Much has been made that Detective Jane Timoney of NBC's Thursday drama "Prime Suspect" deals with venomous sexism on the job.
Often, it's men noting this inequality. Perhaps women, like the show's star, Maria Bello, know that though it's more obvious in her character's workplace than others, women still wage this war on a daily basis. And like so many strong women, Timoney is tough and fights back.
"I describe Jane as completely self-possessed, direct and honest," Bello says. "She is incredibly flawed with a tough exterior."
Bello, wearing a green chiffon vintage dress, kicks off killer heels. She just left a photo shoot and a press conference. With a champagne flute in one hand and a cigarette in the other, Bello allows herself a few minutes to just exhale.
She's having a great time, starring in a show, rearing her 10-year-old son, Jackson, and continuing charitable work in Haiti. Talking on a patio overlooking the pool at the Beverly Hills Hilton, Bello knows that comparisons to Helen Mirren, who made the British version of "Prime Suspect" famous, are inevitable.
"She was really iconic," Bello says of Mirren. "She was such an iconic character. This one has a sense of humor. Jane has her own way of doing things."
"It was a long time ago," he says. "Critics and people who know about TV will remember it. And given this incredible performance and nuanced performance, this is absolutely, completely different."
There's a swagger to Bello's Jane, and some of that is from being on the NYPD.
"Her jogging and hocking up, spitting is different," O'Byrne says. "It may be the same job and some of the same issues dealt with in a different way. It's called 'Prime Suspect' so some of the stuff is borrowed and it's obvious to compare. Once you start comparing, it is a very futile exercise."
It happens that O'Byrne's character, Detective Reg Duffy, is the nastiest to Jane; his sexism borders on rage."We visited a couple of different squads and they were all wonderful guys and very nice, and we are taking some artistic license, particularly in the pilot. But there were no female detectives," O'Byrne says of the homicide divisions they visited.
"It's easy if no females are there," to be free of hate when everyone is the same, he says in his native brogue from County Cavan, Ireland. "Ireland was never a racist country when it was all white."
"I never thought of him as being sexist," O'Byrne says of his character. "I think his problem is if your best friend dies and she just comes in with sheer ambition and you think she probably didn't come in with a work ethic. Another female detective comes on the scene and you see this Duffy is not sexist, it's not a blanket thing."
Having an extremely capable woman, who's not afraid to get into a fistfight and can drink with the guys, is bound to annoy her colleagues. But the plots are driven by a different crime each week, as viewers get to know the detectives.
"If it was another cop procedural, I would not have done it," Bello says. "I would be bored and shoot myself in the head. She has an interior world, a home life."
As does Bello, 44. Growing up, her family had a pizza parlor, the Charcoal Pit, at the Jersey shore's Sea Isle City.
"It was like Mystic Pizza at the Jersey shore," she says.When not on the set or with her son, Bello is in Haiti, where she works in desperately poor towns to help women. Bello has also volunteered in Darfur, and is a founder of We Advance (weadvance.org) in Haiti.
"She is a gem," O'Byrne says. "My thing about the set is we have all been around the block a few times. We are very grateful about being in something we all enjoy. It's a great company, and we all have families."
"Everyone has gratitude to have a job that is really well paid, and they are really wonderful and Maria, on top of that -- her work in Haiti after being a mom is the most important thing in her life," O'Byrne says. "She is working all day long and makes decisions (about the charity), so she is working on that on a daily basis. That puts everything in perspective for her."
Bello also expects Jane will evolve.
"The way that I look at my own life, as a mother and how much I have changed, and I think of course the character will change," she says. "Don't we all?"Bello drains her champagne glass and is quiet for a moment.
"I'm in extreme gratitude right now," she says. "I wasn't sure I could take on something like this."