Leading ladies in Emmy contention

It was 14 days before cameras would start rolling on the pilot of “Pushing Daisies,” and creator Bryan Fuller had just met the perfect love interest for the show’s main character.

Anna Friel wasn’t so sure.

“I remember having a conversation with my agent and I said, ‘I don’t think I can do this. I don’t think I can be all-American,'” says the British-born actress. “It’s not just about an accent, it’s a whole way of being — intonation, rhythms and all of that.”

The facts were these: “Daisies” was indeed a departure for Friel, who has a resume that’s short on comedy but includes such heavy roles as a murderess in the biopic “Bathory” and a heroin addict in “Niagara Motel.” On the other hand, ABC’s darkly whimsical fairy tale — about a mild-mannered guy who can revive the dead with his first touch and return them to the great beyond with a second — featured a lead female character who remains eternally optimistic, and Fuller wanted her for the part.

Finding the best way to portray Charlotte “Chuck” Charles would be a challenge for Friel. Inspiration came from her year-old daughter.

“I watched a lot of her mannerisms and the way she looks at things,” Friel says. “Every single thing to her is new and fresh, and (she’s) not judgmental. But how could I do that and not make Chuck ditsy?”

To figure it out, Friel played nearly every scene three different ways. By the time production started on the second episode, she had found the right tone. Also, she continued working with a voice coach to help her mask her British accent and maneuver through the show’s smart, often rapid-fire dialogue rarely seen since “Gilmore Girls” — efforts that earned the actress a Golden Globe nomination.

As Fuller draws up the second season of “Daisies,” he believes his instincts about Friel were correct.

“What Anna brings is a grounding element with an emotional reality, so all of those funny lines are now funny but they’re also heartbreaking in a way,” he says. “That speaks to the value of having a great actress first, as opposed to a comedic actress.”

Favorite scene: “When she’s by the grave (with Ned) and says, ‘Please wake my dad up. I just want to see him for a minute.’ And he says, ‘I can’t.’ There were quite a lot of choices about how to play it because she has to be forgiving of him and also understand why he made that decision.”

What you like most about your character: “She’s the strongest, sweetest person that I’ve ever come across, which is a complete contradiction. How can you be incredibly sweet but you’re also as strong as a rock? I like that contradiction.”

TV guilty pleasure: “I’ve bought ‘The Sopranos’ DVD sets and I’ll watch five (episodes) at a time. “

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