On the other end of the phone, Jennifer Beals is reading a Carl Sandburg poem titled "Chicago." Scratch that — she's performing it.
The poem celebrates Chicago's blue-collar work ethic as what trumps portrayals of the city as a corrupt, dangerous place to live. It's the best way for Beals, a Windy City native and star of Fox's The Chicago Code, to explain how she — and her character, Police Superintendent Teresa Colvin — feel about the place they call home.
"I have such a fierce love for my hometown and always have," Beals tells TVGuide.com. "The Sandburg poem is really helpful in understanding Chicago. It still holds true. That is Chicago, except for now there are amazing skyscrapers amidst it all.
"There is still that sort of fierce pride and that fierce love is reflected in a code of behavior," she continues. "People are very, very proud of their city despite the fact that there's corruption."
That corruption is exactly what Teresa, the first female police superintendent in the city's history, is trying to squash. But before she can take down dirty politicians of The Chicago Code world, like Alderman Ronin Gibbons (Delroy Lindo), who is keeping the city under his thumb, Teresa has to find a way to lead the predominantly male police force.
"She's trying to understand what that leadership looks like," Beals says. "I think that she's definitely given over her entire life to this job, for better or for worse, and it's really interesting playing somebody who's struggling to create the template. There are times when she struggles with her leadership style. One moment, she's pretty authoritarian and isn't really sharing information, and there are other moments where she wants to be inclusive, but to do so might be perceived as being weak or incompetent. She really wants those men and women to be safe. And she knows that she can't really attack the bigger picture without having her own backyard in order."
Beals' hardened portrayal of Teresa Colvin is a far cry from the 47-year-old actress' star-making turn as the off-the-shoulder-sweatshirt-wearing lead in Flashdance or her role on Showtime's The L Word. In Monday's episode Teresa's toughness will be on full display, as her cat-and-mouse game with Gibbons reaches a whole new level. While Gibbons proves just how powerful and manipulative he can be, Beals says Teresa proves she won't be deterred by the shifts in momentum.
"It jockeys back and forth," Beals says. "Alderman Gibbons is such an expert at it that Teresa's at the losing end quite a bit because she's not as astute as he is yet. She's obviously got game, but she doesn't have the kind of experience nor the contacts that he has. So it's really a David-and- Goliath situation. But she's not going to give up. The real struggle too is: How do you fight the corruptor without yourself becoming corrupt?"
"They have a very profound, deep relationship with one another that is really based on respect and a mutual regard for one another," Beals says. "So often the base of a romantic relationship will be those very things of respect and admiration for someone, but for them, it's different. There's that energy that goes between them that's very palpable.
"He's probably one of the few people who can tell her the truth and he does go out of his way to [do so]," she continues. "He's really her best friend as far as we can see so far."
Beals says it's nice to see a pair of cops like Colvin and Wysocki in today's antihero-obsessed TV landscape. (Chicago Code executive producer Shawn Ryan created one of TV's most memorable antiheroes in The Shield's Vic Mackey.) But she teases that Teresa's motivations run deeper than being just a true-blue hero.
"It's not as if Superwoman has come to the Chicago Police Department," she says with a laugh. "She's got a lot of personal problems that start to be revealed later on as the season goes. There is such a thing as the 'white shadow.' Why is somebody so determined to do good?"
"You have to ask yourself, 'Why do I do it?'" Beals continues. "Do I do it to benefit all mankind, or do I do it because I have such a wound inside me that I feel will only be healed by doing good for others? Either way is valid and helpful for the rest of the world, but there will be a time when you will be called to heal yourself on your own. And I think at one point, Teresa Colvin is going to have to address the wounds that are inside her that cannot be healed even if she had the entire city planting daisies and dancing hand-in-hand."
The Chicago Code airs Mondays at 9/8c on Fox.