How hard is it to step in Helen Mirren's flats?
Not so tough if you're the amazing Maria Bello. Helen "The Body" Mirren famously played no-nonsense Detective Jane Tennison in the British version of the hit series "Prime Suspect."
Now, it's Maria Bello who is bringing a new version of Jane to NBC this fall when "Prime Suspect" hits prime time.
Ask Maria, who used to star on "ER," what she's doing to prepare for her new high def TV life and she laughs in a great throaty way.
"I don't do anything to look good," Bello insists. "I hate exercise. I smoke a gazillion cigarettes a day. I drink wine and coffee."
"I like aging," she says. "I like a few wrinkles. It's beautiful and says, "I've lived!'"
MARIA BELLO ON BEAUTY
Personally, I love Maria Bello's beauty advice. She's one of those women who look effortlessly gorgeous in movies like "A History of Violence" and "World Trade Center."
Don't ever expect her to talk about products. Her beauty routine starts inside.
"Beauty is about someone who feels secure in who they are in life. I'm happy in my life. It shows on people if you're happy," says the single mother of a ten-year-old son.
And what happens if some Hollywood honcho ever asks her to get a nip or a tuck? Answer: They better brace themselves.
"Oh dear God, no!" she cries. "As an actor, I see actresses do stuff all the time to their faces. They look so weird. How can you be expressive?
"I've been smoking for so long that I do have lines on my lips. I don't know how to get rid of them. I hear chemical peels, but who has time for it?"
MARIA'S PRIME LIFE
Bello doesn't have time to spa.
This summer she starred in the indie film "Beautiful Boy" and in September she plays Taylor Lautner's mom in the upcoming "Abduction." Of course, he's the dark hair teen hottie in the "Twilight" movies.
"My 17 year old nice was with me when I found out I was doing the role. I said, 'I'm playing the mother of some 'Twilight' kid. His name is Taylor.'
"She screamed, 'Oh my God, and burst out crying.'"
"Everyday it was 300 screaming fans outside the set. I never want that kind of fame."
As for her new TV series, she plays a tough detective on what's destined to be a major ratings hit. Helen Mirren's version of "Prime Suspect" is also so delicious that it warrants a rental or download during the waning days of summer.
Maria says she's not worried about filling Helen Mirren's celebrated shoes when it comes to this iconic role.
"Someone said to me, 'Helen Mirren. Those are big shoes to fill.' I say, 'I think we're different shoe sizes.'"
"The new series is set in New York City. It's very American. The tone has a real sense of humor," she says. "I don't think there will be comparisons."
She adds, "As for Helen, oh God, I love her. She was so iconic in the English version," she says. "What I loved and still love about this character is she's a fully fleshed out women who is struggling with sexism while balancing work and a home life. She has vulnerability, strength and power."
As for the character's style, it's pretty basic.
"She's not running around in short skirts and heels because she has a job to do. You can look amazing in very basic pants, shirts and flats if you wear it with confidence and this lady is confident," Bello says.
In fact, she says there is one accessory you can't buy.
"We spend so much time with lotions and potions. Why not work on ourselves? If you have good self-esteem and confidence, it doesn't matter what you wear. Strong women are sexy."
She says Hollywood doesn't usually give women decent role models.
"Frankly, I think the film industry should be embarrassed," she opines. "I went to a huge movie last week. The girls in it were very pretty and very sexy. But they were basically these shells.
"That bores me," she says. "I never did female characters like that and I never will."
"I search for women characters that are powerful and knowing," she says.
Bello says that she also searches to be that woman in real life.
"I love that my role in 'Prime Suspect' is a woman who is strong. She has to navigate a man's world and fight for respect.
"I know the feeling," she says.
"It's like a man doing business the other day who called me honey," she says. "Honey! I couldn't even believe it."
PAST AND PRESENT
The headstrong Bello grew up in Pennsylvania where her father is a contractor and mom is a school nurse. She attended Villanova University where she majored in political science. Her goal was to become a lawyer.
An acting class senior year changed all those lofty plans. She did a stint on "ER" in 1994 that was supposed to only be a three-episode arc. The producers were impressed enough to hire her as a regular.
Maria is also a mother.
"I always say the day I had my son was the best and worst day of my life," she says. "I knew that I would love this little person more than I ever loved anyone in my life. At the same time, I knew right there that I couldn't keep him from learning all of life's lessons."
"Even now when I raise my voice, I question myself as a parent," she admits. "I think, 'OK, I'm grounding him, but I'm sending him to therapy!'"
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