The Chicago Code is the compelling new police drama from acclaimed creator/executive producer Shawn Ryan, premiering on Fox on February 7th. The series follows Teresa Colvin (Jennifer Beals), Chicago’s first female superintendent, and her ex-partner, Jarek Wysocki (Jason Clarke), a veteran of the Chicago Police Department, as they navigate the city’s underbelly to fight crime and expose corruption. Together, they will stop at nothing to bring down their enemies, including Alderman Ronin Gibbons (Delroy Lindo), a building-magnate-turned-politician who quickly proves to be a powerful and formidable adversary.
During a recent conference call to promote this new original series, actress Jennifer Beals talked about what drew her back to series television, taking on such a strong and tough character, the most surprising part of doing ride-along research with the Chicago police force, being a native of Chicago herself, working with this strong ensemble of actors, and how the success of The L Word impacted her career. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
JENNIFER BEALS: I found it so interesting to play somebody who was walking into uncharted territory, in a way. She’s really creating the template for this job – being the first female superintendent. I just thought it would be very interesting to take that walk into what kind of a leader she becomes in that position, and how she balances her personal life with the demands of that kind of job. I thought the relationship to Jarek (Jason Clarke) was also interesting. It’s a very interesting line that we walk between intimacy and respect, and being able to tell the truth to one another, and goading one another, and making each other laugh. Of course, for me, working with (show creator/executive producer/writer) Shawn Ryan was a real lure because I really admire his writing and I admire the way that he works with his team of writers as well.
Were there any reservations when you first received the script?
BEALS: Oh, gosh, no. There were no reservations at all. I just thought it was a great part, and I think Shawn [Ryan] is an amazing writer and leader. I had no reservations about it at all.
Have you always been a strong woman?
BEALS: I grew up with brothers, so I just assumed that I should have the same rights and access to things, like baseball bats and field time, and all that sort of thing. Maybe it was the amount of time my mom read Greek myths to me. I don’t know. The whole literature about the goddess somehow permeated, and there’s an element of power there.
What can viewers expect from Teresa?
BEALS: You can expect a person who’s very new to the job, who has a very clear vision of what they want to do for other people, and how they want to transform their department and the city, but not necessarily being clear as to how exactly to do it. She has so much bravado that she keeps moving forward.
What do you think The L Word did for your career? Did it change the way that you thought about TV, or different roles that became available to you?
BEALS: Well, it’s interesting. Thank you for asking that question. It certainly prepared me for this role. Playing Bette Porter, who was so driven and single-minded sometimes, and very strong and righteous at times, certainly helped prepare me for this role. Definitely, Teresa is much more physically confident than Bette is, and, as far as I can tell so far, is deeply heterosexual. But, being part of The L Word made me realize how much more television can be, than what I had experienced in my lifetime, in terms of being able to be of service to people. I had so many fans come up to me who were really deeply appreciative of the show, and who told me what it had meant for them and their own sense of identity and their own sense of inclusion, in our society and in our culture.
Being from there, how important it was for you that this was set in Chicago?
BEALS: When pilot season came up last year, I said to my manager, “You basically have two cities – Vancouver and Chicago – because those are the places that I can imagine spending long periods of time with my family.” So, when this series came up, I was very excited. I was very excited because of Shawn and the part, and because I got to go back to my hometown. I love the city. I think it’s so beautiful, and the people are so great. There are so many things that we’ve added now, in terms of the beauty of the skyscrapers and downtown, but there’s this aspect to the city that really is like a brazen fighter.
BEALS: A couple times, I pointed out that certain words they were referring to were not accurate. There were just small things in the script, but people had really done their homework, in terms of the writing. I did tell Delroy [Lindo], at one point, that a Chicago jury is perhaps different from a New York jury. There are certain things that are very different.
What kind of research did you do, into the police in Chicago and how they work?
BEALS: We were able to do ride-alongs with a homicide detective, so we could go all out, all night, in a car in a Kevlar vest. You sign a piece of paper, and you’re able to see all kinds of things. You get to see what they deal with, day in and day out, and see how to set up a crime scene. We got to go to the shooting range. I was able to talk to some people who had more administrative positions, to try to understand what that part of my job would be like. There are lots of things on the Internet. The Superintendent of Chicago has a blog that’s accessible to everybody. I started boxing to get more into the physicality of it, and to get that aggressive kind of yang thing that can go on.
What did you see when you did your ride-alongs?
BEALS: Well, I saw lots of things. On the more comic side was a woman who refused to put her shirt on, in a fried chicken restaurant. She just kept taking her shirt off. She clearly had not been taking her meds, and she thought I was Obama’s sister and that I should somehow save her. On the more tragic side was being the first to respond to a man who had been shot, who was about to bleed to unconsciousness on somebody’s front stoop, and watching how the ambulances weren’t the first to arrive. It was really the fire department. The police were the first to arrive, but the ambulances didn’t get there for like 20 minutes, or something. Had this person been relying simply on the ambulances, they probably would’ve died. But, the fire department came and helped him, medically. At that time, I was able to see how the police department sets up a crime scene, and was able to follow the trail of blood to figure out where he would’ve been shot and where the shooter would’ve been, and looked for the evidence of shell casings, which I helped the detectives find.
BEALS: No, the first ride along was much more shocking. Then, as time goes by and you spend time playing the part, and you spend more time getting information, it’s not so shocking. I grew up on the south side of Chicago. It was not the first time that I’ve seen bullet holes in cars, it’s not the first time that I’ve seen shell casings, and frankly, it was not the first time I’ve seen anybody shot. What was really shocking was that there was a group gathered around this man, before he got taken away in the ambulance, who were all very upset that he had been shot. It was really clear that there were people there who knew who shot him, and that it was a gang-related incident, but that nobody would come forward with any information. That was shocking. What’s shocking is to see 6-year-old children jump-roping in the street at 2 am, a block away from drug dealers. To me, that’s more shocking than seeing somebody shot.
Since Teresa’s such a strong character, in what ways does she test your own strength?
BEALS: I think testing my own strength is having to suppress what are stereotypically more feminine or female values, like nurturing and inclusion. Because really early on in her leadership, as much as she’d like to be inclusive and share information, she doesn’t because it would be perceived as weak and could perhaps put her in a position of weakness. That is not the nature of the system that she is now a part of. She sometimes has to maintain some kind of balance between more masculine values and feminine values. That was really trying.
Did you talk to other women who were in roles of power in Chicago, or just in the police force, in general?
BEALS: I did talk to other women. Obviously, it’s a very interesting position to be a woman who’s in charge of a department, or several bureaus, who are primarily men, and even to ascend to the point where she’s been nominated for the position. I don’t think anybody intended for her to have this position, initially. There were two other older men, who had the position before her, and through their own misfortune, she ended up actually becoming superintendent. I really believe that she was probably the token candidate, and then is believed to be potentially a puppet for some of the aldermen. They are surprised by the fact that she’s not a puppet. Having said that, her ascension comes through expertise. She’s been in lots of different of departments, within the Chicago Police Department. She’s started out as a beat cop, was in tactical and was in homicide. She knows a lot of different departments, which is a feasible idea. So, I think that she does have a great deal of respect among her fellow officers, but you would be naïve to think that to be able to ascend to that kind of level isn’t without a cost. I think it’s cost her a personal life. Everything is about this job. If we’re fortunate enough to be picked up, you’ll see, even more, how problematic that is.
Superintendent of the police is a very important position for a woman. Did you feel you were up to the challenges of this role?
BEALS: If I didn’t feel that I was up to the challenges of the role, I certainly wouldn’t have taken it because I wouldn’t want to disappoint myself or anybody else. I knew that I had a great writing team, and I knew that with Detective Folino as our technical advisor, that I would have a lot of help, in terms of preparing for the role, even though, in the beginning of shooting, I was really sometimes at a loss of what to do because to try to comprehend the role is pretty extraordinary. There is so much that the superintendent does, and to be the first female superintendent is a lot to take on your plate. There were so many things that I had questions about that nobody could answer for me because there had never been a female superintendent in Chicago. Like Teresa, I was making things up, as I went along, trying to find my way.
BEALS: There is an episode where it deals with her family, and so you do see her personal life in that episode. You do get little glimpses of it, every now and again, but really, this is a person who has dedicated everything to their job, for better or for worse. Towards the end of the season, you start to see the toll that that takes on her personally.
As an actor, do you enjoy tapping into the challenge of bringing that all together?
BEALS: Yes, but at times, it gets grueling. There are times I just wish they had a scene with me, drunk and at a bar, or doing karaoke. That would be great. It gets grueling, and it made me realize that for her, it’s got to be grueling.
Did you get to do any stunt work this season?
BEALS: Mostly just smashing people in the face with my elbow, but no kicking in doors. I’m not on the street that often.
What is special about The Chicago Code? Why should viewers watch this new cop show?
BEALS: At least in North America, people get a sense that something is really wrong in government and in our culture. There is a corruption, not only in politics, but of spirit as well, when people are so quick to be violent with one another. I think everybody would like to be able to find a solution to make things better. We have the desire to reform inside of us, and we get frustrated because we don’t know how to change things, even if it comes to our own behavior. Sometimes you get frustrated because you don’t know how to stop that thing that you know is either hurtful to yourself or someone else.
Here, you have a cop show that is not just about the action that is on the street. It certainly has that element, and it’s got a lot of cop drama going on, out on the street, but you also have this whole other element, where a female police superintendent is taking on corruption, not only on the street, but in the halls of power and within her own department. So, the paradigm of power is turned on its head a bit, by having a female superintendent. You’ve already started to change the order of things, as we experience it in our day-to-day life, but you’re able to watch as this person is trying to make things right, at great cost to herself. You get to go into those halls of power, where people are making those backroom deals that are happening everywhere.
No matter what city you live in, those deals are happening, and you know that there’s corruption in politics and within the police force. You know that there is personal corruption and private corruption, illustrated in relationships with people. The show works on lots of different levels, like personal relationships, action and more drama on the street, and the corruption that goes on within politics. You can experience the show on lots of different levels.
What is it like for you, as an actress, to have a variety of different directors come in, throughout the course of the season? Does it bring a fresh taste to the series, each time a new pair of eyes are on it?
BEALS: Yes, it’s fun. We had lots of great directors on The L Word as well. You get to experience your character, in a new way. You get a fresh pair of eyes on the city and on the relationships within the show.
Did you find that the chemistry between you and the cast happened instantly, or did it take a bit of time to fit together?
BEALS: I think it was pretty quick. Everybody has a pretty good sense of humor, so everybody gelled pretty quickly. In the beginning of the pilot, Jason [Clarke] and I got along really well, and we talked about work, all the time. It was great. We had a great relationship, but we didn’t really spend time outside of work together, or anything. Then, I had to take a flight from L.A. to New York, and it just so happened that he was sitting next to me for the duration of the flight. It was really the first time that we sat and talked personally. We get along well. People are very silly on set quite often. Not unlike the Chicago Police Department, where there’s a certain level of humor to get through the day, I think that’s also true of many sets. A lot of directors were surprised at how it seemed more like a comedic musical on set than a drama.
BEALS: I love working with Delroy Lindo. I get schooled every single day, when I work with him. It’s so much fun. He is so specific in his work, and so dedicated to it. He just made me laugh. He’s also really smart about the way he went about playing the character. As much wickedness as his character is purveying, he also is doing good things as well. His evil is not perfectly delineated and clear. It’s murky, which is often the way that it is. It was terrific to work with Delroy. I cried on our last day of shooting together. I wished we had more scenes together, but maybe next season, if we get picked up.
With Shawn Ryan’s name behind it, this show is going to get to compared to The Shield. What’s it like to have such high expectations?
BEALS: Just as long as people tune in and watch the stories, it doesn’t bother me at all. The L Word was compared to Sex and the City, and that was fine, too.