PBS police show’s turning into a sequel opportunity series for the British actress.
Don’t tell Helen Mirren that PBS suddenly has cold feet about sequels. It may have turned down a followup to the tremendously successful “Tales of the City” miniseries, citing cost and a reluctance to do sequels, but Mirren’s ” Prime Suspect” is about to launch its second sequel and a third already is in the works. “It won’t go on and on,” vows Mirren. who has made the tough, tightly strung fictional Jane Tennison the first female detective chief inspector (DCI) in the British police force an unlikely and remarkably durable TV heroine. “My enjoyment of this piece is the quality of the work,” she says, “and that’s really difficult to maintain over a weekly series… so I suspect that we will do maybe another set of them (three interrelated two-hour movies and then stop. And hopefully keep the standard up.) This Thursday, Tennison addicts can get a fresh fix with the premiere of “Prime Suspect 3” (9 p.m.. Ch. 13). airing as part of the “Mystery!”, series. The four-hour, two-part film finds the lip-biting chain smoker transferred from homicide to vice and caught up in a seedy investigation of child prostitution.
“It was a very, very tough subject and I think it’s very much to PBS” credit and also Mobil the underwriter and Granada the British TV production company to look at that subject in the face.” Mirren says. And there’s no point in trying to avoid the unpleasant issue, she adds. “It’s out there right now on Sunset Blvd. Same thing in London. Same thing in New York. We all like to pretend it’s not there, but the fact is there is a huge industry that’s based on child prostitution, and that means there are people out there who are prepared to pay for it. It s an enormous industry. This particular piece puts the searchlight on that particular corruption.” Regardless of the subject child abuse, murder, serial murder, sexism, racism audiences have responded passionately to the films. And Mirren with two “Prime Suspects” behind her and a third about to air here in the States, hasn’t noticed significant differences between the U: r reactions of British and American audiences. “In general, I think it’s very similar. Obviously, when we first did it, we didn’t know whether it was going to fly here or not,” she says. “We thought maybe it was too kind of English, you know – but on the contrary, Americans really responded to it.” Any differences at all? “What is very noticeable about American audiences,” Mirren says, “is they’re vocal. The way they will express what they feel, whether it’s approbation or the opposite. People come up to me and talk to me a lot in America. The English are a little more reserved in their reaction.”
The reactions of women have been special. Writer Lynda La Plante drew inspiration for the character of Tennison from England’s real first female DCI. “Prime Suspect” and “Prime Suspect 2” seethed with the internal sexist police tensions that followed. And that struck a chord with female viewers. “I have spoken to a couple of women police officers directly who have said that it was great for them to see their experiences on the screen and for everyone else to see them,” Mirren says. “Actually, that’s a response I get a lot from women in all kinds of professions. It shows the world at large and what a lot of women have had to put up with, but it doesn’t go on about it. It’s not propagandist. It just shows how it is. And I think a lot of women appreciate the fact that it’s been exposed in an entertaining way.” It s been liberating in a way, too, for Mirren to play Tennison, a pretty woman who nevertheless wears stress on her face like a road map of the Lake Country far from unhappy “I mean. I always want to look good.” Mirren admits. “I’m always saying to the cameraman. ‘Put the camera off a bit I don’t look nice like that.’ But on the other hand, the great thing about this character is you can let go of all that. It’s the advantage that male actors have in general. They don’t have to bother with mascara and stuff of course, they do, some of them. But, you can be sort of conscious of it but let it go, because that’s not of – primary importance here and that’s a great relief for a woman.”
Tennison’s career focus also tends to relieve her of the romantic entanglements with which she usually begins each new Prime Suspect” story. Her private life, in fact, invariably winds up in a shambles, but Mirren insists that hasn’t made Tennison an unhappy person. “I see her as driven, obsessive, vulnerable, unpleasantly egotistical and confused, you know, like we all are,” she says. “She’s, hopefully, a very rounded sort of person who, I guess, will change as I change. But I don’t see her as unhappy. On the contrary, I see her as absolutely participating in life. She’s out there. She’s in life. And it’s so rare, as a woman, that you meet to play those roles. No, certainly not unhappy. Far from it.”