But­ter­fly

Anna Friel on play­ing the mum of a trans­gen­der child in a top­i­cal new drama…

TV Times - - My Tv Times Week - Caren Clark

Sun­day / ITV

Beau­ti­fully and sen­si­tively writ­ten, this top­i­cal fam­ily drama, which tells the story of an 11-year-old boy, Max (Cal­lum Booth-ford), who iden­ti­fies as fe­male, packs an emo­tional punch. Mar­cella’s Anna Friel and The Fall’s Em­mett J Scan­lan are su­perb as Max’s es­tranged par­ents, who can’t agree how best to sup­port their child. We meet the cast to find out more...

New Drama But­ter­fly Sun­day / ITV / 9Pm

As rain lashes down in a su­per­mar­ket car park near Stock­port,

TV Times is sit­ting with Anna Friel in­side her Win­nebago, which is draped with but­ter­fly fairy lights, while a but­ter­fly mug and an LED light box adorned with ‘Team Friel But­ter­fly’ stand on a shelf.

The decor is com­pletely fit­ting, as we’re here to chat to the Mar­cella star about her thought-pro­vok­ing and sen­si­tive new drama, But­ter­fly.

The three-part se­ries sees Anna play de­voted mum and teach­ing as­sis­tant Vicky Duffy, whose 11-year-old son Max (Cal­lum Booth-ford) iden­ti­fies as fe­male.

Max has tried to sup­press his feel­ings, par­tic­u­larly to please his fa­ther Stephen (Girl­friends and The Fall star Em­mett J Scan­lan), who be­lieves it’s just a ‘phase’.

But as Max starts se­nior school and pu­berty beck­ons, the pain he feels at hav­ing to con­form be­comes hard to bear, and he an­nounces that he wants to live as a girl, Max­ine.

While Max/max­ine’s sis­ter Lily (Mil­lie Gib­son) is sup­port­ive, Vicky and her es­tranged hus­band are at log­ger­heads over how to deal with the sit­u­a­tion. But can they re­build their own frac­tured re­la­tion­ship to sup­port their child?

Anna, 42, tells us more… What was the ap­peal of this drama for you?

I found Vicky very re­lat­able and I loved Max/max­ine’s brav­ery and strength, but the script also made me laugh. It’s a very im­por­tant story that needs to be told and needs to ed­u­cate peo­ple. I feel a great re­spon­si­bil­ity. I keep think­ing back to 25 years ago when I kissed a girl in Brook­side. Ev­ery­one was like, ‘Aar­rgh!’ and I got called all sorts of names, but now no­body would blink an eye­lid – it’s the norm. Let’s hope we make the same progress with gen­der vari­ance.

What im­pact does Max/max­ine’s sit­u­a­tion have on the Duffys?

The script’s so clever, be­cause it’s look­ing at it from ev­ery per­son’s per­spec­tive. At one point, Vicky blames her­self, so it’s hon­est and truth­ful. It’s about whether we can bring this fam­ily to­gether with all these dif­fer­ent opin­ions. You watch them on a jour­ney of dis­cov­ery.

How do the par­ents dis­agree? They’ve sep­a­rated be­cause of their dif­fer­ence in opin­ion. While Vicky’s not en­cour­ag­ing it, she’s lis­ten­ing to Max/max­ine. But Stephen can’t cope and says that it’s ridicu­lous. Vicky sees her child is in agony. She’s no an­gel, but she has a mother’s in­stinct and thinks, ‘I want an alive daugh­ter rather than a dead son.’

Has the drama made you think how you’d re­act in her po­si­tion? I don’t know how I’d deal with it if Gra­cie [her 13-year-old daugh­ter with ex-part­ner David Thewlis] said, ‘Mummy, I want to be a boy.’ I’d be say­ing good­bye to my lit­tle girl, and I learnt that the hard­est thing for par­ents is say­ing good­bye to one child and hello to an­other.

How much did you know about the sub­ject of gen­der vari­ance? I was fas­ci­nated, but ill-in­formed. In the ma­jor­ity of the cases I’ve come across, these chil­dren have no choice – they say, ‘I’m in the wrong body.’ And it’s about their fam­ily be­ing re­spon­si­ble be­cause the big­gest ques­tion around it is, ‘What if they change their minds?’ Most peo­ple don’t know what to do, but there’s a won­der­ful char­ity, Mer­maids, to sup­port them.

What re­search did you do? Em­mett and I vis­ited Mer­maids. When I learnt about the bul­ly­ing these chil­dren re­ceived, even from the par­ents of other chil­dren, I was flab­ber­gasted. They were be­ing spat at and hav­ing death threats, when they’re al­ready go­ing through trauma. I met many won­der­ful fam­i­lies and came away with em­pa­thy, com­pas­sion and re­spect for their brav­ery. I felt so touched when they said, ‘Thank you for telling our story.’ What was it like work­ing with Cal­lum, who plays Max/max­ine? Won­der­ful. I first thought, ‘Why can’t we get a real trans­gen­der child?’ But it could’ve dam­aged them, as Max/max­ine goes from boy to girl, so you’d be ask­ing a trans­gen­der girl to ini­tially go back to be­ing a boy. So we had an au­di­tion process and, hav­ing been a child ac­tress, I wanted to make the boys com­fort­able. We talked about the ef­fect it’d have on them, but Cal­lum said, ‘I’m act­ing – if peo­ple don’t get that, that’s their prob­lem.’ His fo­cus and level of un­der­stand­ing is way bet­ter than mine was at that age.

Did you en­joy hav­ing

Ali­son Stead­man play

Vicky’s mum, Bar­bara?

Bar­bara and Vicky have a hor­rific re­la­tion­ship, and she couldn’t be more anti Max/max­ine’s de­ci­sion. But I was thrilled and hon­oured to work with Ali­son – she’s amaz­ing. I’d met her once in Lon­don, and we dis­cussed my les­bian kiss be­cause she said she’d had the first TV one! She’s so lovely, and I’m learn­ing all the tricks of the trade from her. It was freez­ing when we were film­ing one scene and she said, ‘You’ve not learnt the art of stick­ing a hot wa­ter bot­tle up your top.’ Now we’ve all got them shoved ev­ery­where!

What would you do if your 11-year-old child felt that they had been born in the wrong body? That dilemma is at the heart of this ab­sorb­ing three-parter, with Anna Friel on daz­zling form as mum Vicky whose son Max (Cal­lum Booth­ford) is in­creas­ingly dis­tressed about hav­ing to sup­press the fact that he iden­ti­fies as fe­male. Vicky’s es­tranged hus­band Stephen (an im­pres­sive Em­mett J Scan­lan) is un­com­fort­able about the sit­u­a­tion, but as Max reaches break­ing point, Vicky and Stephen are forced to con­front the mat­ter. A com­pelling, sym­pa­thetic look at a timely sub­ject – and you will end up root­ing for ev­ery mem­ber of the fam­ily.

me­ta­mor­pho­sis: max/max­ine’s fam­ily re­act in dif­fer­ent ways

Mum Vicky with the son who wants tobe a daugh­ter

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