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Gary Thompson: Forty-something Bello stays busy

THE JOKE about the three stages of an actress in Hollywood - babe, district attorney, "Driving Miss Daisy" - is so good, we repeat it even if it isn't true anymore.

THE JOKE about the three stages of an actress in Hollywood - babe, district attorney, "Driving Miss Daisy" - is so good, we repeat it even if it isn't true anymore.

The truth is the business is getting to be much friendlier to "older" actresses, especially if you factor in television.

Norristown's Maria Bello is now forty-something, she's mother of a 10-year-old boy, and she's busier than ever - a new movie ("Beautiful Boy") opens today, she has two more in the hopper, and she's about to embark on the American version of the venerated Helen Mirren BBC series "Prime Suspect," the quintessential plum role.

"Someone said this the other day, and I think it's true, that television is the new indie film for women," Bello told me recently. "I think really big-budget Hollywood movies are still a little unfriendly. I saw a summer blockbuster the other day and one of the stars was a beautiful young actress, and she had about two lines. I didn't envy her."

But even big-budget movies are changing.

"People talk about projects with women, and they talk like they're taking a chance. And my response is, 'It's Not A Chance!' " Bello said, laughing, and pointed to the success that "Bridesmaids" is having.

Television is full of dramas built around female leads, and now Bello is in one of them. "Prime Suspect" will air this fall.

Her son has seen the pilot, and his reaction to some of the narrative's sexism, she said, shows how much the culture is changing.

" 'Mommy, why are those guys being mean to you? You're such a good, smart cop!' He's raised in such a different environment, it was hard for him to understand it," she said.

That said, the new "Prime Suspect" will have its own personality.

"People always ask what it's like to be in Helen Mirren's shoes, and my response is, these shoes are a completely different size," she said. The new show takes place some 20 years later, and reflects the fact that attitudes have changed.

"It's not like there isn't sexism, but it's not the same kind of obstacle. Our show has much more of a sense of humor about it," she said.

A sense of humor always helps, particularly in the movie business. Bello has been laughing regularly at reactions to the news that she's starring in a movie with "Twilight" hunk Taylor Lautner.

"I was talking to a woman, a grown woman, and she found out I was working with Taylor and she started crying," Bello said.

The movie is John Singleton's "Abduction," starring Lautner as a guy who spots his child photo on a missing-children website and sets out to solve the mystery of his past.

"There were hundreds of women there every day. I don't know how Taylor works in that environment, or maintains a sense of normalcy, but he does. He's a sweet guy, and he's great in the movie."

She's also in the carjacking drama "Jacked" opposite Stephen Dorff, and working very hard on charity trips to help women in Haiti and in Africa.

Not yet Miss Daisy.

"The main thing for me is how grateful I feel at this point in my life. To be doing this, and to be busy doing all the things I want to do."