From being one half of TV’s first pre-watershed female same-sex kiss in Brookside, to playing the mother of a trans child in Butterfly, Anna Friel has always pushed boundaries. Marcella, returning to screens this month, has cemented that reputation. Written by Scandi crime behemoth Hans Rosenfeldt (the brains behind The Bridge), her portrayal of a hardboiled cop suffering from a neurological condition called dissociative fugue – causing her to black out during times of stress – has sparked countrywide conversations, not just over whodunnit but about mental health and PTSD. Anna won an International Emmy for good measure.
Storylines in the previous two seasons saw her investigate a string of gruesome murders, lose custody of her children and undergo psychotherapy to reveal the trauma at the heart of her condition. Season three is just as heavy. Marcella has been declared officially dead and is undercover as ‘Keira’, infiltrating a crime family in Belfast. ‘I don’t think you ever see her smile,’ Anna, 44, says. ‘She just has the raw end of the deal all the time.’ She lets out a cackle. ‘I need a nice romcom next!’
Talking over Zoom, from her sofa at home in Windsor, next to her dogs, Maggie May and Eunice, real-life Anna cracks a lot more smiles than her screen alter ego. She’s even wearing a ‘Happy’ slogan jumper from indie label By Pollyanna. ‘I’m trying to support smaller companies so they don’t go down,’ she says, her flat Lancashire vowels firmly in place, despite a career that’s taken her from her hometown of Rochdale to Hollywood.
However, leaning into the hard stuff has been the secret of Anna’s career success. ‘I must subconsciously attract those roles. I think people think,“This is dark and really controversial, hmmm... Anna!”’
Saying that, she admits it’s hard for an actor’s screen career to stand the test of time and has started moving into producing, with a (currently under wraps) project in development based on a best-selling novel. ‘I’ve seen the industry change from being how big your boobs are, and the major roles being written for men, to where it is today. It’s wonderful how it’s changing.’
She’s full of admiration for the breakout stars from our lockdown obsessions like The Queen’s Gambit and The Crown, both of which she inhaled. ‘Some younger actors put me to shame if I compare me at their age, because they’re just so good. Anya Taylor Joy and Emma [Corrin] – I’m watching going, “You’re amazing.”’
Anna spent both lockdowns with her 15-year-old daughter Gracie [who she had with ex-partner, actor David Thewlis] and says it’s forced her to slow down. ‘It wasn’t until I had to stop that I realised that I go from one job to the next,’ she says. ‘You don’t realise what you’re carrying with you and what you’re brushing under the carpet.
‘I would have preferred not to have gone through lockdown as a single mother,’ she adds wryly, ‘but I’ve had time to work on myself, look after my skin, exercise and get fresh air, and realise how important it is to keep up with the people that you love and make sure you tell them all the time.’
So what’s her plan for the ‘after times’? ‘I so want to travel,’ she replies without hesitation. ‘I want to see the sea and put my feet in sand. I want to cuddle my 94-year-old grandmother.’ She has also come out of a four-year relationship, with Regimental Corporal Major Mark Jaworski, who served in the military alongside Prince Harry. ‘It’s all amicable,’ she says. ‘But my heart goes out to anyone who has had to be single throughout lockdown.’ Now, she’s ready to get back out into the dating world. ‘I’d like to fall in love. That’s on the agenda. I think I might be ready for that. It’s not the best time is it? What am I going to do, go to the supermarket?’ She mimes going over to someone. ‘Hi, do you like buying chicken, too?’
What time is Marcella on and how do I watch it? Marcella, season three, starts January 26 (tonight) on ITV at 9pm. Or you can watch on ITVHub