Actors in offbeat ‘Pushing Daisies' must keep their distance

Rick Bentley
PUSHING DAISIES - 8 p.m. EST Wednesdays - ABC
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

BURBANK, Calif. - Anna Friel avoids bumping into her "Pushing Daisies" co-star Lee Pace at all costs, at least when they are at work.

There's no tiff between the British actress who plays the optimistic Chuck and the Oklahoma native who portrays the heavy-hearted Ned. Fans of their show, "Pushing Daisies," know they can never touch during an episode. Chuck would die. She's only back among the living because Ned has this special ability.

This odd no-contact rule has turned the pair into the most unrequited lovers since Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

"Barry Sonnefeld was the director of the first episode. And his only note to us was, 'Guys, you have just got to be really careful.' Because of the format we shot in, there are times when our characters have to be close together, and everyone gets worried," Friel says during an interview on the show's central restaurant set at the Warner Bros. lot.

"Pushing Daisies" captured the fancy of viewers last year. The writers' strike ended the show after only nine episodes. It has not regained the same ratings magic in this, its second season. And the series will have been off the air for at least two weeks because of election coverage and the Country Music Association Awards.

The no-touch rule might create headaches for the cast and crew. But Friel is convinced it is the whole idea of "you can look but not touch" that viewers understand.

Friel says the boundaries make her work harder.

"If I reach out and touch you, that says so much. But rather you have to have 10 sentences to explain that. The power of touch is such an incredibly important sense. I have always said if I had to lose one sense, that is the one I would hate to lose," Friel says.

One touch onscreen would put a dagger into the mythology that has made the show so different. And it has been a different role for Friel. Most of the work she has done since she started acting at age 13 has been dramatic roles such as "The Fear" and "Goal!"

"I try to mix it up because there is a shelf life for every actress," Friel, 32, says. "As soon as the lines (on the face) begin to appear, then you start to play the mother as opposed to the girlfriend.

"I don't know what I would do if I couldn't act. So I decided to try and give myself longevity by being able to be a character actress rather than a pretty face."

She stops and smiles. Her cheeks turn slightly red. Friel adds, "That sounds a bit like I am saying I have a pretty face. It's an all-right face."

Her next film role, compared to "Pushing Daisies," will be as different as cherry and rhubarb pies. She gets to use her heavy British accent to play a Cambridge Medical student in the movie version of Saturday morning TV's "Land of the Lost."

Friel had not seen an episode of the TV series when she found herself auditioning with the film's star, Will Ferrell. They had to shout at pretend dinosaurs. In hindsight, Friel is glad she did not seek out the show. The character she plays was only 14 years old in the series.

"I still wear the pigtails, and she has a mouth on her," Friel says. "The big difference is you can no longer see the zippers on the Sleestak. And there is a nice love story."

At least in "Land of the Lost," Friel will be able to bump into her leading man.

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