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June 16, 2015

Proof and Consequences

What happens when we die? A new series from Kyra Sedgwick and starring Jennifer Beals explores life's biggest mystery.

Deanna Barnert
  • Matthew Modine (left) and Jennifer Beals

    James Dittiger
  • Jennifer Beals, Kyra Sedgwick

    James Dittiger

In TNT's supernatural summer drama, Proof, Jennifer Beals plays Dr. Carolyn Tyler, an acerbic cardiovascular surgeon who examines cases of reincarnation, out-of-body experiences, hauntings and other supernatural phenomena.

Despite an after-death encounter with her own late son, Tyler is a skeptic, but she's convinced to dig into the mystery by a Steve Jobs-esque billionaire (Matthew Modine) who’s facing his own mortality.

Beals and executive producer Kyra Sedgwick open up to emmy contributor Deanna Barnert about the series and the big questions it raises. 

Proof tackles very heady subject matter. What made you want to get involved?

Sedgwick: Since leaving The Closer, I wanted to find something for TNT and, in particular, something that carried on the legacy of a woman who's not 20 anymore finding the greatest part of her career.

When I met with [executive producers] Rob Bragin [Greek, Murphy Brown] and Tom [Jacobson], it was the best story I'd heard.

The thing was, I enjoyed the pitch, but then I kept thinking about it. It's such a simple idea, and no one's ever done it!

Everyone is fascinated with this subject, especially in this country, because we don't talk about death. We avoid it like the plague and are obsessed with staying youthful forever, yet we know this thing is looming over us.

Beals: What I like is the tension between science and experience, and between the need to grieve and the need to live in the moment and get through your day-to-day life.

Tyler is very tough and hard-nosed, with a sense of humor that covers any amount of pain. This show is so funny. You cannot go through what she's going through without a sense of humor.

And you can't get through the day grieving all day long. There are people you have to save, and they don't care what happened to you. And you have your family to take care of.

Has making this series changed your perspectives on life after death?

Beals: I had thought about those things, of course. Even as a kid in camp you're telling ghost stories. What's interesting to me about things like poltergeists, reincarnation and karma is where they intersect with physics.

We are very familiar, as a culture, with stories of life after death, particularly the Judeo-Christian story. We're largely ignorant of science. It's interesting to plug that into the equation.

I started getting interested in physics and the elements we can't see from Buddhism. A compass will lead you by virtue of an element you can't actually see, but it will lead you. It's interesting to me in and of itself, and also as a metaphor.

Sedgwick: Frankly, I hope that our souls go on, in some capacity — and on some level, I believe that, even though I have no physical proof. I've never had any ghost encounters. Trust me, I'd love to! I would love to find the proof.

Beals: But it's only proof until it's unproven. That happens in science all the time. The notion that we know something with any empirical certainty can be valuable, but then you need to always be questioning. There are so many things we don't know.

Sedgwick: We're still talking about the creation of the universe, we're still finding new planets, and we're still in the caveman ages of what we know about the brain — what it's capable of and how it does what it does.

Beals: I enjoy getting to use all parts of my mind in this role. It's fun.

How has the series measured up to your expectations?

Beals: Make no mistake: this is special. I'm so lucky. It's insane. When I went to go loop the first time and saw just the first 30 seconds, I started crying. I'd never had that experience before. It was exactly what I'd imagined and more. Alex Graves [The West Wing, Game of Thrones] is an amazing director.

Sedgwick: It was the highest-testing pilot of TNT's history. When I heard that, I said, "Higher than The Closer? Well, I guess that's good...." [laughs]

I'd always admired Jennifer's work, but I totally didn't know what she could do! Matthew Modine, same thing. He was born to play this role. Everyone has friendly, good associations with these two, and yet they're playing characters they've never had a chance to play before — and doing the best work of their careers. Because you get better when you get older! It's the truth.

Beals: We've got an amazing team.

Are you concerned some viewers may take offense to the question Proof raises?

Sedgwick: We explore faith very delicately, but we're not taking a position — either way — on faith, fact, science or spirituality.

Beals: It's a question that concerns all of us, regardless of religion. You want to be able to thoroughly, genuinely and authentically explore the question from all directions, whether it's a Judeo-Christian, agnostic, atheist or scientific point of view.

Sedgwick: What's good about the show is we have a conversation about it, and after every episode, people can have their own conversations.

Beals: What's really interesting is that in the daily machinations of the show and going over story, you realize that no matter where someone sits in the question of what happens after we die, what is crucial is how we choose to live.

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