After making a conscious decision to leave her TV roots behind, and establish herself as a film actress, dark-eyed Friel struggled for recognition throughout her twenties. But her determination has now paid off and she is now juggling an enviable range of A-list parts.
The actress is squeezing in our chat on her way to London for - wait for it - acting, singing, guitar and voice lessons.
Last seen on screens in the UK in American comedy Pushing Daisies, Anna is back in Britain following the show's cancellation, and she's had no end of offers.
From September, she'll be on stage in the West End playing Holly Golightly in an adaptation of Breakfast At Tiffany's - hence all the lessons.
But before that, she's returning to the small screen in a new episode of BBC One's The Street - and filming a cameo role in star-filled movie London Boulevard, which also stars her long-term partner David Thewlis.
Anna's a few days away from her 33rd birthday when we speak, and says it will be "quietly ignored" this year, because work on the film starts the next day.
And besides, it's her daughter Gracie's fourth birthday a few days before hers, which will be more of a hoopla.
"I'm organising her very first birthday party, with a bouncy castle," Anna says excitedly, sounding every inch the proud mum.
"Everyone's got to dress as princesses and I've got her a really beautiful old-fashioned tricycle, based on the old 1940s one."
There's a hint of tension as she admits: "It will be the first children's party I've ever organised, so we'll see how it goes."
That's the thing about Anna - for all her success on both sides of the pond, she's as down-to-earth as they come.
Whether it's her northern roots - she grew up around Manchester - or the reality of motherhood, she has no pretensions and willingly talks about her family life.
She recently admitted she had to take a sleeping pill when Gracie was first born because she was over-tired, juggling the demands of breastfeeding and filming Goal! in Spain.
Now, she's more in control, and will take on a nanny for Gracie when she starts her 6-month stint as Holly Golightly.
"I think she's going to be in the theatre quite a bit," she says, laughing.
"We might spend some time staying in London as opposed to Windsor. Gracie will like it, as long as she's got things to entertain her, she's quite happy."
I want to hear more about life with Gracie, but we're supposed to be chatting about Anna's role in The Street - playing single mother Dee who's desperate to get her two sons into a good school and away from bullies.
"The most important thing for her is her children, bar nothing, and she will do anything, compromise herself, go to any length to make sure they have a good life and don't live the life she has had," she explains.
She moves the boys to a house in the right catchment area and turns to a 'second job' as a prostitute to earn enough cash to pay the mortgage.
But her secret comes out when she falls for a friendly plumber, played by promising actor Daniel Mays.
"It's a life I know she would never want to choose but I think there's a lot of women in that position, because now women have to work and bring up children at the same time, we're not given the luxury of having two or three years off."
To get into character, Anna met a real-life prostitute who is lying to friends and family about what she does.
"She's an absolutely normal girl, who just found herself in a very bad situation. I chatted to her more about her attitude to it and what she thought about men," Anna reveals.
"I said, 'How big a secret is it to people?' and she said, 'Oh nobody knows, nobody knows' and that was the threat, of people finding out.
"No one ever seeks it, you kind of fall into it and then you get in this trap that you start being able to pay the mortgage and have a life, you're not scrimping and saving."
She adds: "I think it's very important that we as a society don't judge, we just try and help, because no one wants to see a woman having to put herself in that position, to try and feed her children."
Watching the way that Dee protects her two young sons, there's no doubt that having Gracie has helped Anna with on-screen motherhood.
"I remember being in this film called War Brides a long time ago and all these acting blokes gave me techniques on how to make it believable for an audience that they're actually yours," she says.
"I now work with children quite a lot and I try and be as physical as I can on set - I'll come in every morning and give them a hug, so you make an immediate bond. Gracie's forever in my arms, she's always being kissed and cuddled.
"Between takes, I stayed on set and we all hung out and played together and got really close. On the last day, one of the boys came in and was so upset because he was going to miss me so much and that touched my heart."
The Street, which follows the lives of residents of one street in Manchester, is written by acclaimed writer Jimmy McGovern.
And the cast list, past and present, reads like a roll-call of some of Britain's top actors, including Timothy Spall, Bob Hoskins, Jim Broadbent, Ruth Jones as well as Anna's partner David Thewlis.
In the early Nineties, Anna had joined the cast of Brookside, just as Jimmy was starting work on Cracker, so she was excited to finally work with him.
"It had always been an aim of mine to work with Jimmy, I think he's one of the best writers out there, and it was great to work with a northern crew who were fantastic. I haven't done that since Brookside."
She was only in the soap for two years, but Anna caused a stir as Beth Jordache thanks to a certain lesbian kiss.
Today, more than ten years after she left, she is still referred to as 'the former Brookside star'. But surely, that must get tiresome?
"To be honest I don't even think about it, there's nothing I can do about that and without that, I wouldn't be where I am today, so you can never look back and wish away your past and labels.
"All you can hope is that people start to link you to other things as well and maybe it will change into 'actress Anna Friel'," she laughs.
With a starring role in Will Ferrell's latest film Land Of The Lost, released later this month and a string of films coming her way, as well as the West End stint, Anna should soon escape the Brookside tag for good.
Extra time - Anna Friel
Anna currently splits her time between homes in Windsor and Los Angeles, saying, "I will continue to live between two countries until Gracie's curriculum dictates otherwise".
During filming on The Street, Anna's daughter Gracie played with Daniel Mays' son Mylo. She praises Daniel for having "one of the best northern accents for a London actor I've ever heard".
Anna doesn't feel under pressure to do an 'Audrey Hepburn' impression in the stage version of Breakfast At Tiffanys. "It's an adaptation of the book. I love the film but I would never even try to compare myself or try to emulate that."
She's starting work on London Boulevard, which stars Keira Knightley, Colin Farrell, Ray Winstone and her partner David Thewlis. "We don't have a single scene together though. People keep telling me how genius he is!"
In Land Of The Lost, she stars alongside comedians Will Ferrell and Danny McBride, who play a trio of scientists stuck in a time warp. "We were thrown into the desert everyday in helicopters, we drove sand buggies and did stunts and I just added another string to my bow working with blue screen."