Anna Friel: ‘I’ve suf­fered the con­se­quences of speak­ing out’

Anna Friel nor­malised the on-screen les­bian kiss and used her last role to make fe­male men­tal health a talk­ing point. Her next move? Trans­gen­der chil­dren. She talks to Han­nah Flint about court­ing con­tro­versy, deal­ing with sex­ual ha­rass­ment and start­ing he

Grazia (UK) - - Contents - PHO­TO­GRAPHS CHRIS FLOYD

it’s a blis­ter­ingly hot day in South-west Lon­don and Anna Friel has just ar­rived in im­pen­e­tra­bly dark sun­glasses, a black trilby hat cov­er­ing her face and skin-tight black jeans.

I fear this proves what I’d heard be­fore our in­ter­view: that Anna can be… dif­fi­cult – guarded – es­pe­cially around any talk of her love life (she fa­mously dated David Thewlis for nine years, with whom she has a daugh­ter, Gra­cie, and just as fa­mously be­came part of the Prim­rose Hill set dur­ing a three-year re­la­tion­ship with Rhys Ifans). But then she sits down, the sun­glasses come off, and the ques­tions start. Where did you get your hair cut? Should I go short? How old are you? Do you want to try my per­fume? ( The Oud Af­fair by Vil­helm Par­fumerie – it’s de­li­cious.) Anna, it seems, is go­ing to be any­thing but dif­fi­cult.

It’s a fit­ting me­taphor. On screen, she is well-known for meaty and, more of­ten than not, rather con­tro­ver­sial char­ac­ters. Yes, there was that les­bian kiss on Chan­nel 4’s Brook­side, the first ever to be broad­cast pre-wa­ter­shed on Bri­tish screens. But also, more re­cently, Bro­ken, a gritty drama along­side Sean Bean; The Girl­friend Ex­pe­ri­ence (a ‘hy­per­sex­ual’ po­lit­i­cal drama); and the ac­claimed se­ries Mar­cella, in which Anna played a de­tec­tive with a dis­so­cia­tive dis­or­der that left her with flash­backs and mem­ory loss (and which

She’s not quite sure why such talk­ing-point roles come her way. ‘I don’t seek them out, par­tic­u­larly,’ she shrugs. ‘It just seems to have be­come my niche. I think it’s be­cause I’m open-minded about it. It’s about not be­ing shy con­vey­ing those things.’ But, at 42 (she cel­e­brated her birth­day a few days be­fore we meet with Princess Diana’s niece Lady Kitty Spencer, a good friend), she’s grate­ful that roles for older women have got bet­ter. ‘I don’t think the age bar­rier is be­ing as en­forced as it once was. I’ve got work up un­til 2021, and I’m not slow­ing down.’ Still, she’s keen to branch out. She’s one of the pro­duc­ers on But­ter­fly, which is some­thing she wants to do more of. And she has a plan: she’s in the process of buy­ing up books to de­velop into films and TV se­ries – all of which she will pro­duce her­self.

‘I’m ob­vi­ously not go­ing to tell you which ones I have bought,’ she laughs. In news that will please her mum, there’s a very light-hearted story, but oth­ers will be darker, and one char­ac­ter will be ‘a bit nuts’. I ask if she’s gun­ning to be the Bri­tish Reese Wither­spoon, who, af­ter years of be­ing cast as a blonde in rom­coms, de­cided to buy up books and pro­duce her own projects, among them Big Lit­tle Lies and Wild. ‘Did she? She’s prob­a­bly a lit­tle bet­ter at it than me,’ says Anna, rather self-dep­re­cat­ingly.

What’s in­ter­est­ing, though, is that Anna isn’t do­ing this for the same rea­son. Where Reese is all about cre­at­ing in­ter­est­ing roles for women, Anna says that’s only part of her mo­ti­va­tion. ‘It’s not me say­ing, “I’m a fem­i­nist, I just want roles for women,”’ she says. ‘ There’s a book I’ve got that’s got an amaz­ing part for a man.’ So, is she a fem­i­nist or not? ‘I just don’t want to be an ex­treme any­thing,’ she sighs. ‘I just want there to be equal­ity and fair­ness and us all work­ing to­gether. I still love the old-fash­ioned men and women be­ing able to flirt. And I think there’s so many guide­lines, we’re not go­ing to be able to know how to move for­ward.’

Which brings us to the ques­tion all ac­tresses are in­evitably be­ing asked these days. And in Anna’s case, it’s par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant. In Fe­bru­ary, she briefly opened up about claims she had ex­pe­ri­enced ‘un­wanted ad­vances’ from an Ama­zon boss in 2016, but main­tained that it didn’t do her ‘enough dam­age’ to com­ment on it at the time. Will she to­day? ‘I think it’s up to each in­di­vid­ual how much they want to talk about it, or how much they don’t,’ she says. ‘ There were so many other peo­ple who had sto­ries to tell, and such im­por­tant sto­ries of hor­ror, that they needed to do that.’ She pauses. ‘I’ve al­ways been some­what a tough cookie, I’ve been in the busi­ness since I was 13. I won’t go into de­tail about how I think things might have had an ef­fect, be­cause I’ve man­aged to over­come them. But I could say no quite loudly. And I prob­a­bly did suf­fer the con­se­quences.’ Does she mean in terms of ca­reer ad­vance­ment, I ask. ‘I think that says enough,’ she replies, shut­ting down the con­ver­sa­tion.

Ei­ther way, I won­der how she feels about the po­si­tion of women on screen. Sure, the roles are get­ting bet­ter, but there’s still an in­or­di­nate amount of pres­sure for women to look good. ‘Oh, it’s get­ting worse,’ she says, rather non­cha­lantly. ‘Look at the amount of re­al­ity TV pro­grammes. And re­touch­ing – I can’t bear it. It just makes it im­pos­si­ble for any­one to live up to. We’re cre­at­ing a fab­ri­cated world.’ She tries not to worry about her body or hair chang­ing as she gets older, es­pe­cially be­cause she can see it all play out on screen. But she jokes that she is ‘par­tic­u­lar’ about good light­ing.

To­day, Anna lives in Wind­sor with Gra­cie, now 13, with a bal­cony over­look­ing Wind­sor Cas­tle (where Anna and friends sat avidly watch­ing the royal wed­ding ear­lier this year). She also has a house in LA, where she lived while film­ing Push­ing Daisies, a se­ries that landed her a Golden Globe nom­i­na­tion. Suf­fice to say, all of this has made for a rather charm­ing ac­cent to­day: mostly North­ern, but with mi­nor hints of the US and posh, South­ern English. But she has no in­ten­tion of go­ing back to the States. ‘It would mean mov­ing Gra­cie back,’ she sighs. ‘It would be so dif­fi­cult.’

Now seems like a good time to ask her the ob­vi­ous: what is the deal with her love life? ‘ That part of my life, I’ve cho­sen to keep it pri­vate,’ she says. ‘Oth­er­wise, I think you set your­self up for a curse. Let’s just say, I’m not not dat­ing. I like love too much.’ Ei­ther way, she doesn’t seem at all both­ered. In­deed, I get the im­pres­sion that Anna is just fine with where she is, in her ca­reer and her life with Gra­cie. ‘I’m most ex­cited about the roses in my gar­den, I keep look­ing at them,’ she says, with­out a hint of irony. ‘And I like my Aga!’ Per­haps all that drama on screen is quite enough. ‘ But­ter­fly’ is com­ing soon to ITV

i don’t think the age bar­rier is be­ing en­forced as it once was

60

The kiss: Beth (Friel) and Mar­garet (Nicola Stephen­son), Brook­side, 1994

Above: Booth-ford with in Cal­lum But­ter­fly. Top: cel­e­brat­ing her birth­day with Lady Kitty Spencer (top left)

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