There's nothing like a dame, especially when her name's Helen Mirren. The accomplished 58-year-old actress, recently honored by the British government, is back as a tough Brit copper named Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness. This time, Tennison investigates the brutal murder of a young Bosnian refugee. The second half of this two-parter — airing on PBS's Masterpiece Theater — runs Sunday at 9 pm/ET.
TV Guide Online: Congratulations on being made a Dame of the British Empire last summer. Did the Queen tap you on the shoulder with a sword?
Helen Mirren: I got my honor from Prince Charles, but men get tapped, women don't. It's a great honor that comes from [my] country. It's very sad that a similar thing doesn't exist in America.
TVGO: What are you most recognized for over here?
Mirren: There's a section of the public who absolutely know me for Prime Suspect, another for Calendar Girls, and another for my theater work. There's a certain segment to whom I'm one person only: If I'm shopping for a T-shirt in the Gap, one of the young girls working there inevitably shouts, "Oh my God, it's Mrs. Tingle!" And I say, "Yes, 'tis, but don't worry. I'm a nice person." It's kind of cool.
TVGO: Why did you decide to play Tennison again after seven years?
Mirren: They'd been asking me every year if I'd do it and [every time] I'd say, "Not this year." Television is a particular kind of success — people can forget you've been nominated for an Oscar twice. I finally said yes because I felt that enough time and water had separated me from the series and the character.
TVGO: Did you make the right decision? Are you happy with the new episodes?
Mirren: Yes. And thank God. I was nervous about it because [the show] had to be at least as good as it ever was. Ideally, better. And that's a big demand, because it's all a crapshoot.
TVGO: Is Last Witness the last Prime Suspect?
Mirren: No. I think I'll do another one. Then that will be it.
TVGO: What have cops said to you about the truth of the series?
Mirren: Female police officers have always been immensely supportive of it. Male officers as well. They're very proud of it. We try to get all the elements of police procedure absolutely right. Obviously, there are little tweaks you make for dramatic purposes. But very little. We make it as true a representation of their lives as possible.
TVGO: I interviewed Eric Stoltz, who played your young lover in Showtime's The Passion of Ayn Rand, and he said, "I made love with Helen Mirren!"
Mirren: [Laughs] I made love with Eric! How lucky am I?
TVGO: He said you asked specifically for sex scenes.
Mirren: Yes, I did. But often I'll say a sex scene isn't necessary. In fact, there was a sex scene in Prime Suspect that I didn't think was necessary. I said, "Let's lose that." It didn't advance the character or the story.
TVGO: You've had love scenes with some very sexy actors over the years. Who most embodied S-E-X?
Mirren: Oliver Martinez [the gigolo in Showtime's The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone] was gorgeous, but more than that, he's smart and has a great sense of humor. He was the total package.
TVGO: He's another of your younger male love interests. You've become quite the role model for women of a certain age!
Mirren: Mmm. There was also Stuart Townsend, Charlize Theron's squeeze in [the play] Orpheus Descending. He was wonderful.
TVGO: You've always been comfortable taking your clothes off on screen.
Mirren: Yeah. I don't care anymore. I'm a great admirer of Gerard Depardieu. I would see myself in a perfect world as a female Gerard Depardieu. He's very chunky, but he doesn't have that attitude of "Oh, my God, I've got a nude scene. I've got to work out." It's an inner attitude toward one's body.
TVGO: Can you convey that inner attitude if you're botoxed or cosmetically altered?
Mirren: It's a dangerous route to go down. The personality leaves the face. If all you have is tied into being beautiful, when that goes, nothing is left. My identity as an actor has never been [about] what I look like. I was never gorgeous, so I had to find another route for myself.
TVGO: You once said marriage is like turnips. You didn't have a taste for it. But in 1997, you finally married director Taylor Hackford after years together.
Mirren: It was the absolutely right thing to do. We wanted to make our two families into one. I love being married to the man I'm married to.