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Anna Friel talks Murder

02 December 2010

Anna Friel is probably still best known as Beth Jordache in Brookside for her controversial lesbian kiss on the Channel 4 drama. Since leaving the show in 1995, Friel has gone onto star in countless television series, stage productions and films including The War Bride, Land of the Lost, Pushing Daisies and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Here she talks about her experiences slipping into the role of the Bloody Countess in the historical epic is Juraj Jakubisko’s 15th feature film.

The leading character is Erzsebet Bathory, known as “Bloody Countess”, who is said to murder and torture villains in her domains. She is also stated in the Guinness Book of Records as the greatest murderess of all times. The legend of her cruel acts appeared several years after her death. It has been developed over the centuries, and the acts have become more and more brutal.

The official documents proving her guilt have never been found. There are recorded statements of witnesses, but not the direct ones – and their credibility is disputable. Erzsebet was never brought to court; she died without trial, imprisoned in Cachtice castle.

Who was Erzsebet Bathory in reality? Was she really “a bloody countess” as some historians call her? Or was she an educated woman speaking several languages, with an enthusiasm for healing? A noblewoman of luminous beauty, who was also so wealthy that she continuously irritated many with her original tailored dresses made in Italy? A sadistic murderess or the victim of the then conditions full of dark intrigues netted by somebody powerful and longing for her fortune? A cruel, merciless countess or a vulnerable lonely widow, or possibly both?



How did you get the part of Erzsébet Báthory in Juraj Jakubisko’s film?

It’s quite a long story. I read a script when they were casting and looking for a star for the lead part of Erzsébet. They eventually cast a woman named Famke Janssen and I was a little disappointed because it was a part I was incredibly passionate about for a very long time. I felt so strongly about it that I wrote Juraj a letter saying that I adored this film and how desperately I wanted to play Erzsébet and I hoped one day fate will throw us together though unfortunately it couldn’t be on this project. Eventually things didn’t work out with the other actress and they come back to me. I flew out, talked with Juraj and Deana and here I am four months later.


How do you feel about Erzsébet Báthory as a character?

Erzsébet Bathory, as a character, is the most wonderful part that any actress can wish to play. She goes through everything and she does everything from riding in beautiful carriages, fencing, horse riding. She’s a heroic and strong character in the truest sense of the word heroine. And she’s very warrior like, full of passion and great lover.

Has the working on the film changed your perception or feelings about Erzsébet Báthory?
Well there are two sides of every story. The exciting point of the project was that there is a standard perception about her, what everyone else believes is that Erzsébet Bathory was a blood-thirsty vampire, or a widow who bathed in peoples blood. I think in this film we gave her much more intelligence. She was a woman who knew a lot about medicine, who was very well read, who spoke many languages and I think she was far too intelligent to bathe in blood. Blood clots and thickens so it would be difficult to bathe in it, and you wouldn’t have benefits from bathing in it. And I felt she was very, very unsettled by so many strong men around her. I think this film tells a more realistic story.


How did you like working with the director Juraj Jakubisko?

I absolutely love Juraj. I was a little frustrated at the beginning because of the communication difficulty and we didn’t have a lot of time to rehearse. But he really reached out to me and he changed the part to suit me. He made me work and I always felt like he wanted me to succeed, and he wanted me to be good and he pushed me and pushed me. He works so very hard. I have never worked so hard in my life. I miss him very much, he has really touched my heart. He will forever remain a special director, and someone from whom I learned a great deal.


Can you recall the most difficult moment?

There have been many difficult moments on this film because it was such a big production. I think I lost my temper when I was almost set on fire in Erzsébet’s final scene. That was difficult.


How did that come about?

The set was prepared and I was meant to sing the entire song – a hymn, and Juraj said: “when we get to the end of the song and the room is still alight, then start to sing the song again.” I had the words of the song taped to the ceiling above my bed, because it was very difficult song with Slovakian words and I had to slightly change the song the night before. Everything was rushed and very quickly the whole room just went “woosh!” In fact I barely had two words out of my mouth and I couldn’t actually feel my face. It was so hot that I put my hands over my face, and I believe it was left in the film like that.


Which moment did you enjoy the most?

The picture is beautiful. Some of the scenes with huge fields of poppies and lavender, and being driven through them in a 17th century carriage drawn by enormous black horses and the sunsets, that was pretty special.


Where there any funny moments?

When I was in the copper bath and I realize that I had an allergic reaction to it and I broke out in big hives. I didn’t even get angry which was quite funny. Oh well, I have the life of Báthory now, with hives all over me, and bruises. Then the scene where Erzsébet is riding on her husband’s shoulders shouting “haira, haira,” waving a sword over her head pretending that he’s a horse, that was pretty funny.


You’ve travelled to quite a few locations on this film. How did you feel about that? Do you have a favorite one?

I think my favourite one was in the mountains in Slovakia. You opened the windows to the beautiful view, snow covered mountains and yellow fields. I really enjoy that. Tocnik and Telc, are other favourites. I loved all the castles in which we shot, they are incredible. But I’ve been living out of my suitcase for about 4 months so I’m looking forward to getting home and unpacking.

I couldn’t believe how many location changes there where. It was a very ambitious thing to do. I thought the movie is so difficult to make, why don’t we stay in one castle and pretend that it is 6 different ones. But no, we went through all 16 of them.

I always knew it would be a massive adventure. And I knew it would be hard work, but there was as much drama off the screen as on the screen. It doesn’t mean that is a bad thing, I just feel like I’ve gone through a whirlwind and I’ve had quite a life changing experience. I went into it as one person and I have come out another I think. I feel stronger as a person. I feel like I can do anything now.

Would you work with Juraj again?

Yes, I would love to. Bathory is finished and I miss Erzsébet very much, but yes I would love to work with Juraj again.

How did you feel about the Czech crew?

Without a doubt, they are the hardest working people I have ever come across in my life. Incredibly long shooting days, continuously for 6 weeks! I was very, very impressed by them. I think when I return to England I’ll be shocked, “go on, 12 hours a day! Come on, what you are talking about? Sleep? Food? Who needs it?”



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