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Jennifer Beals' fascination with the afterlife started long before she became an actress.
"This is certainly something that I've been thinking about ever since I was a kid, and just was always really interested in what I perceived as this mystery that I wanted answers to," Beals tells TVGuide.com. "At a very young age I was reading the Bible every night, and I knew maybe somewhere in that book was the answer to this question - not only of what happens after we die, but who is God or what is God? And what is this existence that happens in between the in breath and the out breath? ... Then I got a set of Tarot cards, and started taking books out on the Occult from the library and making all kinds of drawings and collages about mystery and death ... which was really upsetting to my mom."
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Now, Beals is channeling those questions (as well as a recent personal interest in science) into her latest project: TNT's Proof, in which she stars as Dr. Carolyn "Cat" Tyler, a surgeon reeling from the recent loss of her young son as well as a subsequent near-death experience herself. In the first episode, which premieres Tuesday, Dr. Tyler is approached by a wealthy magnate (Matthew Modine) who's suffering from a fatal disease and commissions her to find proof that there is life after death.
"You have this woman ... who is so caustic and so skeptical in her approach to any kind of life after death, being asked to engage in this journey of exploration that is so deeply personal and emotional," Beals tells TVGuide.com. "She's really this person who does embody skepticism and faith all at the same time. Because, as skeptical as she is, she'd love nothing more to believe, and to believe with proof, that her son is somewhere and that she will be reunited with him in some way. ... To have those two polarities kind of at odds with each other was really an interesting prospect to play."
Much like some of Beals' previous roles (The L Word's Bette Porter comes to mind), Dr. Tyler is a no-nonsense woman who "believes that she's the smartest person in any room that she walks into," the actress explains. (It's no surprise that The Closer herself, Kyra Sedgwick, is an executive producer.) But there's a vulnerability underneath Cat's tough exterior that Beals believes sets her apart from other characters.
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"She's the first science-minded person that I've played," Beals says. "I think, unlike some of the other characters, her wound is very recent and very profound. I think she's wounded more deeply, in a way, than anybody that I've played. And delving into work to the degree which she does is a way to try to cover that up as quickly as possible and deal with it as quickly as possible, which of course is not dealing with it at all."
With the common thread of Dr. Tyler's seemingly impossible task weaving through the episodes, not to mention the splintered family dynamic among herself, her ex-husband and their daughter, Proof also incorporates procedural elements, a la The X Files. And while the premise lends itself to describing Proof as a series about death, Beals (despite her lifelong fixation on the topic) says she actually views it as quite the opposite.
"What it becomes is an incredible portrayal of life and what matters to us. That question of 'What happens after we die?' ultimately leads you back to, 'What do you want your life to be right now? What matters to you right now?'" Beals explains. "I think that one of the things that drives Carolyn Tyler to get out of bed in the morning after the loss of her son is knowing that she is perhaps the one person that will be able to save someone's life that day.
"It's been my favorite project so far," she adds. "It's, to me, incredibly compelling. I don't know that there's a more compelling or more universally shared question than what happens after we die. I hope that that question creates a lot of conversation and leads people back to thinking about what matters to them while they're here right now."
Proof premieres Tuesday at 10/9c on TNT. Will you watch?
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