Keeley Hawes: One of the best; not one of the best-known

Not all gifted actresses, it seems, get equal amounts of attention. I'm quite sure I've seen more about Sandra Bullock and Anjelina Jolie than I have about Keeley Hawes.

Still, let's be clear about this: Hawes -- who stars in the "Upstairs Downstairs" PBS miniseries that begins Sunday (April 10) -- is one of the best actresses around. Here's a story I sent to papers:


PBS has an endless appetite for people
who play upper-class English folks.

There are two ways to get them – as
we see in the new “Upstairs, Downstairs” sequel. You can cast:

– Someone who grew up that way. Sir
Hallam Holland is played by Ed Stoppard, 36, the son of Sir Tom
Stoppard, the acclaimed playwright.

– Or a gifted actor who can fake it.
Lady Agnes Holland is played by Keeley Hawes, 35, daughter of a cab
driver and a housewife. “Coming from a working-class background,
it's quite different,” she said.

Stoppard fits cozily into such roles.
“Would I personally be comfortable being an aristocrat in the
1930s?” he said. “Yeah, I think I'd love it.”

He also fits any dinner party. “He is
a deliciously funny, charming and quick-witted man,” Hawes said.

Her own image is hard to pin down. Tall
(5-foot-10) and slim, dressed in her usual jeans, Hawes is your
modern Englishwoman. That fit her roles in “MI-5” and “Ashes to

But she's also had classical roles,
including PBS' “Wives & Daughters” and “Under the Greenwood
Tree,” something she's always been ready for. “I had elocution
classes when I was little,” she said.

Her brothers became cabbies, but Hawes
veered away. “I'm the show-offy type,” she said. By 9, she was
going to drama school.

PBS audiences first saw her in the
imposing “Our Mutual Friend” role, as a young girl –
uneducated, impoverished – thrust into society. In England (and on
American cable) she did the first two seasons of “MI-5”; she also
divorced her husband and married her “MI-5” co-star, Matthew

He's had his own classic roles,
starring on PBS (“Any Human Heart,” “Little Dorrit”) and as
Mr. Darcy in the big-screen “Pride & Prejudice.”

It's a busy life, granted Hawes, whose
children are ages 10 (from her first marriage), 6 and 4. And it's one
that lets her slide along the class structure.

That's how the original “Upstairs
Downstairs” started in 1971. Two actresses – Eileen Atkins and
Jean Marsh – were watching a lush British miniseries.

“We enjoyed it enormously,” Atkins
said. “But we said, 'Our poor parents would have been ironing those
frocks …. Wouldn't it be wonderful it there was a series about the
downstairs people?'”

So they created one – and now there's
a sequel that stays in the same house, but brings in new people, 30
years later. Marsh still plays Rose, downstairs; Atkins plays the
commanding Lady Holland. Her daughter-in-law is Hawes, who keeps
going up and down the stairs of British society.

– “Upstairs Downstairs”

– 9 p.m. Sundays, April 10, 17 and
24, PBS' “Masterpiece Classic” (check local listings)



"Idol": Confiscate little girls' phones

What do we make of tonight's "American Idol" atrocity? A few things:

1) Little girls should be banned from all phones, computers and text-messages.

2) Pia Toscano is now the new Jennifer Hudson or Chris Daughtry. Which is not, come to think of it, such a bad thing.

3) I mean it. Any responsible parents will ban their daughters from using electronic devices on Wednesdays, between 10 p.m. and midnight.

4) It's kind of like driving or voting -- only to be done if you do it responsibly. It is NOT responsible to vote only for cute guys who sort of wink into the camera, while ignoring a gifted songstress.

5) These finals started with six males and seven females. Now there are six males and two females. The only time a guy (Casey Abrams) was voted off, the judges saved him. I'll bet they wish they had that save back now.

6) For a while, it looked like an anti-Italian thing -- Stefano Langone and Pia Toscano in the bottom three, while WASP-ier people sat cozily in safety. That was the reverse of the old days, when Philadelphia's Italian neighborhood kept giving "American Bandstand" its new singers.

7) Pia Toscano has to wish she lived in those days. Italians ruled and little girls had no electronic devices with which they could do harm.






A quick prediction

"American Idol" is getting tougher now, simply because there are no bad people to vote out.

My own view? Casey Abrams, Lauren Alaina and Paul McDonald were the closest to merely being pretty good. McDonald, however, had the advantage of going lost; the final three will be Abrams, Alaina and Haley Reinhart, with Abrams heading home, just two weeks after the judges savied him.

Thia and Naima can't win in a guys' year of "Idol"

In some ways, Thia Megia and Naima Adedapo are exact opposites.

One is barely 16; the other has five children and step-children. One is the daughter of Filipino immigrants; the other, many generations American, is deeply schooled in African culture.

What they have in common, however, is that both were blitzed Thursday by this male-dominated year of "American Idol." Here's the story I sent to papers today:


In an “American Idol” year of male
domination, the departing females can only shrug.

“More than 50 percent of the audience
is teen girls,” Naima Adeldapo said. “And when they get a crush,
we are done.”

On Thursday, she and Thia Megia were
sent home. That makes four females ousted so far; the only time a guy
(Casey Abrams) was voted out, the judges used their only save to keep

This time, voters ousted opposites in
one way: Megia – less than three months past her 16th
birthday – was the show's youngest finalist ever. Adedapo is 26;
“I've been the mother figure,” she said.

She has ample experience at that.
Adedapo, married to a reggae singer, has two young children and three
older step-children; she's also spent decades singing, dancing and
watching her mom perform.

Still, don't assume the opposite about
Megia. She's only 16, but she's been performing – big-time, big
crowds – for a decade.

By 13, she had sung the National Anthem
for the San Francisco 49ers, the Giants and Stanford University. By
now? “I've lost count,” she said.

For her, “Idol” was just the
everyday scary. “I usually go from extremely nervous to show mode.”

All of this started at a party when she
was 5, she said. “I got up on an old coffee table in my little pink
dress and started singing for my relatives. That's when I realized
that I wanted to perform.”

Within a year, she had a voice teacher
and she was singing two Britney Spears songs at the start of a
concert by Filipino star Rey Valera. Much more has followed,
including TV – “Showtime at the Apollo” and reaching the top 40
of “America's Got Talent.”

Megia is an old pro, someone who has
been on her own (studying at home via California Virtual Academy) for
her teens. On “Idol,” however, the school-age contestants have to
spend three hours a day in a classroom. “We didn't really get
enough rehearsal time, (but) it was like an escape for us, being away
from the stress.”

Adedapo, by comparison, had plenty of
time for her favorite activity. “Shopping!” she said. “You get
to go out and do the accessorizing …. and that's fun.”

She comes up with the basic ideas for
her African-style clothes and has them made by a dressmaker from
Chicago, where her performing roots are.

In Chicago, her great-grandmother had a
theater group, her father became a theater professor and her mother
was a storyteller. “She would bring me along and have me be part of

They moved to Milwaukee, where her mom
is a jazz singer and Adedapo is – well, everything. She sings in
her husband's reggae group and in her own bands; she has a dance
degree and performs in African-style troupes and more. “I know all
forms of dance; I could have added some ballet.”

The judges liked her style and zest,
but that wasn't enough in this guy-dominated year. The female total
has gone from seven to three; the males stay at six.

There was one other factor for Adedapo,
whose jazzy style may have appealed to older voters.

“My audience is not necessarily
tech-savvy,” she said. “They would go, 'I voted for you three
times.' I'm thinking, 'You could have done 500.'”




"Idol" women fade fast; "Grey's Anatomy" triumphs

Remember when this year's "American Idol" had six men and seven women? Well, it now has six men and three women.

It's been that kind of year. Only one guy (Casey Abrams) has been voted out -- and he promptly got the one-per-year judges' save. Here are a few of my comments about "Idol" and more.

1) OK, this time I almost nailed it. I predicted, correctly, that Thia Megia, Naima Adedapo and Paul McDonald would be in the bottom three. (Well, I thought there would be four and reluctantly tossed in Stefano Langone, but who's counting?)

2) What I got wrong, of course, was my perpetual prediction that McDonald would go home. Instead, it was Megia and Adedapo; I still don't understand McDonald, but others seem to.

3) First, this season started doing better group numbers. Then it tossed them out this week and broke people into two duets, a trio and a quartet. All four were OK; one -- the country duet with Scotty McCreery and Laure Alaina -- was great.

4) Did you catch that number that had Jamie Foxx and Will.I.Am somewhere inside a horde of dancers and fighters and singers and more? Now we know what would have happened if Busby Berkeley had been a teen in the hip-hop era.

5) The trio was OK, but I'm glad it didn't focus on Megia. I don't need to see someone who recently turned 16 sing "put your hand on my skintight jeans" and "let's go all the way tonight."

6) I don't care how many promos they run, there's no way that I would ever see Howie Mandel's "Mobbed." Ever.

7) Especially when "Mobbed" was going against the musical episode of "Grey's Anatomy."

8) Let's be clear about this: That "Grey's Anatomy" might well be the best hour of TV all season, maybe in several seasons. It took rich advantage of the stunning singing talent of Tony Award-winner Sara Ramirez and found clever ways to mix and match the other voices. And even if you stripped away all the music -- PLEASE don't -- it had deep layers of heartfelt emotion.

9) And somewhere, there might be someone who actually watched "Mobbed" instead. This grieves me deeply.

10) More tomorrow, after the conference-call interviews with Megia and Adedapo. They are talented females who had the misfortune of being in a year of super-talented men.