.” But “This is my first moment.” How exciting would that be?

AVC: For anyone who might still be toying with the idea of tuning in to Proof, can you speak to whether things come to a comfortable conclusion by the end of the season?

Advertisement

JB: Oh, I’m not going to let that cat out of the bag at all. [Laughs.] All I can say is that the finale is the wildest ride I’ve been on. Some of my favorite days I’ve ever had on a set were during the finale. It was out of control. It was nuts, and amazing, and really, really fun, in the biggest sense of the word. So, no, I can’t give you that answer. You’re gonna have to watch!

The Gamble (1988)—“Lady Olivia Candioni”

AVC: We might as well go ahead and talk about The Gamble, where you and Matthew had worked together previously.

Advertisement

JB: Oh, my gosh. I don’t remember it. [Laughs.] I was on a talk show—and I’m probably also legally blind—and they had an image of two people in a bathtub, and I’m, like, “What is that? Why do they have an image of two people in a bathtub up there?” Then when they cut to commercial and I could comfortably squint and look at the image, I realized it was a picture of me and Matthew in the bathtub from this movie. I was, like, “I barely remember that!”

First of all, how fantastic it was to be on location in Italy—it doesn’t really get any better than that—and then that it was a costume piece. I was the last person cast. Matthew was already cast, Faye [Dunaway] was already cast, and I said, “Well, you know, I’d like to see the director’s work.” This was back in the day when you didn’t just download somebody’s work; they had to send you the VHS copy. So they said, “Well, there’s no time!” I’d read the script, and I thought, “Well, okay.” I mean, it’s Faye Dunaway and Matthew Modine, so the director must be great, and it must all be wonderful. So I get there, and they’re, like, “No, we’ve never seen his movies!” [Laughs.] But the director was a really lovely man, and we were in Italy, and I was wearing corsets, and I learned to ride side-saddle, which was great.

I remember hiking on a lunch break somewhere in the countryside of Italy, I was in my big dress and I was by myself on the trail, and I found this snake. I managed to pick it up in my skirt, using it to go around it, and it was really beautiful. So I took it down to the base camp where everybody was having lunch, and I said, “Look what I found!” They all gasped. They said, “You have found the only dangerous snake in Italy.” [Laughs.] The wrangler was going to take it away from me, but I knew he was going to kill it, so I took it and threw it back into some bush somewhere.

Advertisement

On that movie I met some of my best friends in the whole world. One of them was Elide Cortesi, who was our script supervisor. We were shooting in Cinecittà at one point, and we were talking about some of our favorite films, and I said, “Oh, one of mine is Una Giornata Particolare,” which is A Special Day. She said, “Oh, my friend Ettore Scola directed that movie!” I said, “I love that movie! The opening shot is so amazing!” She said, “Oh, do you want to talk to him? He’s shooting on the stage next door.” And I said, “I would love that!” So we wandered over, went next door, and I met Ettore, and he was really lovely. He invited me to dinner, because it was their last night of dinner, and it was him, Massimo Troisi, and Marcello Mastroianni.

AVC: Wow.

JB: Yeah, right? [Laughs.] I met Massimo on the set, and he was so charming and lovely, didn’t speak any English, and he became one of my dearest, dearest friends. I’m about to do a film based on his relationship with his girlfriend, who was also his writing partner, and it’s a script that she wrote.

Advertisement

So that movie was extremely important to me. The part, though? I have no idea what I played. [Laughs.] I don’t have a frigging clue! None! Zero!

AVC: The question, though, is whether Matthew remembers any more about his character than you do.

JB: I’ll bet he does. Because it was his movie. He carried the movie. I got days off, so I could go riding, I could do all kinds of things. But I don’t think he got much time off. He was swashbuckling, you know. [Laughs.]

Advertisement

My Bodyguard (1980)—“Clifford’s friend” (uncredited)

AVC: Was My Bodyguard actually your first film, as IMDB would have us believe?

JB: Oh, yeah! Yeah, My Bodyguard was the first film that I did, directed by Tony Bill. The film started shooting in the summer, and it was right at the end of the school year. I can’t remember what grade I was in, but I want to say ninth grade. In any case, the school year was just about over, and I was walking down the street, and my friend Alex Russo came up to me and said, “The drama teacher, Dan Reichel, is looking for you. They’re casting a movie, and he thinks you should go in for it.” I was, like, “Okay. Random, but… all right!”

Advertisement

So I went and met with Tony Bill, and I was in a room with Tony and… I think there were two other girls in the room, too, and he just talked to us. He talked to us about the things we like to do.There was one part open, and I didn’t get the part, but he wanted me around, so I became a special extra in the movie. That’s really a term: “special extra.” [Laughs.] Then I got bumped up to a speaking part. Maybe that was the “special” part of the “special extra.” But I was part of the group of kids that hung out around the main character, which was played by Chris Makepeace, who was wonderful. It taught me that a lot of film acting is waiting. Learning how to wait, and learning how to conserve your energy and not let the waiting fool you, because you’re going to have to go do your thing eventually. But I got a little honeywagon, and I was so happy. It had my name on it.

AVC: When we talked to Martin Mull for this feature, he spontaneously said, “I think that was Jennifer Beals’ first movie!”

JB: Yes! Martin Mull, and Ruth Gordon, she was so great. It was really, really special. Then I did Flashdance after that, and I was so accustomed to working during the summer… Like, I didn’t know how not to work. I’d always had some kind of job, whether it was scooping ice cream at Baskin Robbins or working on commercials or walking dogs. I always had a job. After I did Flashdance, my agents didn’t want me to take anything right away, but I didn’t know how not to work, so it was really weird. So Tony Bill said to me, “Why don’t you come work for me as a reader? Then you can read everything and know what’s out there and get paid.” So I said, “Okay!” So I stayed in his house with him and his wife, and I read scripts for his company, and it was really fun. And I got paid! Maybe not as much as I would’ve gotten if I’d done a movie. [Laughs.] But it was really good.

Advertisement

AVC: It gave you a look at another side of the business, at least.

JB: Yeah, it was an introduction. It was, like, “Oh, look, there are all of these different kinds of things out there, all of this different material.”

Mrs. Parker And The Vicious Circle (1994)—“Gertrude Benchley”

JB: Oh my God, this is such a fun game! [Laughs.] Okay, before Gertrude Benchley, there was a Robert Altman movie called Short Cuts, and Bob had me come in, and he had given me the script and he had said, “These are the parts that are available, and I would really love for you to be a part of this project. Choose a part.” I chose a part, and it had ended up—before they even went to picture—that they had edited down the script, and that character was cut out. He said, “I’m so sorry. You picked the character that was cut! But we’d still love to work with you.” Bob and Alan Rudolph worked closely together, and that’s how that happened.

Advertisement

So then Alan gave me the script for Mrs. Parker, and having clearly learned my lesson the first time… [Laughs.] I chose the character that was on the outside of the circle. I said to Alan, “I understand what it is to be outside of the circle, so I want to play Gertrude Benchley, because she was so clearly outside the circle, and it must’ve been incredibly uncomfortable at times.”

So I signed up for Gertrude and did a bunch of research, and I got to meet some people who are so dear to me, among which are Jennifer Jason Leigh, who is just extraordinary—working with her was just such a beautiful experience and an education—and getting to work with Campbell Scott. I just finished another film with him a little while ago called Manhattan Nocturne, with him and Adrien Brody. It was just a magical experience, where we were all at this hotel in Montreal.

At first I didn’t want to go to dailies. Dailies were a very social event, and I was so shy, and I so didn’t understand what it was to be in a group like that, that I couldn’t do it. Like, I loved everybody, and I thought they were all kind of these miraculous beings, but I didn’t know how. I remember Lili Taylor said to me, “You know, that spirit that you have, that sense of adventure that you have when you work? Have that sense of adventure in your life.” Not that I wasn’t adventurous—I’d go and travel to faraway places and go meet complete strangers, hang out with strangers, and take photographs of them—but to hang out with a group that seemed so accomplished and close to one another, because I think a lot of them had worked together before, it was slightly terrifying.

Advertisement

I took her words to heart, and I started going to dailies to watch and to go hang out with everybody, and I had so much fun. It was such a great experience. I think the only person I knew going into it was Stanley Tucci. And Alan did this great thing where you had no marks to speak of on the set, and it was really just this thing of fostering trust and spontaneity, and it was a really amazing experience. It’s where I started worshipping Campbell Scott. [Laughs.]

It started on my first day of work, practically. I was doing a scene with Campbell and Jennifer and Andrew McCarthy—we did the scene a few times, and then we did a take—and it felt like I went up on my line. It felt like forever. Then I came back in, and Alan called “cut,” and he was, like, “Okay, we’re ready to move on.” I was ready to kill myself. I’ll never forget: I walked into a corner and just stared at where the lines met in the corner and just tried to hang onto reality, because I just felt so embarrassed. I heard Campbell say, “Alan, I think I need another take.” Alan’s, like, “No, that was a great take for everybody.” And he said, “No, I think I need another take. Can I get another take?” So Alan said, “Sure.” And I looked at Campbell, and I said [Skeptically.] “You don’t need another take.” He said, “Yes. Yes, I do.” And I knew he was just being incredibly kind. I was, like, “And I now officially love you forever and will do whatever you say.” So now when Campbell calls me up to do a movie, I’m, like, “Yes, I will. Always.” So we did Roger Dodger together, and like I said, we just did Manhattan Nocturne together, and then we also did another one called Let It Be Me.

Roger Dodger (2002)—“Sophie”

JB: That was just one of those experiences where Campbell called up and said, “I have this script, and there’s this part in it that I think you’d be great for.” I think Mary-Louise Parker was doing the other part at the time. I read it, and I was going to say “yes” anyway, because it’s Campbell. I mean, really, unless it’s some kind of animal pornography, then that’s where I’d draw the line. [Laughs.] But I really loved the script. Then Mary-Louise Parker fell out, so I recommended Elizabeth Berkeley, and she signed on to do the film, and we had a great time!

Advertisement

I just remember how lost the character felt, a little bit, even though at the table she presents herself as being very verbal and very much in command. I remember the scene in the taxi, when she and her friend, who’s played by Elizabeth, drive away, and sort of that empty thing that can happen if you’re going out at night too many times during the week. She was sort of a party girl, so I remember that feeling. I remember Jesse Eisenberg told me that it was his first kiss, and Elizabeth, I think, said to him, “On-screen?” [Laughs.] I think there was some debate as to whether it was actually his first kiss, period. But I don’t know if it was.

AVC: Either way, I’ll bet that’s still how he spins the story.

JB: [Laughs.] I don’t know. But he’s a lovely actor.

The Chicago Code (2011)—“Theresa Colvin”

JB: Oh, gosh, I loved that character. [Laughs.] Such a total bad-ass. That’s another one where I think I came in at the final hour. I came and read, and I really wanted it because I just loved how strong she was and how tenuous a position she was in by being the first female superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. I loved working with Jason [Clarke], and I really learned from him that you give yourself the experience as fully as possible. Sometimes people can get into the habit of thinking, “Oh, this is a job.” It’s not a job. It’s an incredible opportunity to give yourself an experience, and to give the audience an experience. It’s an incredible opportunity to dive into the midst of a story, which is one of the few things in the world that can truly and completely change people. Stories are so powerful. So it was a really, really great gig, and Delroy [Lindo] was incredible, and… why did they cancel that show?

Advertisement

AVC: You clearly felt the same frustration that viewers did when Fox pulled the plug on it.

JB: Yeah! They didn’t think to look at +3s and +7s. I’m guessing. This is a guess, and it could be technologically completely inaccurate. [Laughs.] But it was such a well-written show, and the characters were so interesting, and the pace of the show was good, and it looked really good… I don’t totally understand why they let that go. It was nice to be home again—I’m from Chicago—and I have a tremendous affinity now for police officers.

AVC: How did you find your way into a career in acting in the first place?

JB: I think that acting is kind of a calling more than anything else. I don’t think you willingly subject yourself to all of that if it’s not a calling. My Bodyguard, that was the first thing. I mean, I had done other stuff, like commercials and things, and maybe a little bit of modeling? Because I was very aware very early on that my family, uh, didn’t have any money, so the idea of going to college might be prohibitive if I didn’t get on that at an early juncture. So I was saving money for college. At 6. [Laughs.] I’m exaggerating, but not by a lot!

Advertisement

AVC: So when you got the role in My Bodyguard, had you actually decided at that point that you wanted to be an actress?

JB: I don’t recall ever deciding that! I knew it was something that I really loved to do, but in my wildest dreams I don’t think I ever thought, “Okay, I’m going to become an actor.” That didn’t register. I didn’t know what I was going to be.

The Madonna And The Dragon (1990)—“Patty Meredith”

JB: Oh, my gosh, that was such a great adventure. I got to work with Sam Fuller. We met because he did a film with my ex-husband. I was married to Alex Rockwell, who’s a tremendous filmmaker. We were married for 10 years, and while we were married, he did this film called Sons, and Sam played a part in the film. It was really low-budget. I think they shot in New York, New Jersey, Paris, and the south of France for $200,000 or something. [Laughs.] I may not be exaggerating, actually, on that front.

Advertisement

Anyway, I met Sam and just loved him so much, and after the film was over, I got a phone call: “Jennifer! I’m working on this film, and I’ve got this part. She’s a photographer. You wanna do it?” I was, like, “Sure! I mean, you’re Sam Fuller. Of course I want to do it!” But I was about to do this play, Brilliant Traces. I was contemplating whether I was going to do it—I was going to replace Joan Cusack, coming full circle back to My Bodyguard—but then Sam called, and I could not, to Sam Fuller, say “No.” So I was on a plane and headed off to Manila, where I played this photographer, and I had this amazing adventure with Sam Fuller in the Philippines, shooting on Smokey Mountain, which is this area that’s just blocks of burning garbage. It literally was like a mountain of burning garbage. It’s so noxious. As soon as we got to the set, the makeup artist inhaling the smoke started vomiting and had to leave, but Sam, who… I don’t know how old he was at the time, but he was completely fine, smoking a cigar the entire time, and would’ve worked through lunch easily had not someone said to him, “You know, the crew kind of needs to eat. I know you’re okay, but the crew needs to eat.” It was just this great experience. I took a lot of photographs. I loved being around Sam. He was so alive and had so many different ideas.

AVC: He also seems like the kind of guy who’d have no problem mocking someone who wanted to stop work because they needed to eat.

JB: [Laughs.] Well, I think he understood. But he was someone who, for our action sequences, for “action,” he would shoot off a gun, which was the old way of doing it. But it’s smart, because you can hear it over all of the noise that’s going on in the scene. You can hear your “action.” When you hear that, you go, “Oh, that’s a real gun. It must be time to go.” I have a picture of Sam shooting off the gun, with his cigar. I really need to go through those negatives.

Advertisement

The L Word (2004-09)—“Bette Porter”

JB: That series was really very, very important for me as an actor and as a human being in the world, because it introduced me to this whole new world of badass people who were unapologetic as to who they were and who they loved. I made some really lovely friends on the show, like Ilene Chaiken, who was just fantastic. She would encourage me to speak at these different LGBT events as to my experience of playing the character, and as a result, I was able to meet so many incredible activists who really kind of modeled for me how activism at its root is truly about speaking truth to power and getting as many people to speak that truth until power can no longer ignore what is righteous. That was hugely important for me to witness, because it engaged me in a very different way with social-justice issues, and it created this bridge eventually in my life to environmental-health issues, which is, in fact, a social-justice issue.

Advertisement

AVC: It’s amazing how far we’ve come just since the show went off the air.

JB: Isn’t that incredible? It really is incredible. For me, when I started playing the character, when I saw the script for the pilot, I thought, “This would be amazing to have some girl somewhere in the middle of nowhere, who has no access to her tribe, really, see herself represented as a multiplicity in a mainstream media.” I thought that would be incredible. To touch just one person with this story, I would’ve been happy. But for the show to have had—and to still have—the kind of following that it does is incredibly gratifying. There are no fans that are more loyal than The L Word fans. They’re so engaged and present.

AVC: As far as Bette’s storyline over the course of the series, were you happy with her plot arc?

Advertisement

JB: Yeah, I got to play really, really interesting things, and it’s funny because before I received this script, I remember I was on a hike by myself—I’m always on a trail somewhere—and I was thinking, “What do I want to play?” I said, “I really want to play a great love story. I want to play a great, profound, and beautiful love story.” Then this script arrived. [Laughs.] I hadn’t specified if it was going to be a heterosexual love story. I wasn’t specific in that request because it didn’t occur to me. I wasn’t living in that mindset. But it was perfect: I got to play this great love story as this amazing character, and I got to be introduced to art in a different way, particularly contemporary art. I got to work with really great people, and I got to work with a group of women, which… You know, women don’t often get to work with other women. It just doesn’t happen very often.

AVC: When we talked to Kelly Lynch, she cited The L Word as one of her favorite experiences.

JB: Oh, God, she was so incredible. I love her. She’s such a sweet and incredibly talented human being. I had such a crush on that character. [Laughs.] I wanted to put a little poster of her in my locker! I took lots of pictures on the show. In fact, I did a book. I started taking pictures when I was on the set of Mrs. Parker And The Vicious Circle, so I have lots of pictures from that experience, and I made a little book and gave it to the cast and crew. Then I did another one for The Anniversary Party, and then I did one for The L Word, where I did a bunch of interviews with all the different actors in the show, and I sold the book for charity. The picture of Kelly as Ivan is in that book.

Advertisement

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Beals

Faerie Tale Theater (1985)—“Cinderella”

JB: I got to work with Matthew Broderick, and that was fun, because he always makes me laugh. Shelley Duvall was the producer, and she was so kind. She had a masseuse come to set every day for the cast and the crew, and she really wanted to take care of everybody. It was during that show that I got The Bride, something that I really, really wanted to do. I remember doing my cast physical right after I found out that I’d gotten the movie, and the doctor was a little worried. He said, “Your heart rate is a little elevated.” [Laughs.] I said, “Well, I’m just very excited, that’s all!”

Advertisement

The Bride (1985)—“Eva”

JB: It was kind of the first time that I started thinking about constructing a character in a more meaningful way. Even though the film isn’t what anyone hoped it would be, for me it was an important step forward in terms of mapping things out and understanding the beginning, middle, and end of a character in regards to storytelling. Her journey of individuation was more clear in my head. I don’t know if I accomplished it or not. God knows I haven’t seen the movie in a bazillion years, and I’ve only seen it twice. But it was something I was aware of. Again, you’re shooting in amazing locations, and that was really fun, and with Sting! It was when he was recording The Dream Of The Blue Turtles. He was recording that while we were shooting, so sometimes when there’d be a turnaround and you were waiting for them to reconfigure the camera positions and relight it and everything, he would go into the studio and record. I would sit with him while he was recording, and it was heaven. I have some really fun photographs from there, too.

Advertisement

AVC: What was it like working with Quentin Crisp?

JB: [Excitedly.] He was just one of those guys that was very much appreciative of every moment he had in the world to be alive. He was very grateful to be there, and he gave us all these really beautiful keychains with the image of the gondola on them, and on the back he had commemorated the shoot of The Bride with the date and everything. I think I still have that. It was such a thoughtful gift. I wish I’d spent more time with him. I wasn’t sort of in the world enough, wasn’t aware enough to realize what a gift it was to spend time with him.

2000 Malibu Road (1992)—“Perry Quinn”

JB: I think she was an attorney? I remember walking in the house thinking, “This is an absurd premise, and it’s hilarious and kind of fabulous.” It was Joel Schumacher who was the director. I so didn’t want to do it. I kind of went kicking and screaming. I mean, it was Joel and Aaron Spelling and lovely people, but I didn’t want to do it.

Advertisement

I remember Joel having me come over to his house, and we were talking about it, and Joel figured me out really fast. He said, “You know, I can tell you don’t really want to be famous.” I said, “No, I don’t. I’m not interested in that. I’m not interested in being famous. I’m interested in these other things.” He said, “Well, fame is going to come find you whether you like it or not, so the question is, do you want to take control of it yourself, or do you want it to just happen to you?” I thought, “Oh, okay.” It was a good spiel. [Laughs.] I’m sure that he says that to everybody. “Sweetheart, you’re gonna be famous, whether you like it or not.” It’s a really, really good 1940s-style spiel. But it completely worked. I bought it hook, line, and sinker. The great thing about Joel was that we’d be out, we’d be wrapped by, like, four in the afternoon, we’d shoot so fast. On that shoot, I had the great pleasure of meeting Guy Ferland, who directed the opening sequence for the show. Guy is a fantastic director who went on to direct one of my favorite episodes of The Chicago Code—Gillis, Chase & Baby Face”—and I want to work with him again.

When the show premiered, it did well, and I remember being at the Deauville Film Festival and Brian De Palma came up to me and said, “Oh, I saw 2000 Malibu Road. You did a really good job!” [Laughs.] Or something to that effect. I was shocked. It made me realize the ubiquity—I think that’s the word—of television. But after we debuted, apparently the show did well, but Aaron had another show [Melrose Place] that was doing well, and they somehow in the scheduling pitted him against himself, so he had to make a decision, because he didn’t want two of his shows going against each other. So he pulled 2000 Malibu Road after six episodes. Frankly, as lovely as he was and much as I loved Joel, I was happy about that, because it was really surreal.

Flashdance (1983)—“Alex Owens”

JB: [Exhales.] Okay, that’s a huge one. That was really my entre into the world of film in many ways, My Bodyguard not withstanding, and I earned a certain notoriety. I loved the vulnerability of the character matched with a kind of determination. But what’s shocking to me looking back at it—because I saw the film not that long ago, because the Cinematheque did a screening for the anniversary—is how sexual the film is at almost any moment. [Laughs.] In the most banal moments, it kind of oozes sexuality. That’s Adrian Lyne. He knows how to bring the visceral sexuality to everything. It was a wild ride, to say the least, that movie. My eyes were opened to all kinds of things. You know, how the film business works, how press tours work. It was a whirlwind.

Advertisement

AVC: You said that you weren’t actively seeking fame. That must’ve been a struggle, then, because clearly you became famous.

JB: Well, I’ll tell you: When I saw the first screening, it was surreal. It was absolutely surreal. Because as I’m watching the film and people are reacting to the character on the screen, I’m realizing that more people are engaging with her than know me, and she is in some ways more real than I am to those people by virtue of this focus. I knew intuitively that people were going to confuse her for me and me for her, and that that wasn’t true, and that that wasn’t real. So in a moment of existential crisis, I found myself in the bathroom. I locked myself in the bathroom of the theater. Because they had, like, one little room where you could lock yourself in. My brothers had to come get me. [Laughs.] Of course, the surest way to free yourself from an existential crisis is through comedy, so they made me laugh, and I got over it and went and celebrated the film. But it was hard. It’s hard to be in the center of anybody’s gaze, you know? It’s hard to be the center of attention. It’s just not how I roll for the most part. But, of course, now I realize it’s a business, and it behooves you to leave your house on occasion and do things to get the word out about your work.

Vampire’s Kiss (1988)—“Rachel”

AVC: The readers will be appreciative: This may be the most requested role of all.

Advertisement

JB: Oh, really? That’s fascinating. Is that true?

AVC: It is, although truth be told, they probably just wanted some insight into what it was like to witness that performance by Nicolas Cage.

JB: Nicolas Cage! I love him and I think he’s amazing. I think the reputation of being so eccentric? It’s exaggerated. I think he is definitely one of a kind, but there’s a side of him that is so disciplined and so kind-hearted that it serves to go against that reputation.

Advertisement

Four Rooms (1995)—“Angela”
Devil In A Blue Dress (1995)—“Daphne Monet”

JB: Four Rooms was important because I was working with Alex, my ex-husband, who’s an amazing director, and I got to work with Tim Roth, who became a friend. Oh, and prior to that, Four Rooms had been created when Alex and Quentin [Tarantino] struck up a friendship at the Sundance Film festival at a time when filmmakers could actually talk to each other rather than do copious amounts of interviews. He and Alex became friends, and Quentin would come over and stay at our house. So they cooked up this idea for the movie, we all became friends.

Advertisement

Okay, so when I got Devil In A Blue Dress, Quentin was so happy for me. I mean, he nearly started crying, because he understood what it meant. He understood how beautiful the book was and how amazing it was to be part of this group of people. When the film came out, as a birthday present, he gave me a print of the movie. He said, “A VHS copy, a DVD, it’s not commensurate with the work you put into this film. You need to have a print of this film.” [Laughs.] So of course I started crying. He’s so big-hearted, and I’ve so wanted him to make a movie that explores that side of himself, because his heart is so gorgeous, and his generosity is unparalleled. I said to him, “Well, I don’t have any place to keep it. What am I going to do, keep it in my railroad apartment in New York? It’s going to take up the whole bathroom!” So I said, “Can I keep it with you, in your library?” And he said, “Absolutely, and whenever you want to see it, come over, and we’ll put it in the projector. If you ever need anybody to look at it, let me know.”