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Anna Friel's so at home in Belfast, the city her dad's family hails from


Anna Friel

Anna Friel

Anna Friel

MARCELLA star Anna Friel has revealed she got one of her Northern Irish cousins to don a wig and play her body-double during filming in Belfast for the latest series of the hit TV cop drama.

The 44-year-old actress, who stars as detective Marcella Backland in the popular ITV show, also said her teenage daughter Gracie fell in love with local culture and the Northern Ireland education system while the pair lived here during filming.

Speaking ahead of the release of Marcella season three next week, Anna also said she was stunned by the generosity and affection of her Belfast neighbours during filming in 2019.

She told Sunday Life: "It's a great city, I loved shooting there. I was touched by the warmth and the kindness. I rented a house and my daughter went to school, big shout out to Strathearn School in east Belfast.

"Neighbours put flowers through the letter box and welcomed us to the street. They said if there was anything they could do just to ask, there was just an overwhelming sense of warmth and kindness.

"Of course I was also surrounded by my family which was great, so I got to catch up with most of them. Not all of my 82 cousins but quite a few of them.

"I couldn't believe how incredible the Northern Ireland education system is, the state school Gracie went to, Strathearn, was as good as any private school you'd pay for.

"I was really impressed, they couldn't have been more helpful. In actual fact Gracie came back to England and wanted to switch schools so it matched more so to Strathearn.

"She loved the sense of community and particularly picked up on the humour. She found everybody really witty and told me 'they really get me'. She has quite a dry sense of humour and I think she appreciated her wit being respected and being able to use it."

Anna, who's father Desi Friel is a musician from Belfast, also spoke of her joy at being able to film here as she had spent many family holidays in Donegal as a child as well as getting one of her cousins to play her double during filming for the hit crime series.


Desi and Anna Friel

Desi and Anna Friel

Desi and Anna Friel

"When my dad left Ireland to marry my mum in England, part of the deal was the children get a chance to experience being here to get a sense of being Irish," she continued.

"I'm lucky enough to have dual citizenship and hold both a British and Irish passport. I used to spend all my summers up in Donegal at my granny's place. She only passed a few years ago after reaching the ripe old age of 96.

"So I love spending time here and it was wonderful to be able to shoot here. I even went as far as getting my cousin Katrina to be my double for a scene. She put a wig on and pretended to be me which was fun.

"I had lots of family members come to set as well who hadn't been able to make it to set in the past as I'd been shooting in England or Canada or wherever, that was a tremendous gift for us to be able to enjoy, it was like being home.

"Back in the days when we could go into a pub and have a pint of Guinness and enjoy some trad music, we were all able to do that as well which was lovely.

"I adored that because when I was a kid I'd go into my living room and there'd usually be a group of 12 musicians because my dad is very musical, much like my whole family.

"I have to thank the crew as well, the most amazing crew ever who all went on to Line Of Duty when we'd finished. I'm so thrilled that more and more filming is happening in Belfast.

"It's great for the economy and provides work for so many talented people out there."

The latest series of Marcella is set in Belfast and centres around the detective infiltrating a crime family known as the Maguires.

Anna revealed she was ready and able to adopt a Belfast accent for the role but producers felt it wasn't necessary and spoke of her delight at being able to work with well-known Northern Irish actors Aaron McCusker and Amanda Burton, who like Anna first made her name in Brookside.

She continued: "Amanda was lovely, I don't think our paths had ever crossed before so my first time meeting her was on set. She's a really powerful actress and was very focused and concentrated. She was perfectly cast for the part.

"Similarly Aaron McCusker was a joy to work with. He was very gentlemanly in the scenes we had together.

"My dad is from Belfast and I did do a Belfast accent before in a film with Barry Levinson called An Everlasting Piece in 2000.

"All my family is from there so I have been surrounded by the accent my whole life. I did actually ask at the beginning, 'Please can she have an accent?' but I think the director Hans Rosenfeldt felt most undercover detectives wouldn't be able to get that accent, they're not actresses are they?

"Also every person in the cast pretty much has a Belfast accent so they wanted to keep a bit of Marcella considering everything else, the format, the environment, has changed."

The release of season three of Marcella was delayed from June last year for a number of reasons including coincidental similarities in the storyline and the Essex lorry death tragedy which resulted in the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants, including two children.

Anna added: "I'm delighted it's finally been released in the UK, it's been really frustrating that everyone in the world has been able to see it apart from the UK and Republic of Ireland.

"That's mainly due to the human trafficking storyline in the first episode which was too similar to the recent court case so we had to delay it.

"It's not the main part of the story and was written before any of that came to light, it's just an awful case of similarity.

"I think Hans Rosenfeldt must have a crystal ball or be able to look into the future because there's also a character who can't touch anything and is washing his hands constantly and is terrified of germs.

"The UK release has really been something to look forward to and I'm really proud of this series. It's completely different from the previous two.

"It's set in Ireland and she's an undercover detective so she's had to eradicate and reinvent herself which is tough. She's blonde and has a completely new look and pretty much the entire cast is new, It's a whole new world and a whole new concept."

÷ Marcella returns on Tuesday, January 26, at 9pm on ITV. Watch the whole new series on the ITV Hub from the same day.

Sunday Life