The third series of Marcella is finally here. Anna Friel, plus new cast member Amanda Burton, tell Georgia Humphreys what’s to come.

It’s not often we see the central character of a TV drama get a completely fresh start. But that’s exactly what happens in the long-awaited series three of ITV thriller Marcella.

After the explosive end of the second series, which saw the eponymous character – played by Anna Friel – at rock bottom, writer Hans Rosenfeldt (known for Scandi-noir drama, The Bridge) wasn’t sure where to go next with the storyline.

The unflinching and unrelenting detective had discovered she was to blame for the death of her own daughter and essentially wanted to erase herself.

So, the eight new episodes see her with a new persona – as an undercover detective called Keira Devlin who has been given the mission of infiltrating a crime family in Belfast.

As the series progresses, the lines between Marcella and Keira blur; how much of the past has really been left behind?

“We watch her mental health deteriorate more, to a certain degree, because the more and more she tries to suppress it, the more and more her subconscious gets louder and Marcella is basically saying, ‘I’m still here’,” suggests Rochdale-born Friel, 44, whose first professional acting job came aged 13, in Channel 4’s GBH.

“She fights with herself, preferring her undercover life to her real-life which, I didn’t realise, can actually be a danger with undercover police cops.”

There isn’t a ‘whodunnit’ this series; “it’s more about her getting in the underbody of this family who’s not particularly good”, teases Friel.

That family in question is the Maguires. And with their eyes across all their operations is matriarch Katherine, played by Northern Irish star Amanda Burton.

“She’s proud of the success the family has had since her husband died,” Burton, 64, notes of her character. “Whilst in the early 90s her husband may have run a wholly criminal enterprise with paramilitary links, Katherine was responsible for steering it towards a legitimate operation, leaning on the contacts she and her husband developed in the underworld to power the expansion whilst maintaining a legitimate veneer.”

So, what is the relationship between Katherine and Keira, aka Marcella? “Keira is brought into the Maguire family by someone who works for them and Katherine is very suspicious of her when they first meet,” explains Burton, known for her roles in Silent Witness, Peak Practice, and Brookside (which Friel also memorably starred in).

“As time goes on, Keira seems to be around the family a lot more, but she doesn’t really accept her as anything other than an intruder at the beginning; she’s incredibly vigilant and protective of her family.”

Asked how she found it shooting in Northern Ireland, Friel gushes that it was “the best”.

The only downside of the location for series three was the weather; Friel admits they got “rained out a lot”.

“We’d been shooting inside in this mansion, where a lot of the scenes take place, and we were desperately trying to get outside on this one [day].

“It had been so sunny and beautiful and course, the one day we went out, it lashed it down. I think it’s on my Instagram somewhere because it wasn’t like a normal regular rain downpour, it was like something you see in the rainforest.”

When it comes to answering what her favourite part of playing Keria was, as opposed to Marcella, Friel has no hesitation.

“Obviously being blonde! That just gave it a whole different feel and swagger to her costumes from series 1 and 2, which had to change, because Marcella dresses for the family, not for herself.”

Would she up for doing a fourth series?

“I love Marcella; I’m very attached to her,” muses Friel, considering her answer carefully.

“I think it would take lots of discussions to say, ‘Right, what can we do with her now?’

“It’s better to have three really strong series than a fourth weaker one, but if someone came up with a really good idea as to where it could go...” She pauses. “I can see her in South America! I think you could take her anywhere.”

When we chat over Zoom, it’s the November lockdown, and the discussion turns to whether the arts can continue to thrive with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Friel is passionate. “We need art - if any time has ever shown us that, it’s now.

“I think there’s going to be a need for artists more than ever. Imagine the day we can all go back to watching live music and concerts and – please God – be able to go back to the theatre.”

n The first two episodes of Marcella series three will air on ITV on Tuesday, January 26, with the entire series will be dropped on the ITV Hub and BritBox as the second episodes concludes.