June 2022 - COVER STORY: Physical's Dierdre Friel
Many actors can find themselves becoming typecasted after succeeding in iconic roles. Deirdre Friel was determined this would not happen to her. Appearing in such shows as The Sopranos, New Amsterdam, and films like Second Act, Friel wanted her talent to be the focus and not the look. "A couple of years ago, I told my reps that I didn't want to play anything for plus-size women. I am not under any illusion of what I look like, but I have often found in the film and TV industry and theater when you have that descriptor - you must have low self-esteem, or you're the butt of a joke - something like that. Aside from the fact that my self-esteem did not need that kick, I don't have low self-esteem, so I was not booking those roles because I came across as too confident. So, I was like, do not submit me for this stuff anymore."
But then Physical came along, and as Friel read the script, she thought it was another "big girl" role but decided to push through, feeling a connection with her character, Greta. "Then this project [Physical] comes along - I don't think the descriptor was in the breakdown for the character, but I read the scene. One of my audition scenes was very much about me talking about how I eat all this food - I thought about it, but my manager said it's a good project. There are some good people on it. Let's give it a look, and then we get to the next phase and talk to them more about where the character is going. So when I got to that phrase, I got a big story. I thought how empowering it felt to look the way I did, and it was wonderful. Then it made me very excited to move ahead with the project because I don't feel that women of substance always get the same kind of representation and the chance to be like, I do look like this, and I'm fine with it. I feel great about it!"
Greta is a complex character and reflects the everyday woman, especially in the period the show takes place in - the 1980s. In season one, you saw signs of growth and watched the character go through what women go through daily, including weight issues, marriage struggles, and personal grievances about themselves. It's what makes Friel excited for the new season. "What I liked about her was I think, like any woman, her appearance is some struggle, especially in the 80s, we forget sometimes I think we haven't gotten as far away from some of those conversations we think we have. I love where she gets to go in season two. Even the things that she struggles with his season one are about being a mom being a housewife - wondering whether she can do more - whether she's worth more. I think that's something that I've heard from women. They like and relate to this character. So I'm proud to play her." Greta's boldness grows throughout the first season leading to a dramatic step of her shaving her head. While Friel would have made the brave step to do it herself, filming the storylines didn't make it possible. "That's so funny! That is what everyone asks me. Like, people are Googling that about me! So, no. I didn't. The short answer is no. Because in Season One, we had to shoot the whole series as a big lump. So normally, like the way we would have shot New Amsterdam, you're doing the episode in the week, and sometimes you're doing scenes a little out of order, but you're doing an episode a week or an episode every two weeks. For Physical, because of COVID and locations, on the same day, we were shooting from episode 2, episode 8, and Episode 1. If I had shaved my head when we shot early stuff, it would not have worked. So the Head of the Hair Department, Kent, I'd have to go in like 2 hours early, and he would glue all my hair down to my head, and then he built this wig. Then we put the cap on, put the wig on, and dap a little more so you weren't seeing the netting. Then there would be times last season where I had a wig on a wig. So I'd have to have another wig that could come off while the other would stay on!"
Season Two of Physical begins on June 3rd. Friel was excited to discuss a new player coming to the cast. "We have some special guest stars this season. One of them is Murray Bartlett, who I got to shoot with. He just did White Lotus. Before we got him, I thought, this guy is so good! He's a good actor! Then he joined our cast, and I met him, and I was I don't often get very like - ooo, but, I was like, Oh my Gosh! He is the nicest man, and what an actor, so I think you guys will enjoy what he does. This season he's a lot of fun!"
No matter the project, Friel seems to land in the pocket when it comes to camaraderie with her castmates. "I've had a lot of fortune in the projects I've got to do in my life, but especially in the last five to seven years. The cast has sort of a familial kind of feel. Everyone feels like a family in a certain way. I love that everyone has a great funny bone, like, everyone's funny! The writing is so good. Annie Wiseman and our wonderful writer's room are so smart and good. They give us such great scripts, but they also will allow us on takes to have a little wiggle room and adlib at each other and stuff a little bit. Rory Scovel just always makes me laugh. I love his humor. The way he'll throw something at me that I would never expect. So, I'm trying not to laugh or throw something back with him because - you know, Greta and Danny don't exactly have the most friendly relationship. So it's fun to have those relationships. And Rose too - God, she's so funny, and we have a great time together. So it makes even the days when you're doing hard or sad scenes - it's just hard work on your body and your mind and psyche to be so intense. So, the good vibes help you in and out of the day."
While working on the new season, Friel had the opportunity to work with Ray Romano on a new film, Somewhere in Queens. "It will be at the Tribeca Film Festival this year, which is exciting. It's cool to do a New York movie with Ray Romano. I'm excited about that. It's a story about a man and his son. I think it's a real love letter to Queens because that means a lot to Ray. Ray wrote the movie with his writing partner, Mark Stegemann. He also directed and starred in the movie, and he was amazing at all of them. It was impressive to watch. It's his first time directing a feature film, so it was amazing to watch him do that. I play his sister, Sebastian Maniscalco plays the brother, and Laurie Metcalf plays his wife. It's a great cast. It's a good movie. I'm excited for people to see it."
Friel is proud of the work she has been doing in her career. "I'm proud to work with these people. It's influencing some of the stuff I'm developing and working on now. I'm conscious about the stories I want to tell - what is important to talk about or what someone who looks like me and behaves like me can talk about. I'm proud of these projects big time."
Physical is streaming now on AppleTV+.