Britain’s Anna Friel has had one of the most diverse and distinctive careers of her generation. Born on July 12, 1976 in Rochdale, Lancashire, England, actress Anna Friel shot to fame at age 16 playing Beth Jordache, British television’s first lesbian character, on the serial “Brookside.”
Between 1993-95, her character was controversial, yet proved to be extremely popular in the UK, inspiring many “Free Beth Jordache” campaigns when the character was on trial for patricide. Despite her status as a household name, however, Friel was dropped from the show in 1995 when writers forced Beth to commit suicide off-screen.
The petite beauty remained visible – in more ways than one – frequently appearing in semi-nude or nude shots in British magazines, while continuing to act in such ventures as an episode of HBO’s “Tales from the Crypt” in 1996 and portraying Bella Wilfer in the 1998 BBC adaptation of “Our Mutual Friend.” Friel continued to develop a sex symbol persona with her role in the BBC-2 movie “The Tribe” (1998), playing a seductive member of a cult-like Goth group – a role that required full frontal nudity.
She segued to the big screen as the brazen flirt Prue in David Leland’s World War II drama, “The Land Girls” (1998). She continued to establish herself as a film actress as Ewan McGregor’s wife in “Rogue Trader” (1998), the biopic of Nick Leeson, whose financial dealings brought about the collapse of Barings Bank. She joined a stellar cast that included Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christian Bale and Rupert Everett for another telling of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (1999), playing Hermia, the love-torn daughter of an overly-controlling father (Bernard Hill) who wants her to marry another man (Bale).
Friel began making more of a name for herself in the United States, first by appearing in small independent films, followed by regular series work on television. She headlined the British-made “Mad Cows” (1999), playing a newly single mother who shoplifts and stages a prison break scheme with her best friend (Joanna Lumley) so she can find the couple who adopted her son. In “Sunset Strip” (2000) Friel was a struggling fashion designer catering to the Strip’s myriad rock musicians.
After playing the sultry nurse girlfriend of a barber (Barry McEvoy) who gets a job at an Irish insane asylum in “An Everlasting Piece” (2000), she travelled back to Napoleonic France to play a local woman in love with an army officer (Jean Marc Barr) in the swashbuckling romance, “St. Ives” (2001). Friel then gave a strong performance as the troubled and unpredictable Marina, lifelong best friend to the steady and bookish Holly, in “Me Without You” (2002).
After the failure of “Timeline” (2003), a sci-fi action flick about a group of modern day scientists trapped in 14th century France which starred Paul Walker and Frances O’Connor, Friel decided to try her hand at American television. She landed a regular gig on the short-lived legal drama, “The Jury” (Fox, 2004-05), Tom Fontana’s look at the deliberation process, as seen through the eyes of a different New York jury every week.
In the CBS movie “Perfect Strangers” (2004), Friel played a junior ad rep in London who switches jobs with a New York executive – thanks to a company exchange program – and learns how much she has in common with her counterpart.
She finally scored a TV hit with “Pushing Daises,” about a man (Lee Pace) with the power to bring the dead back to life – unless he touches them again; sending them back to a permanent death. Friel played his childhood sweetheart Chuck, whom he revives after she is murdered on a cruise ship, only to fall hopelessly in love and never be able to touch her again.
In 2008, Friel earned her first Golden Globe nomination for her role in the highly acclaimed series.
Consistently working, Friel dons a British accent in the big-budget satiric comedy Land of the Lost, opposite Will Ferrell, in which she, Ferrell and Danny McBride end up lost in dinosaur country. The actress will soon appear on stage as the iconic Holly Golightly and has signed on for a number of disparate films. The beautiful actress talked to PAUL FISCHER in this exclusive interview.
Question: But I’d like to start off by asking you how this project came to you, because it seems an odd film, given your previous track record of these really wonderful little English movies that you’ve done, to be doing something like this.
Friel: I tend to mix it up as much as I possibly can. I’ve never done a movie of this scale before, or of this kind of genre of film and I think it’s important, in this day and age, when there are so many actors of so much talent out there. You never want to get pigeonholed, so if I get the opportunity to do something really different, than I jump at the chance. I’d always been a Will Ferrell fan, and I’d loved Brad Silberling. I’d met him for another project years before, that he’d wanted from the very beginning to be British, and like my own voice, I really jumped at the chance. And I think – and I think it paid off. I can now go – I can tick that box. And it was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had. It was just such fun. Both Will and Danny are just tremendous to work with.
Question: Tell me about the relationship between you and Will. I mean, those two guys are incredible improvisers. Did you kind of fit in with that? Was it easy for you, especially as an English actress and with your background, to work within that particular milieu?
Friel: In that vein. Well, I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t totally intimidated. You know, I’m awestruck just to watch people do it, live, the acting. What makes the cut, and coming up with ten different responses, or skits in certain scenes. If the scene wasn’t working, how do you – it’s kind of an ongoing process. Usually you can work on – particularly on Pushing Daisies, because I was in the middle of Pushing Daisies. We did the first nine episodes, and I did Land of the Lost and went back, and you weren’t really allowed to change a word. And this is much more free-for-all. If you had ideas, you could just throw them in. And there’s little improvisation that I had within it. So, I don’t have as much to say, or as many of those kinds of gags like that. I’m much more the straight girl, kind of rigid to my story. And she has this kind of inexplicable crush on Marshall. And I did kind of justify that by – it’s very easy to fall in love with Will, because he’s such a nice, lovely, warm guy. And I just – as an actress, just – made myself – well, Holly, just think all his wild wit and stupidity is just masked eccentricities as a wonderful scientist. And Brad always used to just direct me and say, “You have to take it all seriously.” I’m like, “But aren’t I just going to be bored, and too serious?” And he’s like, “No, no, no. You have to. If someone doesn’t root it, then we don’t all believe in that world. And we need that to happen.”
Question: What was more intimidating? Reacting – trying to keep a straight face working with Will, or dealing with the special effects that you had to obviously confront?
Friel: Well, I think that whole thing is just bringing it back to the elements of when you use your imagination. It’s easy to suspend disbelief. So, I’m shouting at, instead of a dinosaur, a tennis ball at the end of a big metal rod and I have to take it seriously. I think, again, it’s just – if you can do that, and you can pretend that, then you can do anything. You just have to keep remembering it’s on. And I’m good. But then Silberling’s like, “No, no, with the effects, really, it’ll be perfect.” I was guided very much so.
Question: You do go back and forth, I guess, to England, but you’re living in LA now, or you moved back to England?
Friel: Well, when I was doing Daisies, before December, I hadn’t been home to England for two years. And I went back in December â€˜til March, because I did a job in England and then came back here to – because my daughter was in school, and I wanted to bring her back. And I’m a homeowner. I haven’t got a green card. But I’m looking to buy a house in both countries. So, for instance, I go to Seattle next to do a film called The Detail with James McAvoy and Laura Linney, and Elizabeth Banks. And that’s in Seattle. Then I go and do a movie in London, called London Boulevard, with Keira Knightley and Colin Farrell. Then I’m going to go to the stage and play Holly Golightly, and that’s in England. So I’m going to be in England until February. And then I’ll come back. Because I have to say, I really have enjoyed my time here. I really like it.
Question: Let me backtrack. Did you say you’re playing Holly Golightly?
Friel: I am.
Question: So you’re obviously not afraid to step into some iconic shoes.
Friel: I can’t look at it like that. If I do, it’s going to be far, far too daunting. I’ve purposely not allowed myself to watch the film, and concentrate on the novel. This is an adaptation of the novel that Truman Capote wrote, which is quite a lot different to the film. And it’s my own take. Audrey Hepburn, after all, was an actress, and interpreted a role that was written by Capote. And this is just another interpretation. Otherwise, we could say we’ll never do it again. But I don’t think a version of the book, which is a bit different, and because it’s on stage – I know it’s not been done before. So, you know. If I go in there and try and copy Audrey, then I’m going to fall flat. She’s too beautiful and too graceful, and she did something completely unique and of her own for that part. It will be different. People will go, “Oh.” But – they’ll recognize the story. And I just would kind of urge everyone to read the book before they come see the play.
Question: What challenges do you face as an actress working on both sides of the Atlantic, trying to find women to play that you’ve never played before?
Friel: Well, there’s a lot, because there’s so few – if I have the question correctly – there’s so few good roles out there for women. And there’s pressure between the A-list stars. So, you’ve got to find things that are just going to – individually, or what I do, is – things that are going to stretch me, and make me better, and hopefully create an audience that wants to keep seeing you. Because that’s the most powerful thing at the end of the day, is an audience that supports you. It doesn’t matter how many producers or casting directors love you, if an audience doesn’t want to actually see you. And just – again, not boxing yourself into a certain little bracket, where it will end your career.
Question: Are you surprised by your success?
Friel: I’ve been working probably since I was 16. So, you know, half my life now. I’m 32. And I think everyone’s just always more petrified. You know, you think, “Oh, I’m scared, and what’s going to be the next thing? And what’s the next thing?” That you actually forget to just enjoy where you are now, and go, “Right.” After all this, it’s always, “When are we going to go? When are we going to get – how is that going to last?” And I think it’s a change in my way of looking at that, and thinking, “This is what I do. And some people like it, and some people – you’ve just got to stay as true to yourself as you can, and keep as sane as possible, in – you know, what can be quite a mad industry.”
Question: You have a family.
Friel: I do.
Question: Is it hard to balance these two sets of responsibilities?
Friel: Yes, it is. Thankfully, I’ve got a great nanny, and I’ve got a great partner. He’s a wonderful Dad, and an amazing little daughter who was on film sets at only six weeks. So, I did my first job with her having given birth, when she was only six weeks old. So, she went to ten countries. And at this age, that you can kind of take them with you, and let them travel the world, and what she would have been being taught in a school, she’s actually experiencing. She’s being, as now, very balanced and a very happy, happy child.
Question: And what are you particularly looking forward to next?
Friel: I’m looking forward to all of them. I’m scared about all of them. I’m scared of every job I go into. I’m very excited to go back on stage again. Again, terrified. I think James McAvoy’s a brilliant actor, so I’m looking forward to working with him, and this director, Jacob Aaron Estes, who’s directing that, he’s been just brilliant. I really do like him. So, I’m excited to work with him. And then Bill Monahan, who’s – again, a wonderful, wonderful writer. So I’m interested to see him for the first time. That’s going to be great.