Out in Los Angeles, Maria Bello is tooling along in her black Prius, going to pick up her son at soccer, wearing jeans, a white tank top, no shoes ("Shoes? I don't like shoes!"), having finished another day filming her new NBC series, Prime Suspect, in which she plays a tough-broad NYPD detective named Jane Timoney. "She's a woman who is unapologetic and direct," says Bello, who started her career on ER before moving on to films like A History of Violence. "People describe her as a tornado. She's an individual, not just an idea of a woman being a detective. She's someone you've never seen before."
Which isn't exactly true, of course, if only because Prime Suspect is based on the British show of the same name, which starred Helen Mirren and featured lots of chain-smoking and booze-swilling, and very few laughs. Bello's version of the character is still strong, rude and has to deal with rampant sexism; but she's also sunnier, less burdened and more given to chewing gum and wearing a snazzy fedora. Also, Mirren didn't get knocked around. Whereas Bello, in the pilot, gets stomped by a bad guy, leaving her face battered and pulpy. "You never see women on TV getting beat up like that," says Bello. "My character is tough and smart, but she still can't take on a guy twice her size, and I like that."
By Erik Hedegaard