Fresh from conquering the US with Pushing Daisies, Anna Friel returns to her northern roots as a part-time hooker in the second epsiode of The Street

Last seen in the US comedy drama Pushing Daisies, and some 16 years on from her career-making role as Beth Jordache in Brookside, Anna Friel makes her return to a gritty northern neighbourhood when she stars in this week’s episode of BBC1’s The Street (Monday July 20, 9pm).

The dramatic instalment sees the Rochdale-born actress play Dee Purnell, a devoted but debt-ridden single mum who works as a prostitute called Ruby at weekends to raise extra cash to get her two sons into a better school. Her life seems to take a turn for the better when she falls for caring plumber and single parent Mark (Daniel Mays), but as they get closer, her secret double life is threatened with exposure.

We asked Anna to tell us more…

How would you describe your character, Dee?
“She’s incredibly strong but she would unravel if she stopped to look at everything she is doing. She desperately wants someone to love but her children are at the forefront of her mind. It was nice to play her after playing a sweet happy girl in Pushing Daisies.”

Did you talk to any real prostitutes to research your role?
“Yes, and I was surprised by how they lead a normal life and deal with it as a night job that doesn’t affect the rest of their existence.”

How tough is the dilemma Dee faces?
“It’s the worst situation anyone could be in. She meets Mark, but because she loves him she doesn’t know how to tell him her secret. Like Beth, who I played in Brookside, Dee doesn’t fit a stereotype. She’s a regular person in a horrible situation who is scared of being judged.”

What was the appeal of doing The Street?
“I’m a massive fan of Jimmy McGovern and I liked that this episode was a love story and had hope to it. My partner, David Thewlis, loved appearing in The Street in the last series, so it was on great recommendation.”

Did it feel like coming home?
“Totally. It was nice to go back to my roots of where I started in a wonderful gritty northern drama. It was funny getting my accent back after living down south for the past 16 years. But as soon as you are surrounded by people, you think: ‘Ah, there are those lovely sounds’.”

Your dinosaur comedy, Land of the Lost with Will Ferrell, is out next week. Was that fun to make?
“I’ve never done a movie of this scale or genre but I always jump at the chance to do something different. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intimidated but I’ve always been a Will Ferrell fan and it was one of the most enjoyable experiences ever.”

What reaction have you had from fans now Pushing Daisies has ended?
“A lot of fans can’t believe it’s over. They want to know what happens to Ned and Chuck. The show had a massive following and I think it won respect because it set new standards and had an incredibly impressive look.”

Would you do another US series?
“I was offered six or seven pilots this year. but I don’t want to go straight into another. Pushing Daisies was so great it would have to be something amazing. I feel very welcomed in America, though. They have taken to me as an actress and want me to stay.”

Now that you live in Los Angeles, what do you miss most about the UK?
“The history, culture and architecture but also the accents and the humour, plus it’s home. Luckily, my local supermarket always gets me in English things like sausages, PG Tips and Rich Tea biscuits, but Vimto and English bacon are hard to come by.”

You’re also going to be back in the UK this autumn to tread the boards on the West End stage as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
“It’s going to be daunting. I’ve purposely not allowed myself to watch the film and I’ve concentrated on the novel which is very different. If I go in there and copy Audrey Hepburn, I’m going to fall flat. I’ve been taking singing and guitar lessons to prepare. They are beautiful 1940s songs, but I think my household is going to get absolutely sick of the sound of Moon River.”

What do you like to watch on TV?
“Mad Men is absolutely incredible and I also loved The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Prime Suspect and Cracker. I watch BBC America where you can get Jonathan Ross and Graham Norton so it is like a home from home.”

Is your daughter Gracie showing any acting talent?
“She’s not yet four but she dresses up constantly and is always saying: ‘Are you acting? Can I do acting now?'”