Interview: Anna Friel, Marcella

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Hans Rosenfeldt has built a strong and loyal following in crime drama circles thanks to his work on The Bridge, but his first ever British drama is about to be unfurled. Marcella stars Anna Friel as a troubled cop, who, 10 years ago gave up her fast-tracked police career to marry and devote her life to her family. With the abrupt end to her marriage and isolated from her 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son, Marcella throws herself into work to stop herself from falling apart. She instantly becomes involved with a serial killer case she first worked on in 2005. To say we’re looking forward to this eight-part series is an understatement, and we’ve managed to get hold of an interview with Friel, which is over the jump.

The Killing Times: What was your initial reaction when you read the first scripts for Marcella?
Anna Friel: I immediately flew over from Ireland where I was filming to meet the writer Hans Rosenfeldt and said, “I think this is amazing”. I just didn’t know whether I could do it. I always go through that process before any new character. I’d never played anything in the crime world before. Pushing Daisies touched on solving crime but in a very different format. I’d seen so many brilliant performances and so many people do it, I just thought, “I don’t know what I can offer that is different?’” I was also a little bit intimidated by The Bridge because I thought, “How can you do it better than that?” But I loved the Marcella scripts. So I thought, “I’ll go and meet them and see what they say”. And they wanted my take on her. By the time I’d left the meeting and flew back to Ireland, they’d got on the phone and said, “Look, they all think you are her. We would really like you to do it. Your take on it is quite unique. That’s why you can do it and it will be different”. I didn’t ever really see Marcella as a cop because she’s had more time out for 10 years than she had actually in the force. So she’s a bit more rebel-like and very unconventional. You’re on her side because you think, “How can you put this poor woman through this?” You understand her and want to forgive anything she may have done.

TKT: Why are Hans’s scripts for Marcella so special?
AF: We’re honoured to have him write this purely about London and set in London. Everybody has watched things like The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge. Audiences don’t like to be treated as if they’re stupid. Sometimes I think we dumb things down and underestimate the intelligence of an audience. We’re not stupid. We don’t need it hammered into our head. We want to work a little bit. And I think this asks that of the audience.

TKT: Who is Marcella?
AF: We meet Marcella when she has just been left by her husband Jason (Nicholas Pinnock). They have two children who were sent to boarding school, against her wishes. Something has sent her into a very big depression which started a twist within the story that viewers will discover. She responds in quite a shocking way to being left by her husband, who she still very much-loved and is very surprised when he breaks the news he is leaving her and simply doesn’t love her anymore. Marcella left a very good job with the police at the height of her career when she was very close to catching a serial killer. She is now very lonely in this house with no kids and no man and decides to go back to work. But never ever as a conventional copper. Marcella couldn’t be more opposite.

TKT: Did you do any of your own research for the role?
AF: I did. I went to Charing Cross police station and met this wonderful detective called Liz, who was so glamorous. We met there and then later we met at the Groucho Club in Soho. And if you’d have sat and looked at the two of us, she’d be the actress. Because I was in my sweat pants, doing my day’s work and she was so glamorous. I said, “Are you dressed to come out?” And she said, “No, I went to work today”. Being a female detective as well she was really empowering. I spent the day there and asked lots of questions of people who would be Marcella’s superiors, learning about all the different ranks. Then I just concentrated on making her as real and believable as possible.

TKT: Is it true you did not want to be told who the killer is?
AF: They asked if I wanted to know and I said, “Will it inform my character? Will it make me change the way I play it?” So I told them if it didn’t help the story I didn’t want to know. We have three blocks of scripts with episodes one to three, three to six and then six to eight. So I said, “Tell me in block three.” Marcella wouldn’t know anyway. And, of course, it might be her! None of us knew how this would end until we got those final scripts. Each and every single one of us could end up as a victim, witness or suspect.

TKT: As an outsider, how does Swedish screenwriter Hans view London?
AF: We’re so lucky to have people like Hans interested enough in our country to come and want to do what they do there, here. He found it quite fascinating how two worlds can cross. For example, Marcella’s house is in Battersea. Ten years ago it was bought for £300,000. Now it’s worth £1.4m. And out of the window is a huge council estate. It’s how those two worlds can be so very different yet so close in proximity. The mixture of it all. We’ve been shooting in Peckham and Brixton, real London. The police station doesn’t look out to the London Eye. It looks out on to the Westway. I’ve spent so many hours of my life stuck on the Westway that it was really good to look down on it and think, “That’s why…it’s not wide enough!” You see a whole other different perspective of London. But it’s real London.

TKT: Was it important to film Marcella in London?
AF: That was one of the things I said right at the start. I said, “I really don’t want to be doing this and then suddenly we’re in Pinewood and it’s meant to be a part of London.” If you’re going to do this, it has to be real London. They said, “The locations will be authentically London”. And they stuck to their word. I think Hans insisted on that too. He had an apartment here in Tower Bridge when he was writing. So he has all of that wonderful scenery to set the scene and the tone. A lot of it is London at night. I love the whole thing of ‘London Noir’, rather than ‘Scandi Noir’. It’s about time.

TKT: The opening scene in the series finds a confused Marcella naked in her bath. How was that to film?
AF: It’s a bold opening scene. At this stage of my career, of my life, I’m 39-years-old, the nakedness doesn’t really get to me and I know they’re not allowed to show certain things anyway. It’s better just not to be self-conscious and coy. I find that really off-putting when I see actresses do that. I was in the bath for about four hours. Obviously I got out from time to time, otherwise I’d be a wrinkly old prune. The funniest bit was at the end when they said, “That’s a wrap”. They dropped all the curtains and I just found myself in a big studio going, “Freezing. All right guys? Closed set? Yeah?” There I am sitting naked in a bath in the middle of all these people. So I stayed calm and collected and went, “OK, let’s put those curtains back up, shall we?” I’m open but not that open!

TKT: What was it like working with Nicholas Pinnock, who plays Marcella’s husband Jason? 
AF: I would never have visually put the two of us together because he is so tall and big compared to little old me. But it’s a really good union. In a scene where I have to kiss him, the director came up to me and just whispered in my ear, “Eat his face off”. So I just grabbed him and by the end it was as if a whirlwind had got him. And they said, “The chemistry is very good between you two. We’re really happy with this”.

TKT: One of the storylines in Marcella highlights the darker side of the web. Is that something you had thought about before?
AF: Your senses are heightened as soon as you become a mother. I remember being 16 and one of the first people to have a mobile phone the size of a brick. The internet didn’t really exist then for most people. Now you look around and everybody is on their phone or computer. It’s the way we all stay connected. On the one hand it’s fantastic because it gives everybody a voice, an opinion and a right to speak and that can be more easily communicated. But my daughter Gracie has all the child lock safety features on her computer. You have to do that now because unfortunately people abuse it.

TKT: Marcella and Jason’s children Emma and Edward are away at boarding school against Marcella’s wishes. Do you feel the same way as her?
AF: I couldn’t do it. I know a lot of people in our industry do it because it gives their child routine. Gracie’s father David (Thewlis) and I could have looked at that for Gracie. But it just never occurred to me. Gracie wouldn’t want to. She grew up on the set of Harry Potter. I think a lot of kids are influenced thinking boarding school will be like Harry Potter. And she’s like, “Well, it’s not because I’m there and there actually isn’t one”. So that helped. She’s 10 now and goes to an international school. It meant there’s other children who are like her, where the lives of their parents are a bit more transient, so you can take them out and continue the same education in Los Angeles or in New York. And she’s got friends that come and go. Because I think it would start to be odd for her being the only one where the parents go off or the pupils leave school for three months.

TKT: Marcella has kept the original Grove Park Murders files in her garage for a number of years. Are you a hoarder?
AF: It’s so weird. Grove Park was the first place I lived in London. So that has real meaning to me. It was a complete co-incidence Hans called it that in the script. He didn’t even know I used to live there. I’ve got two storage units two years after my move. So that might answer your question. I have a big extensive wardrobe as well because I keep things for characters. I think, “I might need that”. But I’ve recently tried to get rid of as much stuff as I could because you end up keeping so much. It’s really freeing just to get rid and go and treat your local charity shop.

TKT: How would you describe Hans’s approach to his characters?
AF: It’s right to say Hans doesn’t judge his characters. Marcella is by no stretch of the imagination an innocent. She’s damaged and a bit scarred, but she doesn’t really play the victim. His characters make mistakes and he leaves enough room for us to interpret our characters and put our stamp on them too. They are left open to interpretation.

TKT: Marcella goes after a suspect despite being told not to. Is it important to break the rules sometimes?
AF: I think it’s important to have integrity and passion. You’ve got to follow your beliefs. I don’t think anyone should go out of their way to break rules. The rules are there for a reason. Otherwise we have chaos. But when people aren’t listening, sometimes you’ve got to do your own thing to make them listen. That’s Marcella’s character. She’s not a conventional cop by any stretch of the imagination. I think we’re making something very special.

Marcella: Monday 4th April, 9pm, ITV

 

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