Jennifer Beals made her mark with one of the defining roles of the 1980s: Flashdance’s Alex Owens, a welder who dreamed of being a professional dancer. Now, she’s joined another iconic ’80s filmic universe: the world of Star Wars. Playing a member of the Twi’lek species, Beals stars in the newly released Disney+ series, The Book of Boba Fett.
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Twi’leks first debuted in Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi in 1983 in the form of the characters Bib Fortuna and the enslaved dancer Oola in Jabba the Hutt’s Palace. At the beginning of The Book of Boba Fett, Jabba the Hutt and Oola are gone, and the show’s namesake, bounty hunter Boba Fett, has replaced Bib Fortuna as head of a Tatooine-based crime syndicate. These events, as well as the events of The Mandalorian Season 2, set up the premise of the new series. Beals joins the cast as Garsa Fwip, a club owner of significant means. And though we meet Beals’s character in Episode 1, we catch only glimpses of the mysterious madam and the world she has created.
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Disney and Lucasfilm are well known for their ability to avoid major spoilers and capitalize on the power of a big reveal. The L Word star, who held her role close to the chest for a little more than a year, was not confirmed as part of the cast until the official trailer for the series was released last November. Fans of both Stars Wars and Beals immediately took to the Internet to speculate who this unknown character was, as little was known about the mysterious Twi’leks until now.
We had a chance to sit down with Beals the morning of The Book of Boba Fett’s premiere to discuss her career, what it was like stepping into one of the world’s largest franchises, and what’s next for the actor-producer.
You’ve known for a while that you were going to be in The Book of Boba Fett, but the details of your character have been under wraps. Now, the secret is out. How does it feel?
I am so excited. I just saw the first episode two hours ago. My heart was just racing … I got really emotional and I texted Jon [Favreau] right away to tell him I love the episode so much. It’s so cinematic. He makes [Boba Fett] suffer like any good hero has to suffer, and at the end, we start to see him come out of it. I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I get to be in this world.”
You’re part of the Star Wars canon now. People will be cosplaying as Madam Garsa Fwip, and there are already pages about your character and role. That’s pretty incredible.
That’s what Ming-Na [Wen, who plays Fennec Shand in The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett] said was going to happen. I mean, Madam Garsa is extraordinary. She is not like any other Twi’lek we’ve seen. She’s enormously wealthy. And the costumes are extraordinary. Shawna [Trpcic, the show’s costume designer] and I were talking about yoga, meditation, and dreams in our first meeting, and she said, “If anything regarding this character comes up in your meditation or your dreams, please let me know.” So I sent her these images that came to me, and she incorporated them into my costumes. It was incredible to me.
Those objects that were inspired by images you sent—can you elaborate?
Oh, you’ll have to see. Look closely and you’ll see them in the design of the earrings. I want to tell you so much more but I can’t.
You’ve mentioned that your character is unique. Fans know Twi’leks but not many like her, as you’ve said—she’s blazed her own path. What else can you tell us about Madam Garsa?
I can’t really share what I imagined her to be, because there are certain details coming down the line, but it was really important to me that it’s clear that she’s no one’s slave and that she’s no one’s master. That is why she’s a madam. She runs a place called the Sanctuary. They have actual plants on a planet where water comes at a premium. That’s how wealthy she is.
Does the name have any significance?
It’s this dream of another time and possibility where people come together and lay conflict at the door. We [director Robert Rodriguez and I] talked about her being like Rick from Casablanca. There’s no female equivalent to Rick, and by virtue of being a man, he had an unspoken power given to him. Garsa has to step into that power in a different way. It’s not given immediately; it’s earned.
What was it like working with Ming-Na Wen, Temuera Morrison, and the rest of the Book of Boba Fett cast?
Oh, my gosh, that woman [Ming-Na Wen] walks into a room and lights it up. Then she gets to Fennec and taps into that warrior. And Temuera was incredible. He’s working crazy hours, and yet he’s full of joy. He’d take the microphone and sing, “It’s just too good to be true / Can’t take my eyes off of you / I wanna hold you so much … I love you, baby.” He’s just singing to everybody and it’s just delicious. Meanwhile, Robert Rodriguez’s dressing room is next to mine, and he’s playing music on his guitar between setups. Sometimes Tem will come in and sing. So I’m being serenaded through the wall.
Earlier in your career, you were apprehensive about playing television roles. Obviously, that’s changed. What was it about this role that made you say yes?
First of all, I got to step into the world of Star Wars … which is an enormous calling. Then I got to work with an incredible team to create a Twi’lek character that we haven’t seen before. I got to work with extraordinary creatives who are playful and have a palpable, childlike joy when it comes to this world. And that’s something that I definitely wanted to be around.
In addition to The Book of Boba Fett, you’ve been working on other projects, most notably Season 2 of The L Word: Generation Q. What was it like balancing the demands of those two storylines?
I was full of joy. How lucky can I get? I get to play in the world of Star Wars, and I get to play my beloved Bette at the same time. Walking onto the set of Boba Fett, you’re surrounded by objects and characters from your childhood, technical excellence, and a sense of play. There is palpable gratitude and wonder to be part of the lineage. The L Word [Generation Q] is like the little engine that could. There are fewer resources, but we’re carving out new stories that can shift the paradigm. Both projects are fully committed to the power of storytelling.
Over the last 16 years, Bette Porter has become a standalone example of flawed strength. What has it been like going on this journey with Bette?
Sometimes it’s like being mired. I love her so much. She’s really trying. While she may struggle to find love, she’s always been committed to using her time on earth to make a difference. Last season, it was really about making space for Black artists within the traditionally white stronghold of the art world. This mission to shift culture is where she finds her strength. That and her love of Angie are where her moral compass always points to true north.
In The L Word: Generation Q, we’ve seen increased diversity among the characters. As an actor-producer, what was important for you to bring to this chapter of the story?
After the old L Word ended, culture began shifting rapidly. The new generation refused to be defined in the way the old generation wanted to define them. They changed our lexicon, the way we speak about gender and sexuality, and refused to be held back. In the past, I think people would pigeonhole themselves to get by. This generation wasn’t having it. Kate [Katherine Moennig], Leisha [Hailey], and I thought the show was the perfect platform for the new generation’s stories. Not that you can tell everybody’s story—that’s not possible—but you can begin to try.
Recently, you have been doing more producing. As a producer, what kind of stories do you wanna tell?
I’m always led by the heart of the story. When it resonates, it’s like a bell that awakens my soul leading me to places that I haven’t been. As a producer, I want to tell underrepresented stories that explore people on the outside who are redefining their power, finding their path, and perhaps lighting a way for others.
Are there any other projects coming up for you?
I can’t announce anything yet, but I would love to work with Ava DuVernay. I’m just going to put that out in the world.
Manifesting for the new year.
It is. I can feel it right now. I’m gonna go light a candle after this.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.