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Edie Falco’s first cable show defined the viability of original series on pay channels. Now she goes from the matriarch of The Sopranos to the star of Showtime’s new medical drama, Nurse Jackie. Jackie works at a New York City hospital where her practical know-how trumps theoretical medical training and bureaucratic red tape every day.

Edie Falco


Sort of the Jack Bauer of the medical world, Jackie won’t let an egotistical doctor stop her from giving a patient the right treatment, or the police from letting her dole out her own form of justice. When it looks like a diplomat will get away with rape because of his immunity, Jackie flushes his severed ear down the toilet.


“I have great admiration for people who are volitional in that way,” Falco said. “They're going to get done what they're going to get done, no matter what it takes, and don't have much concern about what others think of them and aren't all that concerned with rules. They're heroes in their own right. I myself am different from that, so I welcomed the opportunity to be that ballistic.”


Jackie is breaking some rules in her personal life too. The premiere of the show revealed that she has a husband and children, after showing her sleeping with a doctor who she tells, “I love you.” She takes painkillers throughout her shift with seemingly no fear of getting caught. It’s still too early for even Falco to speak about Jackie’s driving forces.


“I'm discovering a lot about this woman as we go along. I don't understand her from an intellectual place yet. I may never. I don't think [she’s afraid] though. She's got a great heart. She's always got good in mind, though her values may not always be right. If she was to get caught, I think she might be able to explain what the hell was going on or what was the genesis of her action. I'm getting there. Every episode I get a bit better. I never know [how long it will take]. It slips in secretly and quietly.”


In her research with real nurses at real hospitals, Falco has witnessed real life medical cases stranger than the fiction of her show. “A bunch of kids kept coming in with their fingers severed from this particular neighborhood in New York. It was pretty unusual. No one knew what it was or if there was some sort of epidemic. There's all kinds of shocking stuff.”


Flushing the ear is a doozy, but Nurse Jackie has a lot more in store for audiences too. “Oh, there's a lot going on. A lot of good stuff.”


Nurse Jackie looks like another hit for Showtime, following their long-running hit Weeds on the Monday night schedule. It seems like a shrewd choice for Falco, but she was not being snooty about it. After The Sopranos ended, she just wanted another job.

The cast of Nurse Jackie 

“The truth is, I like to work. I just wanted a job. I love what I get to do and I'm happiest when I'm working. We had a break. I rested. Then I thought, 'Okay!' and I started reading stuff and I've been very lucky in the stuff I've gotten to do. It took a long time to find something worthy of the kind of commitment I put into something when I'm working on it. I work really hard. It matters to me, so I wanted it to be something pretty good.”


To tide her over, Falco got to play a comedic character on 30 Rock in an arc that lasted several episodes. She played Jack Donaghey’s secret liberal lover. “They called me and I said to my agents and managers, 'That's great, but I don't do that kind of show. I don't know how to, so no.' They said, 'You know what, you're doing that kind of show! It's a great show, people love it, you'll be fine.' I was actually very scared.” 


She continued, “It's a whole different set of muscles. You watch Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey, for God’s sake! It really is like speaking Swahili. I look at them like, 'What the hell is this?' I really just watched them and Alec Baldwin said, 'Everything you've ever taught yourself as an actor NOT to do, because it's bad acting, do it on this show.' It's larger than life and different, so I was thrilled with the opportunity to work with those guys. I would do it again in a heartbeat, but I can't until this show is done.”


The edgy hospital drama is more in Falco’s wheelhouse. As the star of the show, she will be front and center in the majority of dramas, no longer on the sidelines as a spouse or mom. “I love it. I'm built for this. I work very hard. When I was looking for something to do, I wanted to be a big part of it. It was hard sometimes on Sopranos, because days would go by and I wasn't on the set. Then I'd come and they'd say, 'This person did the funniest thing!' or 'That scene went really well.' I hated that I wasn't there for all of it. That's the kind of person I am.”


With the show centered around her, Falco has had a say in the development of Nurse Jackie as a character and a complete package. “I've been given more opportunities to contribute to dialogue, casting. Very early on, I was involved in this. I came in at the last minute at Sopranos. It had been cast and they'd been looking for Carmela for a long, long time. I was thrown into the mix and was on this boat with all these people who were already on it.”


Working hard includes delving into Falco’s own past to find Jackie’s motivations. “I'm sober 17 years, so I understand addiction and that kind of craziness. I know it first hand, but I am like her in other ways too. We're both hard workers, we're very passionate, we care about the things we're doing no matter what stands in our way, but I think I take a little more time trying to be nice than she does.”


To find Jackie, Falco need only do the opposite of her own learned instincts. “Once an addict, always an addict, but as a recovering person, you know what the danger signs and danger zones are. You steer clear of them, in your real life. To play someone who doesn’t, who actually gives in to those things, is fun and exciting and feels very familiar. Anyone who’s struggled with any kind of addiction lives on that fine line until they’re done, until they die from it or get help.”

Edie Falco


That makes Jackie a strikingly different character than Carmela Soprano also. “Other things were more important to her. Taking care of her kids was more important than her lifestyle. When you're an addict, there's not much that's more important than getting what you need.”


Another similarity between Jackie and Edie is that they are both working mothers. Hollywood is a bit more accommodating than the ER, but it is a struggle for both women. 


“[I don’t handle it] perfectly, but I'm not the first woman to try. The kids come to the set sometimes. I tell [the producer] if I can't be in before a certain hour in the morning, if I have something at school I have to do. I have many friends who have been my lifeboat through all this. I've got great nannies. It's complicated scheduling stuff, but this is who I am, they're my kids and this is how it goes.”


Having help addresses the logistics of working motherhood, but there’s no getting around the emotional pangs of balancing two passions. “I'm only away overnight, and I start feeling nauseas on the plane on the way here. I can't be away from my kids. I had no idea it would be like this. I don't know what I thought. Maybe that they were accessories you get at some point in your life, or I was above it all, but I have never been so deeply enmeshed into little people in my life. A gift I never anticipated the largeness off. [Motherhood has made me] a better person, in every respect.  More patient, more loving, selfless, all the stuff you have to be to raise kids.”


On the lighter side of Nurse Jackie, at least the wardrobe is a breeze. “Oh, so nice! No nails, no makeup, minimal jewelry. Low maintenance. We're working long, long hours, but it's not because I'm in hair and makeup. That's like 15 minutes. Very freeing. I'm there and literally getting off the van when they say, ‘Okay, we're rehearsing.' I'm grabbing my scrubs, putting my dog in the dressing room, picking up my sides. I don't know what scenes we're shooting. I'm flying by the seat of my pants.”


Getting Nurse Jackie started has been a whirlwind, but Falco is ready to go another seven years, like that other hit show she was on, if she’s able to stay in Jackie’s scrubs. “Who knows? From second to second, I don't know what the hell's going on in my life, but at this moment, I could do this for a very long time. Everything about it. We spent a long time not just casting, but choosing the crew members. I've been doing this a long time and there's almost nobody in New York I haven't worked with or heard about. We hand picked every single person according to how well they did their job, but also what it's like to be around them for 18-hour days. We did a fantastic job. We've got a tremendous bunch of people.” / Issue 100 - September 2972
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