Jennifer Beals (born December 19, 1963) is an American actress and a former teen model. She is known for her roles as Alexandra “Alex” Owens in the 1983 film Flashdance, and as Bette Porter on the Showtime drama series The L Word. She earned an NAACP Image Award and a Golden Globe Award nomination for the former. She has appeared in more than 50 films.
Beals was born on the southside of Chicago, the daughter of Jeanne (née Anderson), an elementary school teacher, and Alfred Beals, who owned grocery stores. She is biracial as her father was African American and her mother is Irish American. She has two brothers, Bobby and Gregory. Her father died when Beals was nine years old, and her mother married Edward Cohen in 1981. Beals has said her biracial heritage had some impact on her, as she “always lived sort of on the outside”, with an idea “of being the other in society”. She got her first job at age 13 at an ice cream store,
using her height at the time (she is now nearly 5 ft 9 in (1.75 m)), to convince her boss she was 16.
Beals was inspired to become an actress by two events: doing a high school production of Fiddler on the Roof and seeing Balm in Gilead with Joan Allen while volunteer-ushering at the Steppenwolf Theatre.
She graduated from the progressive Francis W. Parker School. Beals also was chosen to attend the elite Goodman Theatre Young People’s Drama Workshop. Beals attended Yale University, receiving a B. A. in American literature in 1987; she deferred a term so she could film Flashdance. While at Yale, Beals was a resident of Morse College.
Beals had a minor role in the 1980 film My Bodyguard, then came to fame with her starring part in Flashdance. The third-highest grossing U. S. film of 1983, Flashdance is the story of 18-year-old Alex, a welder by day and exotic dancer by night, whose dream is to be accepted someday at an illustrious school of dance. Beals was cast for this key role while still a student at Yale. She was nominated for a Golden Globe and the film received an Academy Award for Best Song. Many of Beals’ elaborate dance moves were actually performed by stunt double Marine Jahan.
After she filmed Flashdance, she resumed her studies, making only one film during that time: playing the titular character The Bride with singer-actor Sting, a gothic horror film loosely based on the 1935 classic Bride of Frankenstein shot during her summer break, and also appearing in the Cinderella episode of Faerie Tale Theatre. She was asked by Joel Schumacher to do St. Elmo’s Fire but turned it down preferring to stay at Yale.
Starring opposite Nicolas Cage, the actress portrays a lusty and thirsty vampire who may or may not be a figment of a man’s imagination in 1989’s Vampire’s Kiss.
In 1995, Beals and Denzel Washington co-starred in Devil in a Blue Dress, a period film based on a Walter Mosley novel featuring L. A. private detective, Easy Rawlins. Beals plays a biracial woman passing for white. That same year she appeared with Tim Roth in two segments of the four-story anthology Four Rooms, one of which was directed by her then-husband, Alexandre Rockwell.
Rockwell had previously directed her in the 1992 independent film In the Soup, which was a Grand Prize winner at the Sundance Film Festival. In 2003, she played one of the sequestered jury members in the film adaptation of Runaway Jury.
She had a leading role in 2006’s The Grudge 2, sequel to the hit horror film of two years earlier.