Dierdre Friel is an up-and-coming star in entertainment. Not only has she appeared in film and television projects including “New Amsterdam”, “Second Act,” and “The Sopranos,” but she has also graced the stage on Broadway and acclaimed regional theatre productions of “Mary Poppins,” “Sister Act,”, “Doubt,”, “King Lear,” “Richard III,” “Don Juan,” “Cinderella,” “Golden Age,” and “Leap of Faith.” Her illustrious career began when she was just a little girl, and now she makes another exciting debut in the Apple+ TV program “Physical” with Rose Bryne, which brings the struggles women face daily into the spotlight. This show will have its audience laughing at moments, but will also initiate important conversations that must be had.
When did you first start acting and what made you decide to do it?
What's so funny was that I was interested in acting ever since I was a little girl. I remember being two or three years old and my grandfather was a tap dancer — a super talented performer — and he would do community theatre. I remember going to see his shows, after which I would be able to recite almost every single line. Ever since I was little I had the bug for it. I didn't really start pursuing it professionally until after college, though. I always really loved it.
Could you tell me a little bit about your time at the Mason Gross School of the Arts and studying in London?
It was so great. I loved my time at Rutgers. It was great training with great people. I still stay in touch with a few of my classmates. We were the first group of American students to actually get to study there, and it was a really special experience for me: getting to live in London at a really young age and getting to experience the world a little bit and get your eyes opened. It was great getting to see Europe and experience other cultures too. It was my first exposure to Shakespeare, really. I loved it so much and had such a great time.
Did studying Shakespeare so intensely change how you approach roles on stage and in film?
To a certain extent, it made me love and appreciate language more. At the time, I didn’t know how Shakespeare used language as a clue to understand his characters. Afterward, I started to look at the text as clues or hints directly from the playwright to learn exactly how the character feels, why they say what they say and how they say it. It really changed how I approached acting at that point.
I saw that you were in a lot of Broadway Productions as well as working on film and TV shows. Do you prefer one over the other?
I really just love acting, and I would work on anything. I mostly trained as a stage actor, because that is what a lot of my family members did and it just felt natural to me. Now, I have been doing a lot more with film and TV, and I like doing them both. It is kind of like if you train as a painter with acrylic paint your entire life, but then one day someone gives you watercolor paints. There is this realization that they are similar even though they are different. It's like the same kind of brush but a different technique.
What are the differences between stage acting and film acting?
When you perform onstage you are usually in a bigger house. I remember the Broadway show I did had eighteen hundred seats, so there are many people and they can be far away from you. So when you are telling a story, you have to think about being big enough and strong enough that people far away will still get the message. On camera, it is like the camera is the single person you are performing for, and it is sitting six inches away from your face. If you tried to be as big as you were onstage, you would be screaming at them. So it is more similar to talking to a singular person, as opposed to when I’m trying to communicate something to someone across a football field. You have to change the way you communicate based on who you are talking to. For the actors out there, it's similar to [how] if you're auditioning in a room where the people are close by, you are going to audition differently than when you walk into the room and they have you standing all the way on the other side of the room. That's the best way I can describe it.
What is something that you think everyone should know about “Physical”?
One of the things I love about the show is that it is very real. It is very honest. An example is the way Rose’s character, Shiela, talks to herself internally. There are heavy themes in the show, and I think a lot of people are struck by how challenging that is as a topic to handle. When I watched the pilot with my boyfriend, he turned to me at one point and said, “do you talk to yourself that way in your mind?” and I said, “oh, yeah, sure.” Then he responded with, “does every woman talk to themselves like this?” to which I responded, “yeah, babe, yeah.” That's something that I got excited about because it made me think that this could start conversations with people.
They might finally take a step back and realize, “wow, women are really hard on themselves.”
I know that every woman would sit there saying “uhhh, yeah.” It shows the reality of how we walk through the world. That's something that I really like because it is something that will challenge you as a watcher, but also it's honest. I think as a society we are starting to have honest conversations about things, and that gets me pretty jazzed.
How do you capture the perfect balance of a dramedy?
My approach to acting might be different than other people, but I think that the best kind of comedy happens when you aren’t trying to be funny. Sometimes you get that there is a joke, or you are trying to be funny with the joke, but I find that, especially with material like this, the humor comes out of the moment [when] it becomes so real that you as an audience member just understand that character to the fullest extent, saying “yes, i have been there before too.” I just think about being as honest as I can be and then hoping it lands, and others recognize it as being truthful.
How do you prepare to become your character when you walk onto a set?
It changes with what kind of scene I have to do. In episode three, I had a scene where I was sitting in the car and I was really upset and crying. On days like that, which feel pretty heavy to me, sometimes I have to stay a little bit in my own world. I might have a song that speaks to me about the circumstances that I’ll listen to so that it might get me in a mood. You know that song that you listen to when you go through a really bad breakup? The song that helps you cry it all out? Sometimes that is helpful because that is how you feel. So sometimes when I have scenes like that I have to stay in my own world. Other times, when the scenes are more fun or playful, there are different approaches, specifically with Rose. She was such an amazing scene partner. We could just walk over to set together and chat, and by the time they would say “rolling,” we would already be in the right vibe. Every day requires a different preparation depending on what the scene is calling for. Every day is a little different.
What is it like bringing the 80s back to life in this show?
It was a blast. Season one begins in 1981, so it's not quite the 80s we all think of just yet. It's more similar to the late 70s, which is also super cool and fun. I’m excited to see, if the show progresses, a little bit more of the neon 80s that everyone thinks of. I have this super gigantic, crazy hair that I am always fighting on camera, which was fun for this show because it worked better. It was really fun, the costumes were great — super on point. My character is a little less adventurous than some of the other characters, but even the eye makeup and the lipstick is going to be fun to play with.
What is your favorite thing about your character?
What I love about her is that she gets this journey of finding her inner strength. She starts off in a situation I feel like a lot of married women with children can relate to, where your whole life becomes about your family and you forget about you. She realizes that she is her own person. Her journey is so exciting and I’m so glad I was able to bring that to life.