‘People used to shout “dyke” at me in the street’
NEW SERIES New landmark drama Butterfly stars Anna Friel, 42, as the mum of a transgender child. She talks about being involved with this “important and beautiful story”
What was it that made you want to be involved in this? I said, “This story is going to teach me something.” Because if this was my daughter Gracie (13, from a past relationship with actor David Thewlis), I don’t know how I would deal with it. And I don’t know what my views are because I’m so ill-informed. They were also shooting in Manchester, so I said, “Yeah, going home – that’ll be awesome.” Tell us about your character, Vicky… You can clearly see that she loves Max dearly. What was really interesting to me was that as a mother to a transgender child, Vicky has to grieve for her son; she has to say goodbye to Max and hello to Maxine. It’s all very new to her, as it will be to an audience. She has to learn. You must have done a lot of research? We went to Mermaids, a charity for children and families who are dealing with transgender. That just opened my eyes completely. Some of the children I met said that the person they were before was dead. They’d rip up every photograph, and sometimes burn their old clothes. Do parents find themselves out of their depth? So many parents out there just ignore it or don’t know what to do. They think their child will grow out of it, or often it’s confused as being homosexual. So, this is an area many people have never encountered? That’s right – but neither was the lesbian kiss I filmed in Brookside in 1994 at the age of 17. I’d walk down the street and would never, ever be called Anna. I was always called “dyke” or “lezzer”. Look how much things have changed in those 24 years because people have opened their eyes. We’re moving forward, hopefully. Were you shocked about the abuse (and worse) some of these children and families face? What harm are they doing to anybody? Death threats through letterboxes, really? Come on, be more open-minded. We’re not in 1890 now. I was bullied at school and I understand how mean kids can be. Bullying is bullying and should be eradicated. So you came away from this learning something? I think it’s educated me, definitely. And I could relate very much to being a single mum and juggling life. I also loved the children I worked with – we all became very close. I mourned that family after the last day of filming! What are you hoping this drama will achieve? We want people to question and open their eyes. This drama isn’t just about transgender, it’s about people looking at things from different angles and asking, if that happened to you, how would it affect you? You’ve said you loved filming – what was the best thing about it? It was a really happy set, as we all felt it was such an important and beautiful story. Acting legend Alison Steadman plays your mum in this… Since Abigail’s Party, I’ve always loved her. I said, “Really? Can we get Alison Steadman?” We waited for a few days and eventually she said yes. I was so thrilled; I’ve always wanted to work with her.