If her recent TV dramas are anything to go by, Anna Friel appears to have developed a taste for a difficult function.
In the united states, she entered the glamorous but corrupt Washington financial world in the sexually-charged The Girlfriend Experience.
And then there’s ITV’s mentally-fragile murder detective Marcella, returning later this month for its long-awaited second show.
While every role has been very different, they are all headline-makers in their own manner.
Friel says she “doesn’t shy away from controversial topics”, but the one deliberate rationale behind her options has been self-improvement.
“With some roles, people say, ‘I have never noticed anything like this’,” she clarifies.
“But that’s because I want to do things that are different and hard and also make me better instead of just attract a massive audience.
“Rather I have taken roles I find interesting and deal with issues that need a light shone on them.”
For those of an age to consider, Friel in fact rose to fame on a tide of controversy in the centre of soap opera Brookside’s groundbreaking 1994 lesbian romance storyline.
Friel was just 16, and believed acting more as a “hobby”. She could justifiably have run for cover in the warmth of the media and public attention that followed.
But after Brookside – and a stage as “wild child” tabloid fodder – took on jobs across stage and screen, in the united kingdom and the United States.
She reportedly turned down TV introducing jobs and record contracts from Simon Cowell in favour of acting.
Now in her forties, she’s just as committed.
Where Broken – using its depiction of intense poverty and individuals in a complete loss – was a challenging view, the harrowing deaths in Marcella make it grimmer still.
The show’s first English-language drama from The Bridge creator Hans Rosenfeldt.
Think Scandi-Noir but place mostly in the gray sordid underbelly of London.
Marcella is a unconventional policewoman in the Met’s murder squad and is up against it on all fronts: demanding task, estranged husband and children, and plagued by periods of memory loss, or “fugues”.
Marcella isn’t a play for when you’re down. As well as murder, it tackles social issues such as paedophilia, food banks, zero-hour contracts and urbanisation.
And nor should you’re lacking immersion as Marcella is multi-layered, befitting Hans Rosenfeldt’s Scandi-noir style.
This time Marcella’s faced with a child killer. There are scenes that are truly painful to watch, let alone play, as Friel concedes.
“When you perform a second series it must be better than the first – the audience deserve this,” states Friel, who recently won an International Emmy for the function.
“It is going to be very difficult for many people to watch but child murder exists. Hans knows of instances and he drew on those. And he also made a point of seeing London to get a true feel of how it actually was.
“At the conclusion of a day, I felt so exhausted. Your body doesn’t connect with the brain that it is not all real.”
Friel took special care of the child actors off place to stop them suffering emotional stress. A child psychologist was onboard too.
But she had to self-heal, particularly for the sake of her very own 12-year-old daughter Gracie, with whom she resides in Windsor.
“In the end of filming, I have to pick myself up and go home to Gracie. A good deal of people can’t say ‘cut’ in their lives,” she states.
She also offers her stress-busting strategy. “It is all a question of balance,” she says. And while she “enjoys a glass of wine”, she’s also committed to her daily supershake – a blend of fruit, veg, nuts, seeds and water. “It does make me quite bloated however,” she states.
Despite the challenges of enjoying Marcella, one of that Friel states is “she doesn’t have some scenes where she smiles. She is constantly in a state of angst,” she would not have it any other way.
There were lighter moments on show two. “The funny thing about being with the children was when they left me realise my age by saying, ‘My headmaster really fancies you’,” she laughs.
But the actual satisfaction was in the pristine Marcella herself.
“I have always found beauty in defects,” she clarifies. “nobody is perfect. We’re fighting a battle and Marcella is actual, a mix of strength and vulnerability, doing her best that is all some of us can perform.”
However, of her current roles, The Girlfriend Experience has been the toughest, she states. Using its depiction of lesbian politics and sex, the series explores the significance of gender and power expectations.
“There was a lot of nudity and sex, yes, but it was the US politics [that made the job hard]. We believe our system is complicated using Brexit, theirs is shocking,” says Friel.
“I actually hoped the united kingdom press would not take the lesbian scenes out of context, however some said, ‘Ooh, you’re going back to your roots’. I was insulted by that.”
Tabloid reaction aside, the stand-out thing concerning the function, and that of Marcella, is they are strong female leads.
And in the light of the debate over gender equality in the entertainment this will be seen as a positive move. Friel says it is exactly what the audience wants.
“Roles for girls are getting better as manufacturers are finding viewers want it. Wonder Woman informs us that – we have got a female lead superhero plus she’s out-doubled the men.
“It’s supply and demand and individuals want strong female leads.” In terms of pay equality, Friel says she has not had to handle that matter.
“I didn’t know about it so thought, ‘Truly, do my man co-stars get paid over me? I’ll have words relating to this’, but luckily I haven’t had to face it.”
Next on the horizon is another topical, tough role as the mom of a transgender child in ITV’s Butterfly.
In prep, Anna proceeded to meet some transgender children and their households. It was an eye-opener, she states.
“I came out believing how ill-informed I’d been, I was brought to tears. There is so much to it and you feel such a massive responsibility. The parents would say, ‘Please help us, please inform our story’.
“I urge everyone to wait and watch it before forming an opinion.”
Marcella returns to ITV1 on 19 February at 21:00 (GMT). Butterfly is currently being filmed.