Anna Friel had roles on several BBC TV series and in films before moving to American television and her part in the popular ABC TV series Pushing Daisies. She also won an award for her role in Closer on Broadway. So, why is Anna ditching her sweet “girlie” dresses from Daisies to portray Holly Cantrell, an action girl-scientist in a tank top and shorts in the sci-fi comedy-adventure Land of the Lost opposite funnyman Will Ferrell?
Friel tackled the film for a totally new experience and a lot of laughs. She plays a very smart research assistant from Cambridge who is both impressed by and attracted to Ferrell’s wacky, discredited scientist character Dr. Rick Marshall. Marshall is sure there is a parallel universe existing alongside our own. We just haven’t crossed over yet. When a journey through a time/space portal takes Holly and Rick to a primordial world full of dinosaurs and evil, slow-moving critters called Sleestaks, they are joined by a crude opportunist-survivalist named Will (Danny McBride of Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder) and the comic struggle to survive and get home is launched.
Land of the Lost is based upon a very low-budget 70’s American TV series in which Friel’s character was a 14-year-old girl lost with her dad and brother in a land of very bad special effects. All three lead characters and their relationships were altered for this big-screen update. SheKnows spoke with Anna about playing a tongue-in-cheek woman with a sense of wide-eyed, gee-wow wonder and her struggle to keep a straight face midst Ferrell’s silly dances. Anna managed to effectively shout at a tennis ball standing in for a huge T-Rex and was delighted to finally get to use her own Manchester English accent after going “posh” for Shakespeare plays and playing an American in Daisies.
Landing in Lost
SheKnows: Did Land of the Lost ever air in England?
Anna Friel: No, I’d never heard of it. I never saw it if it did. At the read-through I met Marty and Sid (Krofft, creators of the original TV series), and they were like, â€˜You’re the one, you’re our Holly,’ I was a little bit concerned, first, A. I’m not American, B. I’m not 14 and C. I’ve not got blonde hair so all the avid Sci-Fi fans are going to be like, â€˜What?’
SheKnows: You must have had to watch DVDs of the old show, right?
Anna Friel: Brad (Silberling the director) brought me the big DVD box set and we watched, and my daughter now is an avid fan. It’s like ‘do you want Willy Wonka, Mary Poppins or Land of the Lost? And, she’s like ‘I want Land of the Lost!’. So she loves it, she’s had the opportunity to come to the set and pound on the Sleestaks. We watched quite a lot of the (episodes). It’s loosely based on the series. They still kept the Sleestaks, there is a Marshall, Will and a Holly, but obviously the world’s changed very much. They’ve just taken that idea and brought it up-to-date, so it suits a new generation.
SheKnows: You worked mostly with actual sets and guys in suits rather than all CGI. Was that helpful for you?
Anna Friel: The sets are continually changing, the director, Brad Silberling, has been so brilliant because he wanted us to have real things to work with, so he stuck with the original idea of keeping the Sleestaks as human beings in costumes, as opposed to having the whole thing CGI’d. There’s very little green screen, we’ve always got the real elements to work with which makes it all feel a little bit more real and believable.
SheKnows: You are in action and peril a lot. Isn’t that new for you?
Anna Friel: Yeah. Holly turns into a big action girl, and that’s something I’ve never ever done before. I’m having the best time I’ve ever had on a film ever.
Lost and anxious
SheKnows: You have a really strong theater background; Shakespeare included. Were you excited right away when your agent called you to audition for this or were you kind of like, ‘am I ready for this? Do I want to do this?’
Anna Friel: That’s a really good question. I’d be an absolute liar if I said I wasn’t scared. Particularly because I didn’t know how much improvisation was going to be involved. I went to a place called Oldham Theatre Workshop where it was just about improvising three times a week for three hours a night but it was a lot more serious. I was worried I would be out of my depth. You watched Will and Danny and they’d come up with 10, 12 different responses and you have to have that very quick wit. I’m about to go and do stage again for the first time in seven years. I’m doing the first ever adaptation of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s in the West End at the Haymarket (Theatre).
SheKnows: Was there any time when Danny and Will were improvising and you just didn’t get it because the humor was too American?
Anna Friel: No. It’s not the humor. There are certain words. You call things different things. You do find there’s lots of little different worlds like ‘tin’. I kept asking for ‘tin-foil’. You know so my sandwiches don’t go off (spoil). I’ve just eaten my lunch. I want to keep it warm.’ ‘Aluminum foil.’ ‘Is that what you call it? Aluminum?’ There’s lots of different words like that but Danny just kept making British jokes all the way through, like I was literally the butt of every joke and he’d pretend that he’d never met an English person ‘Do you really exist? I thought I only met them in history books’ and I’m like, ‘Alright you, that’s enough!’ (laughter) Thanks a lot guys.
SheKnows: How did you get away with using your own accent in this film? That’s pretty cool.
Anna Friel: I know, they wrote the character as a Brit, from the very beginning. Brad had always seen it like that. I don’t know why. At my audition both Will and Brad said “No, no we want you to speak in the way you do because we like the sound of it, it gives a gruff, butch-ness to it.” Maybe, I don’t know. So that was nice. It was quite scary to be honest, speaking in my own accent because, usually, it totally separates you from the character you’re playing because you don’t hear yourself, so at first it was quite vulnerable-making, and then I settled into it and found it actually quite liberating and free.
SheKnows: Since you didn’t know what the show was, and since your character is not the same on the show as it is in the movie, what did you get out of watching the original TV series that you were sort of able to carry over?
Anna Friel: Well, just understanding what Sleestaks were and understanding Chaka (a young ape/man character) and the whole premise of the show. (We made) a 2009 film version and they found the comedy in it. But I think they’ve remained very true to the main premise of it. I love Grumpy (the T-Rex who was in the original series). I love the idea of giving a dinosaur expression.
SheKnows: Holly is very bright yet she’s hot for rather looney Doc Marshall played by Will. Did you have to reconcile that in your own mind?
Anna Friel: I didn’t write the script. I read and saw how Holly fitted in as a girl that had this inexplicable crush on this man and I had to (ask) ‘well, why does she love him when she’s a really good scientist from Cambridge?’ My reasoning was always that she thinks that this genius is just hidden under all these mad eccentricities. It’s really hard not to fall in love with Will. I think he’s such a charmer and warm guy as is Danny.
Up nextâ€¦Anna on the perils of action sequences and working with Will Ferrell.