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I TALK TO Anna Friel

Anna Friel returns to ITV in their new Sunday night drama Butterfly.

Written by Tony Marchant, the three-part series centres around 11-year-old Max, played by newcomer Callum Booth-Ford, who from a young age has identified as a girl but in a bid to earn his father's approval, has suppressed these feelings.

His parents, Vicky and Stephen Duffy are played by Anna Friel and Emmett J. Scanlan, are separated and Stephen is unaware that within the confines of the family home, Vicky allows Max to dress and behave as a girl.

With both parents divided, will Max find the courage to identify as a girl and express herself as Maxine? And will her family be able to accept her for who she really is?

Here's what Anna Friel to say had to say when I caught up with her at a recent press screening for the series...

In a nutshell what story is Butterfly telling?

It's essentially about a family that has been broken up because they can't agree. They are totally torn and don't know what to do. Instead of finding answers together as a family, they break up and go off on their own journeys. Which makes the whole thing much harder.

What was the appeal for you?

I was sent the script by Nicola (Schindler) and Tony (Marchant) and I fell in love with the family. I loved them and wanted to be a part of that family. I find Vicky very relatable. I loved Max/Maxine's bravery and strength and the script made me laugh.

I think it's a very important story that needs to be told. People can have very strong opinions surrounding this topic and I don't know whether they're informed enough.

How do you think Vicky feels about Max wanting to be Maxine?

She's got a very close bond with Max and it's clear that she loves him very much and what was really interesting to me was the fact that as a mother she has to grieve her son. She has to say bye bye to Max and hello to Maxine.

At first she doesn't know how to be supportive but she learns how to be supportive. It's very new to her as it will be to the audience. She doesn't know what to do, she doesn't have the answers.

What was it like working with Alison Steadman?

When she said yes it was a great day. I've always wanted to work with Alison, she was great and I want to work with her again. She just draws you in. I have a huge amount of admiration and respect (for Alison) and was so thrilled we secured her.

What I thought was so clever was what Tony (Marchant) did with the scripts. If you look at Sean McGinley, you'd think that the character he is (Grandad) would be the mother of Vicky, not Barbara (Steadman). It's almost as if he switched those roles.

How did Vicky become so open and understanding? And vice versa with Stephen. I thought that was really good to see that turned on its head.

Did your own experiences of being bullied help with the role?

They're two completely different stories, but bullying is bullying and it should be eradicated. I empathise with the fight and the struggle. Vicky desperately doesn't want Maxine to be bullied and have to face that.

What lasting impression will Butterfly have on you?

Butterfly has educated me. I knew very little about the subject to be honest. I didn't know about puberty blockers and I didn't know how hard it was for the parents. We think about the children but it's very difficult for the parents to know what to do and who to go to.

I didn't know that there was such a wonderful charity called Mermaids there to support and help. They're a tremendous charity. I didn't realise the confusion around it. I didn't understand why people got so angry about this topic, I didn't see how this was hurting them.

I love that family. I mourn them now, I miss the Duffys! I love those children dearly, we all became very very close and it was wonderful to watch and observe some great new emerging talent.

As co-producer you were involved in the casting, how did you decide on Callum (Booth-Ford)?

We saw six extraordinary children. It's very very difficult to be on the other side because you know how it feels to be auditioned. I went out and met all the parents of each child to tell them not to be scared and that I'd look after them and try to make them as comfortable as possible.

We improvised a little bit and it was really tough because they were all such wonderful offerings but Callum just had the edge. He had a really beautiful solid confidence which is something really rare. And he looked beautiful. I remember going "Oh my God he's so beautiful" and he's just very good.

He's just started high school and I remember asking him "Does it not faze you knowing that everyone at school will watch?" and he said "No, I'm nothing but proud" which I just thought was beautiful. It's his first ever role and I think he's caught the (acting) bug.

What was the atmosphere like on set?

It was a really happy set. There were a lot of laughs. The crew existed and worked together as a family, because we represented a family. I think we all felt that it was a really important and beautiful story.

There was so much preparation done. Nowadays on television there's less money and less time so rehearsals go from two weeks to a day and with this we actually did have proper time. We were so prepped. Sometimes because the director was so prepped we'd be wrapping a quarter to five which is unheard of!

In terms of the impact this might have, do you feel any parallels between Butterfly and your lesbian kiss in Brookside?

Well you just have to look at how much we've moved forward. We didn't go out to shock or to cause controversy, it was just to tell a story and people's views changed because of it. People became more accepting.

So if this can shine a light in the same way then great!

Why should people watch this show?

Because it's not just about transgender. Everyone is questioning themselves. With people looking at things from very different angles. It's looking at those decisions and if that happened to you, how would it affect you?

None of us know what's going to happen tomorrow. Your child could be born with blue eyes or green eyes or transgender. No one knows what our future holds. So take a look at a family dealing with this. It could be your child or your grandchild.

Also, please please please let your children stay up and watch it or record it. My daughter is 13 and she loved it. We watched it all in one sitting.

Butterfly begins Sunday 14th October at 9pm on ITV


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