‘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”

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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.

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