In the middle of Southern California's recent heat wave, Jennifer Beals is sitting poolside next to an umbrella-shaded table at Hollywood's legendary Chateau Marmont hotel. She had picked the quiet spot to chat about her first foray into series television, "2000 Malibu Road," which premieres Sunday on CBS.
The interview hasn't started and something is troubling her. "Are your sunglasses prescription?," she asks politely but firmly.
"Do you mind taking them off? It is just so hard to see your eyes. To talk with people with sunglasses on ..."
The sunglasses put aside, Beals offers a small smile and sits back. She is ready to talk.
Nine years ago, the Chicago-born actress burst into the international scene as the star of "Flashdance." The surprise box-office smash, which made a fashion statement with torn sweats, featured Beals as an independent Pittsburgh woman who welded steel by day and danced by night.
Beals, 28, a former model, was a freshman at Yale University when the "Flashdance" phenomenon hit. She tried the big screen again with the 1985 Frankenstein epic "The Bride," which flopped. Beals returned to her studies, graduating with honors in American literature and Italian.
After college, she virtually disappeared from mainstream Hollywood films, appearing mostly in low-budget, independent movies including the quirky "Vampire's Kiss" and the offbeat "Blood and Concrete." She also has done films for European television.
American TV audiences will be seeing a lot of Beals over the next two months. Not only is she the roomie of Drew Barrymore, Lisa Hartman and Tuesday Knight in "Malibu Road," Beals also plays a lady in distress in the September USA Network thriller "Indecency."
Now Beals is getting used to working on "Malibu Road." Her head was spinning, she says, because of the fast pace of TV.
"I have worked on a lot of independent films where the budget was very, very low," she says. "I never had to work at this kind of pace. It's an incredible training in a way. You just dive in."
Her reason for doing the soapy series, she says, is simple. Beals wanted to work with feature film director Joel Schumacher ("Dying Young") who, besides directing all six episodes, is co-producer with creator Terry Louise Fisher and Aaron Spelling.
"He had always wanted to work with me," Beals says. "He asked me to do 'St. Elmo's Fire,' but I was in school. I think if he had just been producing the show there would have been a fear in me he wouldn't have been involved as I needed."
Beals plays criminal attorney Perry Quinn, who is still mourning over the death of her fiance. "I am the one who spends most of my day downtown far away from the world of Malibu," she says. "For my character, Malibu is sort of the land of Barbie and Ken. The character sees it more as an opportunity to start over again."
The scariest part of doing the series, Beals says, is committing to stay in one city for several months. She and her filmmaker husband, Alexandre Rockwell, live in Manhattan with their dog and cats, but are constantly on the road.
"We have godchildren in the Dominican Republic," she says. "We both have a lot of friends in Europe."
The two recently teamed for Rockwell's independent comedy "In the Soup," which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival. "I had done a small part for him before in a film called 'Sons,' which hasn't been released here yet, where I play a transvestite," Beals says, laughing.
Beals never worried about her career losing momentum after she put it in hold to finish college.
"Maybe other people worried about that for me," Beals says. "For better or for worse, I have never been career-minded--very career-minded, anyway. I had never read Variety. What mattered to me was my work at school and experiencing that as fully as I could."
Though she knew she wanted to continue acting, "I didn't want to study drama (at Yale). I felt (if I studied drama), I would never have the opportunity to study literature, Italian and photography in that kind of environment."
Being at school helped her cope with her sudden "Flashdance" fame. "I didn't have a lot of people coming up to me engaging me in film conversation," Beals says. "I didn't have a lot of people coming up to me at all. Maybe perhaps because Jodie (Foster) was there, people were accustomed to having someone who is visible."
Beals says she wasn't emotionally prepared to go to Hollywood after "Flashdance." "It is so intense out here," she says. " Everything is about the business. It wouldn't have been a good choice for me now."
But now she feels she is ready. After graduating from Yale, Beals spent two years studying acting in New York. "I wanted to learn my craft so I am not depending on my instincts all the time," she says. "After having studied, I feel like I have more tools in my bag. I feel I am a bit better equipped."