She is acres ahead of her time, this divorcee who solves crimes and passes off advice like a wry Dear Abby. Mrs. Bradley is the slinky sleuth personified by Diana Rigg in another series of "The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries" airing in four episodes starting at 9 p.m. Sunday on WTTW-Channel 11.
The role lends Dame Diana just the right touch of variety that she longs for. The British actress, who spent the early part of her childhood in India where her father was building railroads, admits she's a bit of a gypsy. And playing the unconventional Mrs. Bradley fits into Rigg's plan to keep exploring new territory.
"The alternative is boredom of doing stuff which you've done forever and ever," she says with a sigh, "and you're never moving forward and never developing in your job."
Many Americans remember her as the sexy Emma Peel from "The Avengers." But much of Rigg's work in England has been more of the classic variety.
She was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company and established her reputation with roles in "Macbeth," "King Lear," and "A Midsummer's Night's Dream."
With "Mrs. Bradley," Rigg is able to combine both the sassy wit of her TV persona and the classy demeanor of her stage roles.
Though it's hard to believe, Rigg has had periods when she was out of work.
"But I was always able to find something else to do and not sit around and wait," she says. "I wrote a lecture out of a book that I'd compiled and I used it to come to America and did it at the Library of Congress, Harvard -- it was really about the history of theater and criticism," she explains.
Actually, her book resulted from her reaction to a scathing review she earned for her role in "Abelard & Heloise." Called "No Turn Unstoned" it's a compilation of vitriolic theater reviews throughout history.
And Dame Diana (she became a Dame Commander of the British Empire for her contributions to theater nine years ago) admits she's had her share of misfires. "I did a play 20 years ago which was a complete failure. I did a series in L.A. which was a failure."
That series was called "Diana," which she did in 1973 for NBC. She played a British divorcee living in New York--not too much of a stretch.
"I've had my taste of failure and in actual fact, most times you learn more from your failures than you do from successes. So you can't ever speak about them as being completely wasted," she says.
No matter what your training, life's little crises help make you a better actress, she says.
"Anything that deepens your knowledge of life and emotions, yourself, it must do," she says. "When people suggest that because of your life experiences you're able to play that sort of part better, I refute that.
"I think as actors and actresses we should be able to command from ourselves every aspect of every emotion of the human condition without having the experience--which is what the Actors Studio used to [teach]."