HELEN MIRREN HAS A CONFESSION. “I’m the sort of person who has always viewed the police as basically the enemy…. I get sweaty palms if a police car is following me down the street,” admits the husky-voiced British actress, 47, who is enjoying the greatest success of her career—as a policewoman. The blonde whom one British magazine called “the sexiest Shakespearean actress in history” and the star of such cull films as The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover is currently generating a different kind of heat playing a London cop on PBS’s Prime Suspect 2, the sequel to last year’s award-winning British miniseries.
“As an actress the thing that I like most about her is her unlikability,” says Mirren of her character, Del. Chief Inspector Jane Tennison. Mirren will shoot a third installment of Prime Suspect in June and is hoping to reprise the role in a planned feature film based on the series. “She messes up, she’s a very flawed character—in other words, she’s a real person.” On TV Mirren looks the part—chopped hair, no makeup, at times downright haggard. “People call me up now,” she says, smiling, “and say, ‘Helen, we’ve got this role for someone who looks like a dog, and we thought of you immediately.”
Mirren says she has no problem finding tempting parts, glamorous and otherwise, because of her willingness to go where the work is. Most of the mealiest roles tend to be in Europe, she believes, which is why the actress spends half the year away from the six-acre Hollywood estate she shares with director Taylor Hackford, 48, and their three Louisiana Catahoula hounds. (The couple met in 1985, when she appeared in Hackford’s film White Nights.)
After eight years of bicontinental living, Mirren calls herself an “amused observer” of the Los Angeles scene. Among her amusements are local drivers—”half asleep…they’d be dead in a second in New York”—many of whom she leaves in the dust of her turquoise ’67 Mustang convertible. Although Mirren does some writing, she has no plans to write scripts. “The only way that women will get better roles in films and theater and television,” she says with a Tennisonian edge, “is by making better roles for women in life.”