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Friel's next starring role was in the television film Watermelon (2003).She was then cast as Attorney Megan Delaney in The Jury, an American legal drama series that ran on Fox for a single season in 2004.Speaking about the experience, which was her first role on American television, she later reflected, "Everyone was saying, 'you will never believe how much hard work it is', and I was telling them not to worry because I'm used to it ... You run off the set from one scene and get changed and run back on.It is so fast and so very well organised but it is hard, hard bloody work". Born in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, she has been acting professionally since age 13.Friel achieved fame with her portrayal of Beth Jordache on the British soap opera Brookside (1993–95), and came to international prominence when she played Charlotte "Chuck" Charles on ABC's Pushing Daisies (2007–09).She has since appeared in various features, such as A Midsummer Night's Dream, Rogue Trader (both 1999), Sunset Strip (2000), Me Without You (2001), Timeline (2003), Goal! Outside of film, Friel has starred in numerous British and American television series, such as The Jury (2004), Odyssey (2015), The Girlfriend Experience (2017), and Marcella (2016–present).(2005), Bathory (2008), Land of the Lost (2009), London Boulevard, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (both 2010), Limitless (2011), The Look of Love (2013), The Cleanse, and I. Her stage work includes Patrick Marber's Closer (Broadway, 1999), and West End productions of Breakfast at Tiffany's (2009) and Uncle Vanya (2012).
In 2011, Friel appeared as a fictionalised version of herself in an episode of the mockumentary series Come Fly with Me.
She then played leading roles in small-screen adaptations of Charles Dickens' Our Mutual Friend and Robert Louis Stevenson's St.
Ives (both 1998), and co-starred in several British films, such as The Land Girls (1998), with Rachel Weisz; Rogue Trader (1999), with Ewan Mc Gregor; and Mad Cows (1999), I think that [role] sort of changed things for me, especially in America, because the cast was really great - Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christian Bale - and people started to think, 'if she's working with [those people] she must be doing well'.
Friel's portrayal of Erica Myles, a Republican engaged in relationships with two women, was described as "fantastic" Since 2016, Friel has played the title role in the British "Nordic" noir detective series Marcella.
She won the International Emmy Award for Best Actress (2017) for her performance.
In 2005, Friel played a Geordie nurse in the sports drama Goal! The following year, she starred in the Canadian film Niagara Motel, and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Bolton for contributions to the performing arts.