Now in its fifth season, Showtime's The L Word is back (Sunday at 9 pm/ET) with its latest forays into the girlfriends' loves, lusts and career problems, not to mention a women-behind-bars side story, a "Don't ask, don't tell" crisis and a starlet-on-the-make chronicle of Jenny's movie about sapphic life in L.A. We talked to Jennifer Beals (we've loved her since Flashdance), who plays the starchy though smashingly sensual art-school dean Bette Porter, about her character's romantic dilemma, going nude and, yes, playing a dancing welder back in the day.
TV Guide: What are the big themes on The L Word this season?
Jennifer Beals: For my character, it's loyalty and truthfulness.
TV Guide: Which is a problem, since Bette bounces between two lovers — Jodi (Marlee Matlin) and, secretly, Tina (Laurel Holloman), the co-mom of her child. How does that play out?
Beals: I don't think Bette believes that she's in the driver's seat. She doesn't want to hurt other peoples' feelings, but that's not very helpful if you're the other person. It becomes the issue of, "How do I take the risk and move from one person to the other in an honorable way?"
TV Guide: Do your fans want Bette back with Tina?
Beals: Oh, you have no idea. There's a whole movement — including a website, TiBette.com.
TV Guide: This doesn't sound good for Jodi, does it?
Beals: All I can say is, "Poor Jodi." But I love that Bette is so terribly flawed.
TV Guide: Aren't you and Marlee old friends? How does that affect, say, your love scenes?
Beals: We are. It's really easy with her on set, but we laugh hysterically every time we have to do love scenes. It's so surreal, but you have to dive into the work of pretend.
TV Guide: Speaking of sex, this is a pretty lusty series. Have you ever disrobed, like most of the other actresses?
Beals: No. You can intimate nudity without actually being nude. That's what I've done, anyway.
TV Guide: You and Marlee sign a lot on the show. How fluent are you?
Beals: Bette knows a lot more than I do, but I don't need an interpreter so much anymore. My daughter, who's 2, loves to sign with me. It empowers a child.
TV Guide: Bette always seems pretty sad. Will she ever be happy?
Beals: I don't know! I never get the happy-go-lucky story. But it would be nice to have some really joyous moments.
TV Guide: It looks like fun on the set with all the actresses. How's it different from most shows you've done?
Beals: There's a lot more processing and a lot more talk about shoes. "What are you wearing?" comes up a lot more. [Laughs] And people are very supportive of each other.
TV Guide: Is this the final season for The L Word?
Beals: We don't know, but the show's done better than last year, and we didn't shoot a finale. I think another season would be really interesting.
TV Guide: How has this show affected you? It was a pretty radical concept.
Beals: I think in a way it gives the whole cast and everyone who's watching encouragement to embrace their most authentic self. It's affected me personally in that I've come in contact with women who have bravery in being out in the world with their sexuality.
TV Guide: Like who?
Beals: There were two women who came to the set who had been together for 30 years and had been in the closet the whole time. Through seeing the show, they found the courage to come out. That to me was incredibly moving.
TV Guide: Do you ever feel burdened with carrying the mantle for the lesbian community?
Beals: I don't feel that way, but I do feel like I've been educated and it's important for me as a human being to speak up. I didn't pay attention to gay issues before the show, but now, I take them more personally, because I see them through Bette's eyes or the many fan letters I've gotten. And the show definitely has had an effect on the culture.
TV Guide: You have a long and varied résumé. What are some of your most satisfying projects?
Beals: Being a part of this show, Devil in a Blue Dress, A House Divided, Twilight of the Golds.
TV Guide: Do you look back with fondness or horror at Flashdance?
Beals: Never horror. There's a certain nostalgic tenderness. What an extraordinary entrée into the world of cinema.
TV Guide: If they ever remake Flashdance, who would you want to play Alex?
Beals: Oh, I hope they would get an unknown.
TV Guide: What else is up with you?
Beals: There was a project I was supposed to work on, but with the strike, it's not going to happen. So I'm working on a lot of knitting.
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