Our Celebrity and Entertainment editor, , travelled to the BAFTA TV Awards with Anna Friel. Here’s all the backseat action from one seriously swanky, …
It’s lunchtime before the BAFTA TV Awards and in a covert operation that could be lifted from one of Anna Friel’s intense AF dramas, I meet the most fearless British television actress in an undercover location in Hammersmith, leaping from my into hers. The mission? Heading to the to get BAFTA-ready. It’s hardly Marcella-esque, but a boy can dream.
Scooching into the backseat, I find Anna to be the epitome of warmth and exuding a personality as bouncy as her hair. The well-fingered script for her next project, positioned on the armrest, acts as testament to just how in demand this actress has become. Indeed, as we weave our way through the landmark-ridden streets of London, the posters of plays are markers of projects Anna had to pass on due to her hectic schedule.
It’s her Emmy Award-winning star turn in Marcella – the detective-cum-mental-health-drama – that has led to an Anna renaissance. After the show hit Netflix, Friel’s popularity saw her appeal cutting through all ages, a move that hasn’t been lost on the 41-year-old actress, “After making quite a lot that people didn’t get to see, I am so happy to make things that people actually get to see!”
It’s no exaggeration that Anna and TV itself has come a long way since THAT kiss in Brookside. But what was dubbed controversial for being the first lesbian interaction in television 23 years ago, would barely raise a conservative eyebrow today; a change that Friel can personally trace, having recently played an American attorney who leads a double life as an escort in The Girlfriend Experience. With a variety of sub-dom relationships with women peppering the narrative arc, there wasn’t any public outcry on that one!
However, despite her roles continuing to shatter public taboos, playing the controversial isn’t a life source for Anna, nor something she actively seeks. She said: “They just seem to come my way and I’ve been laughing with my family and friends recently saying that I’ve somehow found a niche of someone who’s not particularly got a great chance at life - they’re not roles that are full of good luck.”
Perhaps Anna needs some light relief and a good romcom next? “My mum said: ‘Can’t you kind of do a Love Actually series?’. I think the most challenging bit, in general, is that I’m quite an upbeat and happy person. I arrive on set and the director says: ‘sorry you're a bit too up for this, can you just go in your corner, put your music on and find your dark place?’ It’s like being sent to the naughty corner!”
After playing Marcella – a very dramatic interpretation of mental health – the actress constantly takes her body to the darkest of places through “utter concentration and by focusing on emotive music and thought-provoking things, private things that scare me or upset me. Or I go back to past memories that I re-live.”
Some good healthy doses of R and R are few and far between for fearless Friel, however, she notes that “it’s really important, especially when you get older and your body is not as resilient – like a hangover takes two days to recover from in comparison to your twenties and it’s the same with your emotive state. I was completely drained after filming the last series of Marcella.”
The millions who have tracked every spiralling move made by Marcella will be keen to see the detective return for a third series but has DCI Marcella Backland finally reached her limit? Laughing, flicking back her rough-and-ready mane, Friel remarks (with her cards firmly close to her chest), “Hans always wrote it as a trilogy, but we’ll see, because we would have to have prosthetics every day with the big scars and the chopped off Noel Fielding hair. I actually did that chop and because I know Noel, I did it and I sent a picture going ‘look, I look like you!’.” The definition of chic, I am sure you will agree.
But whatever is in store for Marcella, it won’t be light. “She can’t hurt her children, she can’t be a bad wife, she can only be herself. I think when you’ve got nothing to lose and death is the worst thing that can happen, then you become ultimately fearless and I think that’s a good way to start.” Strap yourselves in then, fans!
Speaking of having nothing to lose, Anna finds herself nominated that night in the Best Supporting Actress category for her heart-breaking performance in BBC’s Broken, playing a mother forced to cover-up her mother’s death due to extreme poverty. As well as being her most gut-wrenching performance yet, the messages of the show resonate in the fractured communities we find ourselves living in, “the key message is, even if you are not religious, there is hope and kindness, no matter where it comes from. People joining together as a community is what can help us get out of there; that and the government actually helping certain areas that have been completely forgotten.”
Naturally, the Love Actually fantasy isn’t coming to fruition any time soon. Instead, Friel is tackling one of the most heightened discussions of our time: the transgender community. In ITV’s much-anticipated drama, Butterfly, Anna will play the mother of a transgender child. Fresh from viewing the first two episodes, Anna’s enthusiasm for the project is infectious, “there’s a little bit of Pricilla Queen of the Desert feel, mixed with The Shape of Water, mixed with a really sad, beautiful drama.”
The key to the show’s success will be the refreshing way Butterfly portrays the process of gender transition. Anna notes: “Whatever your feelings are going into it, it’s not meant to ram an opinion down people’s necks, it’s to say, ‘Right, what if that happened to you, what would you do?’. Because I’m a really big believer in never judging anybody because how could you possibly understand until it happens to you? We’ve all got our own battles.” If Friel wasn’t already busy enough, she will also be the producer for the project, relishing being able to showcase, “a creative mind and an opinion that is valued and listened to.”
As we edge nearer London’s Corinthia Hotel, where the 41-year-old will prepare for the BAFTA awards, Anna is more enthused about her dress’s illustrious heritage than appearing on the red carpet itself. Anna practically springs out of her seat, “I’m bringing my own controversy to the red carpet… by wearing one of Lady Lucan’s dresses. Lord Lucan supposedly killed the nanny instead of killing her, he was never caught.”
“But as far as women and Times Up go – if her side of the story is true –this woman was labelled mad, given anti-psychotic medicine, put in mental institutes and every single one of her doctors was male, not one of them were female. She had a really awful life, her kids left her and as part of the auction, she left everything, including her dresses, to the charity, SHELTER and nothing to her family. I hope Lady Lucas isn’t upset with me wearing it, so hopefully I do her justice this evening.”
Hours later, as her green strapless gown makes its public appearance for the first time in decades, it’s safe to say Anna does Lady Lucan proud. Her illuminated skin radiates as brightly as the sartorial statement she is making, thanks to days of considered skin preparation. “Dr Sebagh has looked after my skin for years and there’s a new thing called The Explorer, which is quite painful. Little needles stretch everything, so it really hydrates the skin. It’s all natural but it’s the new way forward for beauty regimes!”
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Friel is quite the facial Queen, having another one in preparation especially for the BAFTAs, “I had a cryo facial this week, too, which is ultra-cold air. For those who can’t do that, get loads of ice. I am a big believer in ice getting rid of any puffiness!”
But ever the realist, Anna doesn’t focus too much on the awards themselves. How she reacted to her nomination is reflective of her attitude towards gongs, “I was in bed and my agent just called me like, ‘Hello & Good Morning BAFTA nominee,’ and I was just like ‘Oh My God! That’s nice!’, then I got up and took the dog for a walk and used up a poo bag.”
And that is just how Anna has lasted the test of time, persistently walking through the issues of our time. What. A. Woman.
Anna Friel and Josh Newis-Smith attended the BAFTAs with Audi.