From Brookside to Butterfly: 7 Questions With... Anna Friel

We spoke to the Marcella actress about her new trans drama Butterfly, which is coming to ITV next Sunday.

Anna Friel wants everyone to watch her new drama, Butterfly - but not for the reason you might expect.

The British actress wants to change the conversation around trans issues, which is at the epicentre of the show.

Anna - who won an International Emmy for her role in detective drama, Marcella - plays the mother of a boy who wants to live as a girl in the new mini-series from Bafta-winning writer Tony Marchant.

She and co-star Emmett J. Scanlan (The Fall) firmly believe the show is a must-watch for families, and as parents themselves have encouraged their own children to tune in.

BT TV customers can catch Butterfly on ITV HD when it airs on Sunday, October 14 at 9pm - and never miss an episode with catch up on ITV Hub.

Speaking at the launch of the show, Anna revealed why she signed up and what she’s learnt about trans issues since she did…

Butterfly Anna Friel

1. Your character, mum Vicky, looks conflicted with her emotions, and how supportive she should be of Max’s transition. What do you make of her emotions?

You can clearly see that she loves Max very much. Something that was really interesting for me was the fact that she has to grieve her son, she had to say goodbye to Max and hello to Maxine.

She doesn’t know how to be supportive - she learns how to be supportive. It’s very new to her as it will be to an audience - she doesn’t know the answers.

Whether Vicky is more supportive of Max/Maxine because she’s a mother, that’s a controversial question. I just think they’ve got an extraordinarily close bond.

I don’t think she’s exceptional because she’s a mother. She’s essentially a single mother with two kids [so she has a closer bond with him].

[Read more: Everything you need to know about Butterfly]

2. You mentioned in the press notes that you were bullied when you were a child. Did that help you to understand the suffering of your character’s son/daughter in this?

Well they’re two completely different stories but bullying is bullying and it should be eradicated. I empathise with the fight and the struggle. I think she desperately doesn’t want Max/Maxine to be bullied and have to face that.

3. What have you learnt about trans issues since signing up for the project?

Everything! I didn’t really know much at all. I didn’t know about puberty blockers, I didn’t know about halting puberty, 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.

I didn’t know that there was a wonderful charity called Mermaids which is there to support and help - they’re a tremendous charity.

[I didn’t realise about] the confusion that surrounds it. I didn’t understand why people got so angry about this topic. I didn’t realise how it was hurting them.

I didn’t realise the period of time the transition takes. It’s not ‘oh I want to be a boy’ or ‘oh I want to be a girl’. It’s many, many years - that period of transition.

I’d have a lot more understanding and I’d know what questions to ask [if my child came to me with a similar issue]. 

4. Was part of the reason for taking the role knowing the discussions [around trans issues] it would start?

I knew it would be controversial but I don’t actively seek controversy. There was so much I liked about it.

I’d worked with Tony in the past and I’ve always been a big fan of his work. I’d wanted to work with him again, and it happened to be this project, in a story that hasn’t been told before and needs to be told. It tells the other side of it.

People can have very strong opinions on this topic and I don’t know whether they’re well-informed enough.

[Whether it can be as groundbreaking as the Brookside kiss], I think the reason I brought that [kiss] up is to show ‘look 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. If you could shine a light in the same way with this show then great.

[Read more: Why Butterfly is a must watch for families]

5. What impact has the role had on you and has it changed you in any way?

It’s educated me, and I could relate very much to being a single mother and juggling work and life, and then you have all the trans issues thrown into the mix as well.

I just loved the Duffy family. I kind of mourned that family on the last day of filming. I’ll miss the Duffys! I loved those children very dearly, I still do, we all became very, very close and it was wonderful to watch and observe, and work with such great, emerging [young] talent.

6. When Vicky moves her ex Stephen back into the family home, do you think she’s doing it for herself or for Max/Maxine?

I don’t think she’s divisive. I think she’ll always love her husband and wishes that he could be more supportive, but he just doesn’t have that ability.

I think it’s the issue at hand, something very serious going on, that she needs to protect her son. You see how much she absolutely loves him/her… the love is visceral. She wants to protect her child at any cost.

[Read more: Anna Friel talks Marcella series 2]

7. As co-producer on the show, how was it getting involved in the casting of Callum Booth-Ford in his first acting role as Max/Maxine?

We saw six extraordinary children and it’s very difficult to be on the other side, auditioning them, because you know how it feels to be auditioned.

I went out and met all the parents of each child and I told them I’d look after them. We improvised a little bit.

It was really tough because they were all such wonderful offerings, but Callum just had the edge. He had a really beautiful, solid confidence and something really rare, and he just looked beautiful.

I think he’s got the acting bug!

Butterfly airs on ITV on Sunday, October 14 at 9pm. Catch up on the ITV Hub - find it under the Players & Apps tab on BT TV.

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Images: ITV / Rex Features / Instagram

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