Anna Friel

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Anna Friel
Friel in 2015
Anna Louise Friel

(1976-07-12) 12 July 1976 (age 47)
Rochdale, England
Years active1990–present

Anna Louise Friel (born 12 July 1976) is an English actress. She first achieved fame with her portrayal of Beth Jordache in the British soap opera Brookside (1993–1995), and came to international prominence when she played Charlotte "Chuck" Charles on ABC's Pushing Daisies (2007–2009), for which she received a Golden Globe nomination. She won an International Emmy Award for her portrayal of the title character in the ITV/Netflix series Marcella (2016–2021). Her other accolades include a Drama Desk Award, an honorary degree,[1] and a BAFTA nomination.

In 1998, Friel made her feature film debut with a starring role in The Land Girls. Subsequent credits have included A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999), Sunset Strip (2000), Me Without You (2001), Timeline (2003), Goal! (2005), Bathory (2008), Land of the Lost (2009), You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010), Limitless (2011), Books of Blood (2020), and Charming the Hearts of Men (2021). Her stage credits include Closer (Broadway, 1999), Breakfast at Tiffany's (West End, 2009), and Uncle Vanya (West End, 2012).

Early life[edit]

Anna Louise Friel was born on 12 July 1976 in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.[2][3] Her mother Julie Bamford Friel (born 1952) is a special needs teacher.[4] Her father, Desmond "Des" Friel (born 1951), was born in Belfast and raised in County Donegal, Ireland.[5] He is a former French teacher and folk guitarist, who now owns a web design company.[4] Her brother Michael is a doctor, who in his youth did television advertising work for Hovis.[6]

Friel attended Crompton House secondary school—an Anglican school—and later Holy Cross College, a Roman Catholic sixth form.[7] She began her training as an actress at Oldham Theatre Workshop.[8]


1991–2000: Television work and film debut[edit]

Friel made her professional acting debut at age 13 in the television miniseries G.B.H., which aired in the UK in 1991 and was nominated for several BAFTAs.[9] This led to appearances on the soap operas Coronation Street and Emmerdale in 1991 and 1992, respectively. She was cast the following year as Beth Jordache on the Channel 4 soap Brookside, a role she played for two years. The character was involved in some of the series' most famous plots, including the death of her abusive on-screen father,[10] and a storyline featuring the first ever pre-watershed lesbian kiss in British television history.[7] The latter moment went on to be broadcast around the world—including 76 countries where homosexuality is illegal—when it was featured as part of the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.[11] She later said, "For a very long time I was defined by that kiss. And I didn't want to be. I spent years turning down other lesbian roles because it felt like going back to Beth. [But it] did also make me want to take on parts that showed extreme sides of women".[12] In 1995, Friel won a National Television Award in the category of Most Popular Actress for her work on Brookside.[13]

Upon leaving the show, a decision that she initially thought to be a "terrible mistake",[14] Friel was cast in an episode of Tales from the Crypt and appeared in Stephen Poliakoff's television film The Tribe (1998), which drew controversy for its inclusion of a ménage à trois sex scene.[15] She then played leading roles in small-screen adaptations of Charles Dickens' Our Mutual Friend and Robert Louis Stevenson's St. Ives (both 1998), and co-starred in several British films, such as The Land Girls (1998), Rogue Trader (1999), and Mad Cows (1999).[16] Next, she played Hermia in the 1999 film version of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream,[17] saying later of the experience, "I think that [role] sort of changed things for me, especially in America, because the cast was really great—Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christian Bale—and people started to think, 'if she's working with [those people] she must be doing well'".[18]

During that same period, Friel made her Broadway debut in a production of Patrick Marber's Closer, which ran for 172 performances at the Music Box Theatre in New York. In his review of the show for Variety, Charles Isherwood wrote:

It's the exquisitely lovely Friel who is the discovery here. Her Alice is both the nihilistic core of the play and its tender center, and the paradoxical mixture of toughness and fragility [she] brings to it are essential to the play's deepest truths. It's a star-making performance.[19]

Friel won the 1999 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play for her work as Alice.[20]

2001–2009: Stage roles, film work, and Pushing Daisies[edit]

In 2001, Friel made her West End stage debut in an adaptation of Frank Wedekind's Lulu.[21] Her film appearances during this time included lead roles in An Everlasting Piece (2000), Sunset Strip (2000), Me Without You (2001), and Richard Donner's big-budget fantasy-adventure film Timeline (2003), in which she played the love interest of the main character. She also starred in the Canadian film The War Bride (2001), for which she received a Genie Award nomination for Best Actress.[22]

Friel's next starring role was in the Irish television film Watermelon (2003). She was then cast as Attorney Megan Delaney in The Jury, an American legal drama series that ran on Fox for a single season in 2004. In her review for The New York Times, Alessandra Stanley called the show "clever, innovative", and said of Friel, "hers is the most textured and persuasive character".[23] Friel later admitted to finding the job a challenge: "Everyone was saying, 'you will never believe how much hard work it is', and I was telling them not to worry because I'm used to it … but my God were they right … You run off the set from one scene and get changed and run back on. It is so fast and so very well organised but it is hard, hard bloody work".[18] Next, she co-starred as a Geordie nurse in the British-American sports drama Goal! (2005; a role she reprised in its sequel) and starred as an ex-drug addict in the Canadian film Niagara Motel (2006). In his review of the latter, The Georgia Straight's Ken Eisner said that Friel's performance in the Toronto-set drama had "the most weight", while commending her "perfect local accent".[24] In November 2006, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Bolton for contributions to the performing arts.[1]

In 2007, Friel was cast as lead character Charlotte "Chuck" Charles in Pushing Daisies, an American comedy-drama television series created by Bryan Fuller, which aired on ABC from 2007 to 2009. The show received favourable reviews during its two-season run,[25] with Friel's performance winning her a nomination for the 2008 Golden Globe Award for Best Actress.[26] The series was later cancelled due to a dip in ratings.[27] Friel was subsequently offered a number of television roles in America, but declined them to focus on her film career.[28] Next, she received a nomination for the 2009 Czech Lion Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of the title character in Bathory (2008),[22] a historical drama directed by Juraj Jakubisko. With a budget of UK£9.5 million, the film was the most expensive ever made in central Europe and broke box-office records in Slovakia.[29] In a mixed review for The Guardian, Gwladys Fouché wrote, "Friel spends two-and-half hours wielding swords, torturing peasants, surviving poison plots and making love to Caravaggio (yes, the Italian painter) to protect her land … Scenes are bathed in a gothic atmosphere that tops every Dracula movie you've seen … while Friel rolls her r's in an interesting attempt at a local accent".[29]

Friel co-starred in 2009's Land of the Lost, a big-budget adventure film based on the television series of the same name. She also returned to the West End that year in an adaptation of Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's, which played at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and gained attention for its addition of nudity.[30] The production received mixed reviews, but Friel's portrayal of Holly Golightly, one of her "all time favourite heroines",[31] was praised: Alice Jones of The Independent described her as "infectious", adding, "Gorgeously gamine and wrapped, like a treat from Tiffany's, in an array of ever more extravagantly bowed cocktail dresses, she's a bewitching stage presence, at once perilously provocative and child-like".[32] Friel appeared nude in the production; an image of her nude scene—taken during a preview performance—was posted online, prompting increased security at performances.[33][34] In November 2009, she received an RTS Award for her portrayal of a struggling single mother in the British drama series The Street.[35]

2010–2019: Marcella and other television roles[edit]

Friel had key roles in three features released in 2010: the Woody Allen-directed comedy You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, the crime drama London Boulevard, and the science fiction thriller Limitless. She appeared as a fictionalised version of herself in an episode of the mockumentary series Come Fly with Me the following year,[36] as well as starring in Neverland on the SyFy channel—a prequel to J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan—and earning strong reviews for her performance in the ITV drama Without You.[37][38] She then returned once more to the West End in an adaptation of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, which ran from November 2012 to February 2013,[39] receiving positive notices for her portrayal of aristocratic newlywed Yelena.[40][41] Next, she headlined the three-part BBC drama series Public Enemies (2012) and starred in two British films: The Look of Love—a biopic where she played the wife of Paul Raymond—and Having You (both 2013). In September 2013, she was cast to star in the Ridley Scott-directed Showtime pilot The Vatican,[42] though—due to creative issues and a negative response from Catholic organisations—the network eventually decided not to proceed with a full series.[43]

In 2015, Friel was cast in the lead role of Sergeant Odelle Ballard in American Odyssey, which ran for a single season on NBC. She also starred in the acclaimed Norwegian miniseries The Heavy Water War (UK title: The Saboteurs), a drama set during World War II.[44] Next, she had leading roles in four films: Urban and the Shed Crew (2015), based on the non-fiction book of the same name; dark comedy The Cleanse (2016); revenge thriller I.T. (2016); and the Irish-Canadian crime drama Tomato Red (2017).

Friel played the title role in the British "Nordic noir" detective series Marcella between 2016 and 2021.[45] She said following the premiere of its first season, "I nearly pulled out of [the job] after I'd accepted it [because] I just thought, 'Oh God, how can I do this? There are so many amazing female detectives that have done it so well, I don't know what I can offer differently' … so when it was received as well as it was, I thought maybe I had done something that is different and I've put my own ownership and my own stamp on it".[46] In 2019, Friel collected the International Emmy Award for Best Actress for her performance,[47] which Decider felt was "extraordinary":

Friel is a master of expressions. From scene to scene the actress' face can shift from chilling hard stares to wide-eyed looks of terror. It's never completely clear what Marcella is thinking or what she's going to do next. Not only does this allow Friel to explore her wide range, but it adds to the unsettling tone of this show".[48]

In 2017, Friel starred on the second season of The Girlfriend Experience, a drama series produced by Steven Soderbergh for the Starz network. Friel's portrayal of Erica Myles, a Republican engaged in relationships with two women, was described as "fantastic" and "outstanding".[49][50] Referring to the series' intense work schedule and the explicit nature of its sex scenes, Friel said that the role was her "most challenging job to date".[51] That same year, she was nominated for a British Academy Television Award for her work in the six-part BBC drama Broken.[52] Speaking of Friel's "scene-stealing" portrayal of "destitute mother Christina Fitzsimmons", Sarah Deen of Metro said, "Friel excellently [plays] Christina's frantic desperation … all wild eyes, flapping shoes and dry humour ('I went to Mass and I got the sack. What am I gonna get tomorrow? Cystitis?'). You couldn't tell if her wit was genuine or hastily developed as a defence mechanism to stop her from bursting into tears".[53]

In October 2018, Friel starred as the parent of a transgender child in Butterfly. Lucy Mangan of The Guardian described the miniseries as "important, truthful ... a wonderfully delicate drama that covers new ground carefully and features fully realised characters",[54] while the New Statesman felt that Friel's portrayal of a mother "racked by guilt" was "sterling".[55] Friel said she and the show's creators felt a great responsibility to make it as realistic as possible: "We met all these wonderful families, who were saying, 'please tell our story and tell it properly'. I said, 'do you not feel represented?' And they said 'no'. People have so many comments and opinions, but they actually can be somewhat ill-informed".[56]

In 2019, Friel headlined the ITV miniseries Deep Water, which Metro described as a "dark soap opera", adding, "The performances, with a very human and relatable nasty streak running through each one, [elevate it] to a must-binge drama … Friel excels when it comes to playing harassed women, usually ones with a secret to keep, and the actress completely [disappears] into [her character's] big jumpers as she [fights] to get her marriage back".[57]


Friel starred as Sharon Pici, a Kansas City detective, in the seven-part psychological thriller series The Box, which premiered on Viaplay in November 2021.[58][59] The following year, she co-starred as the daughter of Susan Sarandon's Dottie Roman in Monarch, a Fox drama series about the inner-workings of the country music world. Friel played Nicolette "Nicky" Roman, a singer-songwriter trying to carry on her family's legacy while forging her own path in the industry. In his review for The A.V. Club, Max Gao said:

Friel, not Sarandon, is the show's real leading lady—and a pretty great one at that … She belts out song after song, delivers memorable, fast-paced one-liners in a Texas accent ("I was going to say be careful about the rats, but there's no need because… you're going to fit right in"), and plays Nicky with such steadfast conviction that it's easy to wonder why she hasn't been more successful on this side of the pond since starring in ABC's Pushing Daisies … thankfully [this is] a role that is worthy of her talents.[60]

Friel performed all the songs her character sings—a mixture of covers and originals—herself.[61] It was announced in December 2022 that the series had been cancelled after one season.[62]

Friel's portrayal of Grace Gordon, a woman fighting for civil rights in 1960s America, in the historical drama Charming the Hearts of Men (2021) was met with critical acclaim.[63][64][65] In the British psychological thriller Locked In (2023), she played a Liverpudlian nurse helping one of her patients to unravel a murder mystery; critics were enthusiastic about Friel's performance, with The Guardian calling her "as excellent as ever".[66]

Other work[edit]

Friel has featured in television and print advertising campaigns for brands such as Reebok, Virgin Atlantic, Mulberry, Three, Pantene, and Marks & Spencer.[67][68][69][70][71][72]

In 2010, she starred as a chess player in the music video for the Manic Street Preachers' single "(It's Not War) Just the End of Love", alongside actor Michael Sheen.[73]

Friel works as an ambassador for the WWF wildlife charity.[74][75]

Personal life[edit]

In 2001, Friel began a relationship with actor David Thewlis, after the pair met on a flight to Cannes.[76] Later that year, Friel collapsed and was rushed to a hospital, needing emergency surgery and two blood transfusions for a ruptured ovarian cyst.[77] It was discovered that she suffers from endometriosis and would have difficulty conceiving.[78] Despite this, she later became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter, Gracie Ellen Mary Friel, on 9 July 2005 at Portland Hospital, London.[79] Gracie was named after Gracie Fields, and her mother's grandmothers, Ellen and Mary. In December 2010, Friel and Thewlis separated after almost ten years together.[80]


Year Association Category Work Result Ref
1995 National Television Awards Most Popular Actress Brookside Won [13]
TV Times Best Actress Won [81]
1999 Drama Desk Awards Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play Closer Won [20]
2001 Genie Awards Genie Award for Best Actress The War Bride Nominated [82]
2007 Satellite Awards Satellite Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy Pushing Daisies Nominated [22]
2008 Saturn Awards Saturn Award for Best Actress on Television Nominated [83]
2008 Golden Globe Awards Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy Nominated [26]
Online Film & Television Association Best Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated [22]
2009 RTS North West Awards Best Performance in a Single Drama or Drama Series The Street Won [35]
Czech Lion Awards Czech Lion Award for Best Actress Bathory Nominated [22]
2010 Sun in a Net Awards Best Actress in a Leading Role Won [84]
SFX Best Actress Pushing Daisies Nominated [85]
2017 Séries Mania Festival Best Actress Broken Won [86]
International Emmy Awards International Emmy Award for Best Performance by an Actress Marcella Won [87]
2018 British Academy Television Awards British Academy Television Award for Best Supporting Actress Broken Nominated [52]



Year Title Role Notes
1998 The Stringer Helen
The Land Girls Prue (Prudence)
1999 A Midsummer Night's Dream Hermia
Rogue Trader Lisa Leeson
Mad Cows Maddy
2000 Sunset Strip Tammy Franklin
An Everlasting Piece Bronagh
2001 The War Bride Lily
Me Without You Marina
2003 Last Rumba in Rochdale Bodney (voice) Short film
Timeline Lady Claire
2005 Goal! Roz Harmison
Niagara Motel Denise
2006 Irish Jam Maureen Duffy
2007 Goal II: Living the Dream Roz Harmison
Rubbish Isobel Short film
2008 Bathory Countess Erzsébet Báthory
2009 Land of the Lost Holly Cantrell
2010 London Boulevard Briony
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger Iris
2011 Limitless Melissa
2012 Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 Diana Short film
2013 The Look of Love Jean Raymond
Having You Anna
2014 Good People Sarah
Advent Helen Short film
2015 Urban & the Shed Crew Greta
2016 The Cleanse Maggie
I.T. Rose Regan
2017 Tomato Red Bev Merridew
2018 The Sea Jenny Short film
2019 Sulphur and White Joanne Tait
2020 Books of Blood Mary
2021 Charming the Hearts of Men Grace Gordon
2023 Locked In Nurse Mackenzie


Year Title Role Notes
1991 G.B.H. Susan Nelson Miniseries; main cast
Coronation Street Belinda Johnson 2 episodes
1992 Emmerdale Poppy Bruce 4 episodes
1993 Medics Holly Jarrett Episode #3.3
1993–1995 Brookside Beth Jordache Main cast
1995 The Imaginatively Titled Punt & Dennis Show Episode #2.1
1996 Tales from the Crypt Angelica, Leah Episode: "About Face"
Cadfael Sioned Episode: "A Morbid Taste for Bones"
1998 Our Mutual Friend Bella Wilfer Miniseries; main cast
The Tribe Lizzie Television film
St. Ives Flora Gilchrist Television film
2000 Lum the Invader Girl Lum (voice) British English gag dub of Urusei Yatsura; 2 episodes
2001 The Fear Storyteller Episode: "Horror: A True Tale"
2002 Fields of Gold Lucia Merritt Television film
2003 Watermelon Claire Ryan Television film
2004 The Jury Megan Delaney Main cast
Perfect Strangers Susie Wilding Television film
2007–2009 Pushing Daisies Charlotte "Chuck" Charles Main cast
2009 The Street Dee Purnell 2 episodes
2011 Neverland Elizabeth Bonny Miniseries; main cast
Treasure Guards [de] Victoria Eckhart Television film
Come Fly with Me Herself Episode #1.5
Without You Ellie Miniseries; main cast
2012 Public Enemies Paula Radnor Miniseries; main cast
2013 Playhouse Presents Jenny Episode: "The Pavement Psychologist"
The Vatican Kayla Duffy Unaired pilot
2014 The Psychopath Next Door Eve Wright Television film
2015 American Odyssey Sgt. Odelle Ballard Main cast
The Heavy Water War Julie Smith Miniseries; main cast (UK title: The Saboteurs)
2016–2019 Marcella Det Sgt Marcella Backland Main cast
2017 The Keith and Paddy Picture Show Adrian Episode: "Rocky"
Broken Christina Fitzsimmons Miniseries; main cast
The Girlfriend Experience Erica Myles Main cast (season 2)
2018 Butterfly Vicky Duffy Miniseries; main cast
2019 Deep Water Lisa Kallisto Miniseries; main cast
2022 Monarch Nicolette "Nicky" Roman Main cast

Voice work[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2017 Alien: River of Pain Anne Jorden Audiobook

Music videos[edit]

Year Song Artist Notes
2010 "(It's Not War) Just the End of Love" Manic Street Preachers Directed by Alex Smith


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