arts & entertainment
There is nothing
like a Dame
is in her prime
GILES KE Y TE
By Steve Fisher
BRITISH ACTRESS Helen Mirren began her
career in the 1960s on stage with the renowned
National Youth ;eatre and soon joined the
Royal Shakespeare Company. She went on to
become a television and ;lm star as well, acting in everything from Shakespeare (The
Tempest) to the action-comedy Red. She has
garnered multiple major awards and nominations for her performances, including an
Emmy as Queen Elizabeth I (Elizabeth I) and
an Oscar as Queen Elizabeth II (;e Queen).
But Mirren’s real crowning achievement
The Costco Connection: What
is arguably the role of Detective Chief Inspec-
tor Jane Tennison—a driven woman negotiat-
ing a decidedly male world—in the British
television series Prime Suspect (which aired
on PBS in the United States). Dame Helen
“[Prime Suspect] was a very important
transitional moment for me,” the Costco
member says in a phone interview with
The Connection from Los Angeles. “It
allowed me to transition out of being the
not-so-young hottie into the grown-up
woman. It gave me a recognition value
that I had never had before. I‘ve always
worked and was pretty well known. If I
had done television, I was recognized in
the street for about two weeks a;er ward.
With Prime Suspect, I was recognized
for the rest of my life.”
Here is more of that conversation.
attracted you to the role of Jane Tennison?
Helen Mirren: It was a very proactive
role, it was the lead role—which is always
nice—it was funny, it was a very nuanced
character, the story was great. It was really an
CC: As Tennison became more in control
professionally, her personal life did the oppo-
site. How do you prepare to play that?
HM: In those days, women high up in the
police force were fairly rare, which is what the
;rst story was about. So I did talk to policewomen about their experiences, especially
ones who had done well and were high up in
the force—what they’ve been through and
their attitude—and they were incredibly valuable to me. And apart from that I just let my
instincts take over.
CC: How would you describe Tennison’s
character arc over the course of the series?
HM: Up and down. Each writer was given
artistic freedom to take her wherever the
writer wanted to take her. ;e ;nal episode
was written by a recovering alcoholic, so that
was the area he understood and felt he wanted
Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison
(Helen Mirren) speaks to teen Penny Philips
(Laura Greenwood) after her friend is
murdered in Prime Suspect: The Final Act.
to write about, so that was where he took her.
Because there was that artistic freedom for the
writers, that’s what makes her interesting. Life
is pretty random and accidental. We never
know how it’s going to work out.
CC: What were the biggest challenges
playing the role?
HM: It was always a pretty intense shoot.
I could write a travelogue about all the best
morgues in and around London and
Manchester. It was physically and mentally
quite demanding. It was all location shooting;
we didn’t shoot in a studio at all.
CC: Did you have any input to the scripts?
Do you with any of your projects?
HM: I’ve done that with movies. But with
Prime Suspect, because the script was usually
quite intensive, it’s the structure of the story
that’s the most important thing in that kind of
drama. I was very involved in choosing which
writers to use. My feeling was always to allow
the writer full artistic freedom. ;e character
was created by a woman, and could
only have been created by a woman,
but once the character was in place, it
just happened that all the good writers
who came along a;er that were male.
ACORN MEDIA/ITV STUDIOS LIMITED
CC: You are inspiring many actors
today. Who inspired or inspires you?
HM: Anna Magnani was my greatest inspiration. I was attracted by the
European actors and actresses.
CC: What ;lms that you weren’t in
are your favorites?
HM: They tend to be European
;lms. All the ;lms of [Jean] Renoir,
Jean Vigo, [Roberto] Rossellini. ;ose
are the films I loved. And I hope Costco
begins to carry them because they’re very
hard to ;nd. C
DECEMBER 2011 ;e Costco Connection 47
The Costco Connection
Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection, a
nine-DVD set, is available in all warehouses.
Helen Mirren’s latest ;lm, The Debt, arrives
at Costco on Blu-ray on December 6.