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The Teacher: Mrs. Tingle

To play Eve Tingle in all her spiteful glory. Williamson chose Helen Mirren -in part because she seemed so unlikely for the role. Best known for her Oscar-nominated work in lavish British period dramas and her Emmy Award-winning work as Inspector Jane Tennison in the acclaimed "Prime Suspect" television series, Mirren was totally unexpected as a contemporary symbol of educational evil. Says Mirren: "This is not the sort of film that I'm usually associated with so I was thrilled that Kevin would think of me for this role."

Impressed with Williamson's mix of comedy, thrills and psychological savvy in the script, Mirren saw the story of Mrs. Tingle as being about the most frightening and very real adolescent rite of passage: facing the future. "For me TEACHING MRS. TINGLE addresses teenagers' insecurities, ambitions and fears about the future," she explains. "Remembering back to the ages of Leigh Ann, Luke and Jo Lynn, fear of the future is the most powerful thing driving you on. You don't know what's going to happen to you and it's terrifying. I think adults forget how scary that is.

But Mrs. Tingle hasn't forgotten how scary it is; on the contrary, she uses that fear to her own slick advantage when the stakes become higher, manipulating Leigh Ann, Luke and Jo Lynn with savage aplomb.

"I think Helen Mirren is one of the greatest living actresses that we have," says Williamson, "and the fact that she wanted to play this role was amazing. She elevated Mrs. Tingle to a new level."

Michael McKean, who plays Mrs. Tingle's principal, sums up the teacher's personality this way: "She's pure tyranny, the kind of woman who thinks she's obviously more intelligent than anybody else, who loves intimidating others. She could kill a man at twenty paces with her tongue. She's the bane of my existence...and everybody else's. And this story is about killing the Mrs. Tingle inside all of us that keeps us from being our best by making us face the worst."

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