Anna Friel: 'I do think women are feeling very empowered at the moment'

While Anna Friel's performance as Marcella – in the ITV crime drama of the same name – left viewers enthralled, the second series promises to push boundaries even further. Georgia Humphreys hears how the actress handles playing the tortured detective

Anna Friel as Marcella in the hit ITV crime drama of that name, which returns for a second series on Monday February 19

ANNA Friel is recalling how she almost turned down the opportunity to play the lead in ITV hit Marcella. The actress, lauded for her portrayal of a troubled detective in the series, was concerned it would be just another cop drama.

"I just thought, 'Oh God, how can I do this?'," says Friel (41), of the Nordic-style crime series. "There's so many amazing female detectives [that] I didn't know what I can offer differently, so I had to really work hard on that."

She adds: "So when it was received as well as it was, I thought, 'Well, maybe I have done something that's different and I've got my own ownership and my own stamp on it'."

The show, which proved one of the channel's top-rated dramas in 2016, returns tonight for a second series. And judging by its premise, writer Hans Rosenfeldt – known for Scandinavian drama The Bridge – has managed to up the ante.

Opening with the discovery of a schoolboy's body, Marcella (Friel) and her team are on the front line of the investigation – and it's a case she has a personal connection with.

Friel says series two of the twisty, London-set thriller pushes boundaries even more than the first instalment.

"The serial killers this time are to do with children, so whenever you embark on something so sensitive, it's a tricky thing to deal with," she says.

How does she decompress after a long day of filming Marcella?

"Two hours of god-damn traffic helps," she jokes of her journey to and from set. "But I love my AGA, I love to go home and cook – I find chopping very therapeutic."

Of her character's anxiety and stress, which viewers see come out "in extreme anger and physical force", the Rochdale-born mother-of-one says it's all based on huge fear.

"We're all in this world right now and that woman's voice is incredibly important and powerful because people are getting a right and a time to speak out," she says. "And for me it was concentrating on being a single mother [who is] very, very, very lonely, and having her children taken away from her."

It's a part that people can relate to perhaps more than ever before.

"I do think women are feeling very empowered at the moment," she says. "And having a woman who is dealing with a mental illness, whilst working, being a single mum and trying to keep everything afloat is very relatable at the moment."

Friel, who found fame in the mid-1990s in soap opera Brookside, won best actress at the 2017 International Emmy Awards for her role as Marcella and has high hopes the chilling series will return for another run.

"I think it was always intended to write it in three parts, so it's not season one, season two, season three, it's part one, part two, and part three," she says. "It depends whether people respond to this – hopefully momentum's not been lost because it's been such a long time.

"But I think because it's been successful throughout the world, that's what's really odd now, I go to Germany and France and they're like, 'Marcella, we love it, we love it!', and I'm like, 'What do I sound like in French?'"

Next up is a starring role in ITV's Butterfly, in which she the mum of a little boy called Max who wants to transition to become Maxine.

"It's about transgender, so it's a topic that has been massively debated and discussed, and I would urge anybody to not voice an opinion without doing their proper research, because I didn't have any idea the trauma that some of these poor angels are going through – and their parents, what they're going through as well," says Friel.

:: Marcella returns to ITV tonight.

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