Maria Bello Stars in "Prime Suspect" on NBC

By Jamie Ruby

Maria BelloNBC's new crime drama Prime Suspect revolves around the New York City homicide department. The series follows NYPD homicide detective Jane Timoney, played by Maria Bello, who has just transferred to a new squad where her new colleagues don't like her and do their best to keep her away, including taking her cases. Jane, however, will let nothing get in the way of doing her job.

Bello, who is known for television series such as ER and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and films such as such as A History of Violence and more recently Abduction, recently sat down and talked to the digital media about the new series.

NBC Conference call
Prime Suspect
Maria Bello
October 6, 2011

Maria BelloSCIFI VISION: How did you get involved in the show in the first place?

MARIA BELLO: I was approached the year before, actually when someone else had written the script and I wasn't in a position to take a show then. And then it came up for me this year and it was so incredibly written by Alex Cunningham and I still didn't think that I could do it so I passed on it. I have a ten-year-old boy and I worked half time in Haiti, and I just couldn't imagine committing to a full time show.

But then when I went in to meet Alex and Pete Berg and Sarah Aubrey, they let me know that I would still be able to have a life and do the show and be a creative collaborative partner. And they, true to their word, it's been like that and it's been the best job of my life, to be honest. So I'm thrilled.

SCIFI VISION: I was reading that it is based off a British version, which I didn't know. How is it different from that?

MARIA BELLO: The original, the Prime Suspect that Helen Mirren did in the early '90s, centered around very strong female detective dealing with sexism, but mostly being just great at what she does. And similarly this show centers around a strong female detective who's a force of nature.

But that's kind of where the similarities end. This is a more modern version. It's set in New York City. The show really has a sense of humor to it as well, and there you go.

QUESTION: So you've put in a lot of strong female characters. So why do you feel it's important for these types of characters to be portrayed on television?

MARIA BELLO: Honestly, I don't even see them as strong female characters. I see them as characters, you know? I don't know any females that aren't strong, if you understand what I'm saying. That I think that there's a lot of times women have been written in the past in our media on television and film as not fully-formed human beings and women that we are.

So I'm proud to play parts, particularly this part, that shows a woman -- a real woman -- who is complicated and interesting and vulnerable and strong all at the same time, like the women that I know and love.

QUESTION: And has there been a favorite moment of someone that you'd like to share with us?

MARIA BELLO: Oh gosh. I have so many favorite moments every single day, I feel like I have the best job in the world. And, you know, every day there's a gorgeous moment. But it was pretty fun in the pilot episode where I'm getting beat up.

We were shooting at night and at one point my head smashed against the sidewalk. And the crew kind of cringed. But we didn't stop shooting. And Pete Berg ran up to me afterwards. He said, "Oh my gosh, I know you hit your head but it looked so great. That's the take we're using."

And we all had a laugh about it and it actually is the take we used and it looks terrific, I think.

QUESTION: We love the show so far.

MARIA BELLO: Thank you. Me too. I can't wait to see it tonight. I don't really see the episodes until they air so I get just as surprised as you.

QUSETION: Oh, awesome. Well, my question is actually about tonight's episode. It's called "Bitch," and I was wondering what is that all about? Is Jane the bitch? Is it one of the guys on the squad? What is the title all about?

MARIA BELLO: I love that question. You'll have to see for yourself. But Jane does find herself dealing with a lot of stuff and no sleep. And Jane can tend to go that way, if you understand what I mean.

I don't want to ruin the surprise. I'd just like to say that Jane, as well as most people I know, can certainly be a bitch with no sleep. How about that?

QUESTION: And I'm hoping it's also one of the squad members. Because they can be such dirt to her.

MARIA BELLO: Right. It's so funny. I was just at a coffee with my son's sixth grade with all of the parents. And so many of the women in the room came up to me and said, "Those guys are such jerks to you. We want to kill those guys."

That's exactly what my aunt said. I told her to watch, to email to me, and it was like, "They're so mean to her. I don't like it."

QUESTION: Did you talk to any female police officers when you were starting to do this show? I'm just wondering if that kind of viciousness that they have toward her, I wonder if that kind of thing is still going on.

Maria BelloMARIA BELLO: What's interesting is talking to women in all spectrums of business -- not just being a cop. Every woman that I know has experienced some sort of sexism. Probably not as overt, but there's an underlying sexism which sometimes still exists. And so I don't think that it's odd that it would be happening in a police department, to be quite honest.

And I also think that the sexism, there's another facet to it, which Jane is experiencing, which is these guys are under the impression that she slept with the chief of police to get ahead. And she also has a very particular personality, Jane. Some people are going to like her and some people are not going to like her.

So that's part of it, as well. Not just because she's a woman, but because they have this idea about her and because she's not nicey-nice all the time.

She doesn't play nice or try to get people to like her.

QUESTION: That abrasiveness that she has, is that a reaction to keep all those things that she's getting from the guys at work, is that her way of handling that? Or is that just her personality?

MARIA BELLO: You know...I don't think so. I think that's just who Jane is. And she's okay with who she is and she can't help but to be any different. I always say she's honest to a fault. She can't help but to be herself.

QUESTION: You talked about her being a strong character, but what else was it about her that made you want to play her?

MARIA BELLO: I loved that she had such a great sense of humor and her own style and her own humor and her own way of talking and she - it was written on the page just so singular. And I found that interesting, and more and more as the series goes on, she gets funnier and funnier and so that I laugh out loud and people laugh out loud during some of the things she says.

She can't -- as I was saying before -- Jane can't help but to be herself. And herself is becoming more and more clear as the series goes on.

QUESTION: How did you get involved in acting in general? Was it something that you had always had a passion for?

MARIA BELLO: No, I - certainly I read a lot when I was a kid - a lot of novels I started reading when I was like six years old and became obsessed with being the characters in the books. But I come from a construction worker family outside of Philly -- didn't know I could be an actor. Just wasn't something that we knew we could do.

And I was at university studying prelaw and peace and justice education. And someone said I could take an acting class as an elective. And I had no idea that I could do that. And I did. And I fell in love with it and I knew that's what I was supposed to do.

QUESTION: So if you weren't an actor, what would you be then?

MARIA BELLO: Well, you know, I never identified myself as an actor. I'm a mother, I'm an adventurer and I'm an activist. I have an NGO in Haiti called We Advance and you know, I kind of have two full-time jobs. Everybody on the set laughs at me because in between takes I'm always on my Blackberry to Haiti.

I've just been named to President Martelly's Advisory Council for Investments in Haiti. So today, like this afternoon, my 11 o'clock meeting is a conference call with the World Bank.

Some days would make me laugh. I think, "Who do I think I am that I have answers to these sorts of questions?" But there you go.

SCIFI VISION: Are they really strict with the scripts when you're filming or do you guys ad lib your own stuff? How does that work out?

MARIA BELLO: Not at all, which is so much fun. I mean, it - the show's so well written, so it's not like things have to be changed. But they - Alex is really open to it feeling really authentic coming out of the mouths of the characters.

And we have such wonderful actors on our show that they love when we ad lib and put in our little - put in our personalities. So we're lucky that we're able to do that because in a lot of shows they don't let you change one word.

And I actually said that from the beginning. I said, "Honestly, I can't really act like that. I would be bored and I would be miserable." And they said, "Well that's not what it's going to be. We will - we all want to collaboratively have fun and make this something really interesting." And that's what they've done.

SCIFI VISION: What would you like to see happen for your character if you could write whatever it is. What would you want to have happen?

Maria BelloMARIA BELLO: I can't even think that far ahead, to be quite honest because I'm so overwhelmed with script after script. I know every script that they've given me thus far is more and more complicated in terms of Jane's complexity, her inner life, her life with her family, her life with her colleagues, and the cases. And that makes me happy in terms of what else is going to happen -- I have no idea. I'm as surprised as you are every week.

SCIFI VISION: Can you talk about what it was like working with Jason Isaacs and Taylor Lautner in Abduction? That was a great movie.

MARIA BELLO: Thank you. Jason Isaacs is such a cool guy. We got to be friends on that movie. I just adored it. And John Singleton, we wanted to work together for years. He's a really wonderful director and human being and he also was a director that said, "Let's just play. There's not much on the page but let's just make this something, this relationship." And I think he really made it work.

Taylor was so lovely. I had no idea who he was until I told my 17-year-old niece that I was doing a movie with him, and she basically started crying and said, "Oh my God, I love him." I didn't realize what a gigantic movie star he was. You know, I've never seen anything like it, really. Every day outside of our set there would be 200 women and girls screaming his name. Even when he wasn't on set it was nutty. But that being said, he couldn't have been more humble and interested in doing great work and I think he did a terrific job.

QUESTION: As the show started there was that funny scene where she was running and out of breath and everything because of the cigarette smoking. How was that for you? How do you find the physical part of the role?

MARIA BELLO: Oh honey, you haven't read about that story? Because people took hold of that story. On that day it was my birthday, my 44th birthday. We were at the reservoir in New York City. And I asked Pete Berg, "Am I going to have to run around the reservoir for the scene?" And he said, "No, no, we'll call cut and you just have to run this block." "Fine. That sounds fine"

So the morning of my birthday I - I'm not kidding you. I had a hot dog. I had pia, just on the street corner in New York. And I smoked about 5 gazillion cigarettes because I'm a smoker, though I just quit, then I started again. That's a whole other story.

And I had to do that scene. And he never called cut. So I had to run around the entire reservoir and I was about to murder him.

So that was real when I was trying to breathe, that was all very real.

QUESTION: The show to me feels like it has a real sort of 70s flavor, like 70s cop shows, almost.


QUESTION: Is there any conscious effort to go that way or is it just the way that Alexander writes?

MARIA BELLO: I think that's the way she writes. You know, she was on NYPD Blue. She likes to think of me as the female Sipowicz is what she says, which I really like. And I also loved Kojak and Columbo and Baretta -- those kind of shows when I was growing up. And not saying that we've modeled it exactly on those shows but there's certainly a flavor of that.

QUESTION: Tonight Jane gets another - there's another woman cop comes on the scene, right? And I was wondering if she's going to be around for the rest of the season if she and Jane sort of pal up to get the guys.

MARIA BELLO: Well it's the wonderful Elizabeth Rodriguez, who's such an incredible actor. And she's going to bring a whole 'nother interesting dynamic to the show. And she will be around -- not in every show but in some shows of the season. And hopefully stay around because she's incredible and I think it gives the show, like I said, another dimension.

SCIFI VISION: Are there any guest stars you would really like to see on the show?

MARIA BELLO: I would love to have my dear old friend Bill Macy on the show, I'll tell you that. And boy, wouldn't it be something to have Helen Mirren on our show? Who happens to be my favorite actor and having to have done this part in the British series.

Maria BelloSCIFI VISION: I was going to ask you who would you like to work with, even on another show -- your dream person to work with? I'm guessing then that she would be one of them.

MARIA BELLO: Yes, she would certainly, certainly be one of them.

SCIFI VISION: Is there any dream role that you'd like to do that you haven't had a chance?

MARIA BELLO: There was this thing in Variety some years ago and it said if you couldn't be an actor, what would you have done? And there was a photo of me as a war reporter. I've been obsessed with being war reporter for a long time. I'm quite an adventurer and travel a lot,? all over the world. And I think that's what my other job would be.

Or to play a war reporter.

SCIFI VISION: What have you learned about yourself since you started filming?

MARIA BELLO: Oh gosh, I learn something about myself every single day. If I'm not learning something then I think I'm not doing my job as a human being. I like to say that I am very much like Jane, because people say often, "How close are you to this character?" Right? I'm very like Jane. I'm a little bit nicer. Just a little bit.

So it's all - it's been, for me, an acceptance of myself as a woman and my flaws and my quirks and my strengths and sort of an affirmation of that being all pretty wonderful.

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