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I TALK TO Anna Friel

"There might even be a happy ending. You might see Marcella smile!"

Back in 2016, Hans Rosenfeldt, the man responsible for Nordic noir The Bridge, brought us Marcella, a new ITV drama about a London detective played by Anna Friel who wants back in on the serial killer case she first worked on in 2005.

After several twists and turns, and a dramatic conclusion almost three years ago, Marcella returns to ITV this week for a third series as we rejoin Friel's character who's now living a new life in Belfast as an undercover detective.

Having taken on the identity of Keira, she has infiltrated the infamous Maguire family. But as she investigates their criminal operations, questions come to the fore about how much she has embraced Keira’s persona and personality and left Marcella behind.

As she inhabits the character of Keira, Marcella’s quest for the truth puts her in danger and others in harm’s way. Her undercover role makes her take risks, but will her old life eventually catch up with her?

Together with other media outlets, I caught up with Anna Friel to find out more about the new series of Marcella including what sets this series apart from what's come before, what it was like taking on the character of Keira and why despite it being conceived as a trilogy, a fourth series isn't out of the question.

It's been almost three years since series two of Marcella. What's it like knowing fans will finally get the chance to see it?

First of all, to the wonderful fans that we have for the show, I'm so so so sorry that they've had to wait so long. It's quite unfair when 34 other countries have gotten to be able to see it sooner.

Reprising the role, it's a totally different show. It's a standalone series. We found out from viewers in the other countries, that they'd never heard of Marcella, watched series three and then went back and watched series one and two. It was always intended to veer off in a completely new direction.

That's what Hans Rosenfeldt had always envisaged. She (Marcella) couldn't have carried on in England, being undercover with the children there - so we had to move it somewhere else. They wanted to go back to my roots, the fact that my family is from Ireland, and the two things leant itself very well to each other.

I'm really excited for you all to see it. It's the first series that I've been an Executive Producer on. It took five-and-a-half months and we finished it over a year ago! So it's taken a long time to come out.

And Marcella/Keira is very different this series isn't she?

She's very different. She's got blonde hair this time. The remnants of the scar. We jump straight in to about a year later after that incident, but in episode six we go back because I thought that was quite important for viewers. I didn't want them to be frustrated, thinking what happened in that year? How did she conceal this? Who has she become?

You don't meet Marcella until about episode five, you meet Keira. So I'm simultaneously playing two characters.

What was that like, playing two roles?

I think that was the biggest difficulty, because we don't shoot in chronological order. The first two (episodes) we did. We finished those with the one director. And the other six we did in a block shoot, so I could be going in on a Monday morning and doing episode four, scene 10 and by the end of the day I'm doing episode seven, scene 20.

So to mark that out with two characters and different storylines, was quite complex. And her look changes as the series goes on so there were quite a lot of hair and make-up changes.

What was your favourite part of playing Keira?

Obviously, being blonde! I mean, that just gave her a different feel and swagger and her costumes, which I loved. One or two we had to change because Keira dresses for the family, not for herself.

I wouldn't say Marcella is an incredibly sexual person, she doesn't sexualise herself or things, but Keira does. She uses her wiliness and her body, because that's what Finn wants and I don't think she's ever been prepared to do that before. So her sexuality I think.

Was that quite liberating?

I wouldn't say liberating. I've done a lot of those scenes throughout my thirty-year career. It's liberating when I don't have to do any sex scenes. They become like a choreographed dance routine. What was interesting, is that for two seasons, and it was very much a specific decision.

I remember getting her costume together, we were talking about a woman who was left by her husband. Didn't feel particularly attractive and wasn't about to walk into an office wearing tight-fitting things to show off any cleavage or shape. It was more about a very specific stylistic look without having to present herself in a fashion that men perhaps would like.

But being Keira, and maybe with Jason being in a different country, she realises that's a necessity and maybe starts to enjoy a little bit more, being in her own body and using that to her own advantage - and seeing what a powerful tool that can be. For her. For Keira, anyway.

Amanda Burton plays matriarch Katherine Maguire, what was it like working with her?

I've never met her before. Our background is the same, we both started on Brookside, but we never talked about that. It was never mentioned. She's strong and the two characters are up against each other. They're not friends by any stretch of the imagination.

She sees a little bit of herself in her. So she recognises she's hard, she's cold, she's calculated - and doesn't live on the basis of empathy and compassion. As unpredictable as Marcella can be, or as hard, or as crazy - we know underneath lies a very vulnerable broken woman. Katherine is a very manipulative hard woman who doesn't really know how to love her children properly.

They go on a very very complex story. There's a twist where you actually won't believe what she does! I think she was perfectly cast, I think she's a really strong, powerful actress and it was great to work with her.

How connected is series three to the previous two series?

There are some of the same themes. This series takes it a little bit further that she's trying to run away from herself and you can't. No matter what you've done, your past will always catch up on you. We go more into her PTSD - the discovery that she's responsible for the death of her baby. Or she thinks she is.

We watch her mental health deteriorate more to a certain degree. The more she tries to suppress it, the more her subconscious gets louder and Marcella is basically saying "I'm still here" and she fights with herself, preferring her undercover life to her real life. Which I didn't realise, can actually be a danger with undercover police. I asked - Is that far-fetched? Does that happen? And some undercovers start to prefer their invented persona, than their real life.

She's still ballsy and strong and wants to take on the role of matriarch of the family. But it's changed in the fact that there isn't a whodunnit. It's more about her getting into the underbody of this family that's not particularly good.

Episode six takes you right back to when she's sliced her face and cut off all her hair. You'll go back and see what happened and how she made herself stronger. There might even be a happy ending. You might see Marcella smile!

Does that mean series four is a possibility?

It was always meant to be a trilogy. Hans always aimed for it to be that way. Some people might describe it as a happy ending, other people might disagree. I know that sounds very confusing and contradictory. I think it's a happy ending.

There's definitely room for it to grow and to continue, but I don't think we're at that stage yet. I know that it's been really well received in the 34 countries that it's aired in. A lot of them started on series three and then went back to one and two.

I love Marcella. I'm very attached to her. It would take a lot of discussions to say - what now could we do with her? It's better to have three really strong series than a fourth, weaker one. I can see her in South America! You can take her anywhere.

How good do you think you'd be as an undercover cop?

I think I'd be pretty OK. I think I'd miss my own life and find the secrecy of it quite difficult. Not being able to tell anybody the truth. It would be like living one big long lie.

Why do you think Marcella has proved so popular?

I think because she's damaged and she's fractured, yet she's still strong. She's compelling because she's completely and utterly unpredictable. When you get any script, it's the bones of something, and it's up to you to put in the soul and the heartbeat and give her life.

I remember people telling me that my choices were really interesting. Is that a good word? Interesting? And they said it was - because you turned something on its head and that's not how we imagined it to be. I don't think it's like anything else. It's its own thing.

I also think it's got a wonderful soundtrack and is filmed incredibly filmically. And it was the first of its kind when Scandi noir started to become popular. It's written by Hans Rosenfeldt who did The Bridge. He's a Scandi writer. He wrote it in Swedish and set it in London and had it translated.

I said to him - What is it about London that you like Hans? What do you find fascinating. And in the five years since we made the first one he said - I just can't believe your skyline. There are so many cranes! And there were at that time. Now all these buildings have shot up and sadly they're all empty.

What was the biggest challenge you faced filming series three?

We got rained out a lot. We'd been shooting inside in this mansion where a lot of the scenes take place and we were desperately trying to get outside. It had been glorious! It had been so sunny and beautiful. Of course, the one day that we went out, it lashed it down! I think it's on my Instagram somewhere, because it wasn't like a normal, regular downpour. It was like something you'd see in the rainforest.

Apart from that, I got an eye infection at one point. That was a pleasure! So we couldn't shoot for one day because of that. I had to go to the hospital... that was entertaining. It wasn't fantastic but we coped. We managed. They shot this side of my face! There are ways to get around anything.

Apart from the bad weather, what was it like filming in Northern Ireland?

The best! The best crew, so hardworking. It's where I spent most of my childhood. All my holidays I'd spend in Belfast and Donegal. I've got family who have never been able to visit me on set before, and now could do on a regular basis. Belfast is a great city.

You mentioned earlier how you've executive produced this series. What have you enjoyed most about that experience?

The fact that I was asked in the first place, was flattering. And that it was to honour that I didn't just do my job, I know Marcella probably better than anyone - apart from Hans. Being involved in the storylines and the casting.

The fact that Hans only wrote the first two (episodes) whereas for the other series, he's written every single episode. So choosing writer, choosing directors - having ideas that are listened to and you're even more invested. I didn't even get paid for the role, it was a title. I just did the job.

Have you been working during lockdown? What's coming up next for you?

I have been working through lockdown. I haven't been on a film set, but I've been at Pinewood Studios quite a lot doing a lot of voiceover work. I've been collaborating with a very successful writer who reached out to me. I think if there's been any positive to lockdown, it is how people have been able to get hold of each other. You're not having to rely on the agencies - it's just direct communication.

I'm going more in the direction of producing as well as just acting. So I've been developing my own project and am currently in prep for something called The Box which actually is Scandi noir and we're shooting it in Sweden, but it's an American show - it's set in America, but we're using Sweden to film it. So I'm learning a Chicago accent at the moment... where I also have Irish family!

And finally, what have you been enjoying on telly recently?

I've watched too much TV. That's the honest truth. In the first lockdown, I didn't In this one, I absolutely have. Some of which I'm very proud, and others not so. I think the young talent, the new generation, is really exceptional.

The bar has been raised so high with the likes of Anya Taylor-Joy from The Queen's Gambit which I think is just wonderful. Emma Corrin who's playing Diana - I'm up to episode six of season four of The Crown. I think her physicality is extraordinary. I heard that she worked with a movement coach, so it wasn't an impersonation. She really embodied that role. I thought that was really fantastic.

I loved My Brilliant Friend, it's Italian subtitles but when everything clicks and comes together, I found it incredibly moving. I've got Succession lined up because I haven't watched that yet.

Oh and Normal People... how could I not mention that? Again, extraordinary performances in that. I really enjoyed that. I think I devoured it in too few days. We're all in that age now where I'd say patience isn't my strongest virtue.

For me, boxsets and being able to go "Next, next next!" is the worst thing. I think, shall I wait for tomorrow and I never do. I just watch it then!

Marcella returns Tuesday 26th January at 9pm on ITV

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