‘Monarch’ gets dirty with country music, Susan Sarandon


Anna Friel is sick of wearing heels.

”I’ll be standing on a red carpet with a pair of flats in my bag because I know they look great, but they hurt your back and they’re uncomfortable. As you get older, you’re dealing with gray hairs and wrinkles. It’s a bigger thing to get ready. It’s not quick, easy, slap your lipstick on,” the 46-year-old British actress, best known for “Pushing Daisies,” told the Daily News.

”We can only do our best. As long as you’re doing your best, that’s all you can do.”

Despite Friel’s personal preferences, she often found herself in heels — even baking in a ballgown — for her role as Nicky Roman in “Monarch,” Fox’s new country music drama premiering Sunday. Nicky has struggled to prove herself while stuck in the shadows of her parents Dottie and Albie, played by Susan Sarandon and Trace Adkins, the queen and king of country music. Nicky, for her entire life, has been told to wait. Her time is coming. The throne is hers…eventually.

“Heavy is the head that wears the crown is so true, but she’s always been in the background of her mother and father and told that some day, she’s going to have to take the lead. It’s hard work!” Friel said.

“She grows in confidence the more that she snipes against everyone saying ‘you’re too old, it’s never going to work for you.’ We all know how that feels. I’m in my 40s and the next young up-and-coming talent is coming right behind you. [Nicky’s] only form of survival is to be a fighter and get back up every time she’s knocked down.”

When tragedy strikes the Roman family, though, Nicky’s succession plan is thrown off kilter when her sister Gigi (Beth Ditto) suddenly comes out of the woodwork with the voice of an angel. In the world of “Monarch,” like the real world, there can only be one.

“There’s always rivalry but at the core, Nicky absolutely loves and adores her sister. I think she’s just shocked that now, after all of these years where she didn’t want to take the stage, suddenly she wants to take the lead. She feels a little blindsided,” Friel said.

From there, “Monarch” begins to look less “Nashville” and more “Empire,” full of backstabbing and manipulating, but chock-full of country music staples like Shania Twain, Martina McBride and Little Big Town.

“This is an incredibly fun playground and it does feel limitless. These characters are larger than life and if you don’t bring that, you’re doing a disservice to the audience,” creator Melissa London Hilfers told The News.

Hilfers, who grew up in Maryland on TV shows like “Dynasty,” “Dallas” and “Melrose Place,” said she imagined “Monarch” as the Romanovs of country music, a dynastic family fighting for the throne. There’s deception and tabloid leaks, but they can always come home again.

“There’s definitely a rollercoaster with the sisters — and all of the siblings — but in the end, they’re ride or die for each other.”

“Monarch,” from start to finish, is high-octane drama, by design. But, Friel stressed, the emotions are normal.

“I’m a mother. My daughter is 17 and I was able to take her everywhere I filmed, but to juggle that and keeping a household and presenting yourself so you feel attractive and normal, it’s a lot. It’s a lot of pressure and stress put on a woman’s shoulders,” she told The News.

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