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Anna Friel wants you to watch 'The Girlfriend Experience' for more than the naked, writhing bodies

Chatting with the "Pushing Daisies" alum about her new show, American politics and working on a provocative series.
Anna Friel
Anna Friel. Photo: Getty

It’s a cold, sunny day in England. I’m not there, but Anna Friel tells me so over the phone, and I believe her. When I gripe about the past week’s inconsistent weather, she quips, “Makes you question the whole climate change thing, doesn’t it?”

We’re chatting over the phone to talk about her latest effort, the second season of “The Girlfriend Experience.” The 41-year-old stars in the first seven episodes as Erica Myles, a Republican financier embroiled in the dark side of midterm elections. Navigating the world of American politics wasn’t exactly easy for the Rochdale native. “My god! Your country is so vast,” she exclaims. “I don’t understand how you have one person govern such a huge place. It took me so long to decipher what was going on.

“What I asked American people was, ‘Can you explain this? Can you explain that?’” she continues. “It was surprising how few people could, they’d say, [here she lightly adopts an American accent] ’It’s really hard for me too.’ I feel like you’ve got to study politics for years to understand such a complex system.”

The series has its fair share of political intrigue — “I think it’s going to be quite controversial given the current timing with politics and everything we’re dealing with at the minute,” Friel notes — but the most galvanizing part of Erica’s arc is her burgeoning relationship with escort Anna, who offers the titular girlfriend experience.

But it’s not just the same old: Erica and Anna’s relationship plays not-so-delicately with the powers of dominance and submission, something you don’t see on television very often — at least, not this way. “I think what was very fascinating was how [the series] portrays feeling powerful in submission and vice versa,” she says. “Or how you can feel very submissive when you’re in a position of power.”

And while, thankfully, there is no sexposition, there is little left to the imagination. Friel, of course, realizes this, but wants to urge audiences to look beyond the naked, writhing bodies.

“It’s not unnecessary. We’ve got to concentrate on it as a piece of work,” she says. “I’ve never really had an issue with nudity as long as I didn’t ever feel like I was made to do it or thought that it was salacious. But if you’re dealing with something where you know that sex is going to be involved, it’s something that we really shouldn’t shy away from.”

Fortunately, the emotional timbre of the series is just as riveting as the physicality, and Erica’s relationships with the women in her life — both Anna and ex-girlfriend Daria — are complex and riveting. “ The whole nature versus nurture question comes up quite a lot.” As for how she thinks people will take the series and the new directions the second season explores? “I think it’ll be provocative television.”

After ten minutes or so, I’m reminded that I have time for only one more question. But before I can finish my sentence — "I wanted to talk to you about 'Pushing Daisies'" — Friel is gushing.

“Having a beautiful love story and something that’s so optimistic is so important. That's what was beautiful about ['Pushing Daisies'].

“We’ve all talked about [a reunion],” she continues. “I know Bryan [Fuller, the creator of the critically-acclaimed series] wants to do something, we just have to make sure we all don’t get too old.” I can almost hear her grinning over the phone, she’s so gleeful. “Never say never.”

 
 
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