Meeting prostitute helped Friel relate to Street role

Anna Friel has told how she met up with a prostitute while researching her new role for drama The Street and said that as a mother she can empathise with the desperate measures her character takes.

The actress, 32, who has a three-year-old daughter named Gracie, said the show demonstrated "what a woman will do to protect her children".

The stellar cast for the third BBC1 series also includes Bob Hoskins, Gavin and Stacey's Ruth Jones and Timothy Spall.

The award-winning show is the work of writer Jimmy McGovern, whose credits also include Brookside, The Lakes and Cracker.

It focuses on the lives of different residents who live in the same street in the north west of England.

Former Brookside actress turned Hollywood star Friel plays Dee, a mother-of-two who tries to scrape some cash together by working in a sauna in Bolton.

One of her children is being badly bullied and she wants him to change schools, but moving house hikes up her mortgage and she is forced to subsidise her earnings from her day job in a DIY store.

Friel, whose partner David Thewlis has also appeared in the show, said she absolutely identifies with Dee's drastic actions.

"I prize our own daughter... above everything else in the world," she said.

"Having a child completely changes your perspective on everything.

"The drama demonstrates what a woman will do to protect her children, and I quite understand that feeling."

In researching the role, Friel met a real-life prostitute.

She said: "She taught me that when she's at work she puts her mind into a different place.

"She absents herself. I didn't have a sex scene as Dee - you didn't need to see that.

"But I got the sense from the woman I met of the prostitute's disregard for men.

"In a sense, the woman has power over the man, she manipulates the situation and is in charge of how it goes."

She added: "It makes you realise just how lucky you are...

"The piece is saying that, while prostitution is never the answer, people should not get too judgmental about women who have to go down that path...

"I hope this drama will make people empathetic of those in Dee's situation.

"It's all about the forces that drive you when you're a mother - and that's something many of us can relate to."

The Street picked up both the 2007 and 2008 Bafta and Royal Television Society Awards for best drama series, as well as winning international Emmy awards.

The Rochdale-born actress, who first broke through as Beth Jordache in Brookside, added: "Jimmy and I never worked on Brookside at the same time, but I've loved all his work. I adored Cracker and The Lakes...

"It was lovely to go back to where I started... this is one of the best scripts I've ever been involved with."

Hoskins plays Paddy, a principled publican who takes a brave stand against the local gang boss, Miller (Liam Cunningham).

When Miller tries to intimidate Paddy and his wife Lizzie (Frances Barber) into rescinding the ban on his son Calum for smoking in his pub, the landlord refuses to back down and a bloody confrontation looms.

Hoskins said: "The whole concept behind this episode is fantastic. It's Jimmy's version of High Noon!

"I very rarely watch telly - it's like having a plumber round and showing him your pipes."

Jones plays a lonely young woman called Sandra who lures her married workmate Eddie (Spall) back to her flat one evening and makes a move on him.

Jones said: "It doesn't end joyfully for either of them."

McGovern said of the show: "All the stories are about heart and humanity.

"Viewers can relate to these characters - we can all put ourselves in their shoes and think, 'there but for the grace of God, go I'."

He added: "People come up to me all the time in pubs offering scripts.

"I get offered about 250 per series. But we only accept very few of them."

The show will go out in a peak time slot from July.