Friel went to school to the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Australia, where he graduated in 1976. Then he found himself in many theater plays and film and television productions ways to display his skills as an actor. He has played Hamlet and Macbeth.
His first international film was Malcolm, for which he was the from the Australian Film Institute Award for 'Best Actor '.
Friel is married to Judy Davis since 1984 and has two children.