Tavis: When accepting the award for lead actors in a Comedy Series Sunday night, Nurse Jackie star Edie Falco told the audience she wasn’t funny, but Emmy voters disagreed and the former Sopranos star took home the Emmy for a show that is part comedy, part drama and always a little dark.
Tavis: All right, so fair to say this a dark comedy (laughter)?
Edie Falco: Yes. I think that’s a good way to characterize it, yes.
Tavis: (Laughter) How do you go about mixing comedy – you see. I’m about to ask how do you mix comedy with medicine and there you have it.
Falco: You know, I just say the words. It’s the writers that do it.
Tavis: When you saw this on paper, speaking of the writers, what attracted you to it?
Falco: Let’s see. Because I think Jackie’s funny and she’s smart, she’s strong, she’s scary and complicated and unpredictable. All those things.
Tavis: Any attraction to it in part because it just seems that all these, whether serious or funny, anything related to the field of medicine right now seems to work on television?
Falco: That wasn’t it, actually, no. I think I would have liked to play her no matter what she did. It was more about what she’s about, you know. I think she would have brought her personality into whatever she did. It just so happens that I happened to be sort of obsessed with medical shows, having nothing to do –
Tavis: – in real life.
Falco: In real life. But documentary medical shows like, you know, –
Tavis: – the real stuff.
Falco: The real deal. I don’t know anything about these other hospital type shows, ER and Grey’s Anatomy and stuff like that, so I can’t say how we compare to those other shows. But I liked her and I also happened to like this medical stuff.
Tavis: So back to the character, Nurse Jackie. Tell me about the character. We got a little glimpse of her in the scene, but tell me about the character.
Falco: I think she’s a good person. I think her heart is in the right place and she wants to do the right thing and she also decides how to make that happen. I don’t think she’s real interested in the roadblocks, you know. She’s going to make it happen regardless of the rules. I think she doesn’t care a whole lot about how people feel about her.
You know, it’s fun to be that person for a little while who just goes about her business, you know, regardless.
Tavis: But you’re not supposed to be that way as a nurse. You’re supposed to care about the people.
Falco: She cares terrifically about the people. I think she cares maybe too much. She knows that there are rules she’s supposed to follow, but if it gets in the way of what she’s got to do, you know.
Tavis: So she cares about the people, but not about the power structure?
Falco: Yeah, absolutely. You know, it’s her job to heal these people who come in for help. Doctors’ orders or hospital administrative rules be damned, you know. She’s got a job to do and that’s what’s going to happen.
Tavis: When you get to the place that you are at where you are comfortable, where you don’t necessarily have to work, you choose to work, you’ve been blessed, you’ve done well enough to not have to do this again, what does give you the edge? What does make you want to come back out and do this?
Falco: I don’t know. The same thing that, you know, kept my father doing sculpture and painting because that’s what he loves to do, or anyone who is just driven by some internal art thing. For lack of a better term, if you’ve got a need to create something.
I don’t really ever know what that is. Not to get cosmic, but is it a God-given thing? I don’t know. It’s a need to do something that – to create something that hasn’t existed before and all that stuff, and that has not gone away. I was sort of pleased to find it because it really brings me such great joy.
Tavis: This year’s nominees for Best Actor in a Drama Series were all chasing the front runner and eventual winner, Bryan Cranston. The Breaking Bad star won his third consecutive Emmy Sunday for a role that’s become one of the more unique on all of television.
Tavis: So she knows now.
Bryan Cranston: Yeah. In Breaking Bad, the conceit was that, if my wife found out what I was doing, that’s the end of the game. The writers courageously came to the conclusion that, if we continue with this shroud over her that she doesn’t know, we jeopardize her character because she’s a smart woman and she would eventually find out.
So they threw it out and had to work themselves out of a corner in order to continue with the story in a provocative way.
Tavis: Now for those who have not – first of all, shame on you. It’s a great show. For those who have not seen Breaking Bad, you should explain what it is that she has discovered.
Cranston: Yeah. Well, Breaking Bad started off as – my character, Walter White, was a very nice man. He was a high school chemistry teacher. A little depressed from missed opportunities in his life and had to have a second job to pay his bills because he has a special needs son with CP and an accident baby is on the way. He’s dealing with it.
Loves his wife and family, but then he finds out he also has terminal lung cancer and he’s got about a year to two years to live, max. Faced with that reality, he goes into a fit and realizes that he doesn’t want to leave a legacy of illness and destitute, so he uses his chemistry background to cook crystal meth, become a drug dealer, make as money as he can for his family before he dies and that’s it.
It really kind of asks that question: what would you do if you had a year and a half to live? Usually, a hypothetical to my character, it’s a real question.
Tavis: But do you ever give yourself the space to think about whether or not, given who you play in this series and given the fact that it may go on a few more years, that Bryan Cranston may be typecasting himself? Or does an actor not think about that while they’re working?
Cranston: I certainly didn’t. I mean, when you step back and look at it objectively, you can. I mean, I did seven years of Malcolm in the Middle and you are a victim of your success and it’s kind of a double-edged sword. So I knew that leaving that show, as well-written and as proud of it as I was, I needed to move on to a different arena.
I was just lucky that Breaking Bad came along. I think this character of Walter White is the best character I have ever had in my career, so I’m not looking beyond. I’m enjoying this moment in time and I appreciate the quality of the writing and the awards that have come is a wonderful surprise. If it helps us stay on the air for the duration to tell our journey, then I’m all for it.
Tavis: Why say you that Walter is the best character you’ve ever played in your career so far?
Cranston: I knew from the moment I read the pilot script of Breaking Bad that this was a dynamic, compelling character to play. I knew that I wanted to get in on it as soon as possible because, if it’s out there long, then there are going to be actors who are gonna go after hard and heavy.
The only thing that we as actors really can control is to be able to say yes or no to the material. That’s the most important element we have in our control.
When you read a piece of material, whether it’s a children’s play or a screenplay, you want to be able to identify well-written material because, if it’s well-written, it has a chance to be good. If it’s not well-written, it will not be good. It could be successful, but it will not be good. So I only want to do well-written material. Walter White is a character that, from the start of this show, was a good upstanding citizen.
The idea that Vince Gilligan, our creator, had is to do something that’s never been done on television before and that’s, over the course of the series, to have him go through a transformation. By the end of the series, I’m going to be a murderous killer drug dealer. So it’s fascinating to think sociologically.
Tavis: And that turns you on (laughter).
Cranston: Oh, my God! I mean, as an actor –
Tavis: – (laughter) I’m gonna be a murderous killer and I’m loving this.
Cranston: From nice guy to that. As he fondly says, he wanted to see if he could turn Mr. Chips into Scarface. So that’s what the attempt is. You look at this character who wants out. He wants out of this bad business until this drug dealer says to him, “I’ll give you $3 million dollars for just three months of your time” and then all of a sudden he gets sucked back in.
I think that’s what audiences can relate to is the real temptation that we as human beings have maybe not day to day, but throughout your lifetime. There are sprinklings of real temptation that draw you away from your moral center.
Tavis: The breakout newcomer as this year’s Emmys was a self-described geek who stars on one of TV’s fastest-growing comedies, The Big Bang Theory. Jim Parsons took home the prize for Best Actor in a Comedy Series.
Tavis: What do you think you bring to the table in playing the character that really makes him multi-dimensional and funny to us beyond the script? Does that make sense?
Jim Parsons: Yes. It does relate back to the writers again in that I trust the words. I trust what they’ve written enough to go ahead and buy it fully. I would never short-change, no matter how ridiculous something is that they’ve had me do. I would never short-change by going, “Oh, that’s iffy.”
I try and do it every time as if not only would he do it and I believe he’d do it, he would do it with a passion. You know what I mean? I think that’s what kind of fun about this series in general and these characters in general is what they feel passionate about.
Not only is the science -it’s a small segment of society that’s studying science and they’re geniuses and what have you, but even their passions tap into more smaller circles of society. I think it’s very entertaining to actually not be a part of that circle as a viewer and to watch them and get a real kick out of what these guys have fun doing, what these guys get angry about, that it’s like that is so tiny.
I think a lot of comedy is like that, you know. It’s funny because you cannot believe how passionate these people are about this whatever it is, this obscure or seemingly miniscule thing, and to them it’s not.
Tavis: What turns you on about genius? What is it about genius that really gets your attention?
Parsons: Well, first off, we should say you’re not a slouch upstairs.
Tavis: Well, I’m not a slouch, but a long way from genius.
Parsons: In this situation, what’s so fun is the kind of relationship we were just talking about, but the odd particulars of it. In this situation, these people are genius and part of that seems to be this ability to focus so precisely in a category or on a subject or whatever that allows or causes a byproduct and other things fall to the side, social niceties.
In the character I’m playing specifically, there’s a certain arrested development that occurred apparently seriously because he wasn’t exposed and continues not to put himself out there.
Seemingly, you know, you get into the romance idea or will he have a relationship always comes up or whatever. It’s like we are dealing with a character that seems to be developing three years into it now that’s basically opted out of that. He has no passing interest in it. If he thinks about it, it seems to be “What a waste of time. There’s so much to be done.” You know what I mean?
One of the fun things to play is his befuddlement with this roommate’s constant trying to connect with another girl human being so they can, what, have sex? What? You know, you are wasting your time and your abilities. So in that case, that’s what fun. The other thing, though, and this combines both the genius aspect and the science aspect of it, is the world is our oyster as far as what we can deal with and talk about.
Science-wise, what story line is out of reach for us? If it’s within the realm of imagination, it’s within our possibilities too. I’m not writing it, but they can write about it. As far as the genius goes, who are you ever to look at a character and say, “Oh, they wouldn’t do that.” I don’t know what they would do.
So if they write it, it goes back to that thing I said earlier. I am able to dive in fully knowing he has every excuse in the world. He’s a person like I’ve never experienced and if I have, I apologize (laughter). But you know what I mean? The possibilities are endless because he’s a genius.
Tavis: When former Married With Children star, Ed O’Neill, decided to return to prime time television, it was certainly a big deal, but no one could have predicted the immediate success of his new show, Modern Family, which won the Emmy for Best Comedy Sunday night in just its first year on the air.
Tavis: I was saying to you before we came on camera here how fortunate you must feel to get a chance to do this again and you’re the number one comedy again. I thought you were done. I said I would never see Ed O’Neill again because that Married With Children run was so huge and here you are again. It’s a beautiful thing.
Ed O’Neill: Yeah. Thank you, Tavis. I don’t know. I’m very fortunate, of course. For a long time, I wasn’t interested in doing half hours. I thought let me do a movie or, you know. I mean, a Sundance or something, you know.
Then when I met Steve Levitan and Steve Lloyd, they pitched the idea of the show and then, when they wrote it and I read it, I thought, “Oh, my God. I’ve got to do this.”
Tavis: How have you over the course of your career, particularly around those eleven or twelve seasons of Married With Children, how do you square knowing that for the rest of your life you’re gonna be known as Mr. Bundy and knowing that you are a lover of legitimate theater?
O’Neill: You got to get over that (laughter). I mean, you just have to keep score a different way after a while, I think, because for a while I tried. You know, I would correct people, for instance, on the street. They would say, “Al” and I’d say, “Excuse me, but my name is….”
After a while, I would hear myself say that. These people don’t know who the hell I am. They know me as Al, so after a while, I just embraced it. Every day is not as successful as another might be, but I just said, hey, I’m the lucky guy. I made a lot of money which got me out of the system, you know. I mean, you can look at it as a very positive thing, which I do.
Tavis: Is that what you mean by keeping score differently?
O’Neill: Yeah. You know, because for a long time, I wanted – well, I never really did lose the idea that I wanted respect from my peers and that’s why I’m so happy about the show I’m doing now because that’s starting to happen now.
Although I got that a little bit, I think, with some stuff I did with David Milch on CBS, Big Apple and then John From Cincinnati on HBO. Those were great roles for me. So I had, you know, some good roles.
Tavis: It’s the number one new comedy, so everybody has seen it apparently since it’s number one, just everybody. But for those who haven’t seen it, the sitcom is about what? What’s your character on this?
O’Neill: Well, I play a guy named Jay Pritchett, divorced, grown children and remarries a younger Latina woman from Colombia who was also married once and has a young boy. Now we have that family and then we have my son who’s in a relationship. He’s gay. And then my daughter who’s more or less a Yuppie kind of or traditional family.
Tavis: A whole lot going on here (laughter).
O’Neill: Yeah. So it’s all three trying to, you know, make things work.
Tavis: And that breeds a lot of the humor, of course.
O’Neill: It does, and it also doesn’t explain the show at all.
Tavis: (Laughter) I get that.
O’Neill: I think you just have to kind of see it, the way it plays out.
Tavis: But those elements, for those who haven’t seen it, you can see those elements lending themselves to some comedic stuff.
O’Neill: And it’s an ensemble, which attracted me too. There’s not a whole lot of heavy lifting, you know, one person doing everything. You know, I’m the patriarch. I’m the oldest member of the cast. I’m number one on the call sheet (laughter). Somebody said, “What’s so good about being number one on the call sheet?” I said, “You don’t have to deal with who’s number one because you’re it.” (laughter)
But the idea that I go to work, I watch these young actors and they’re blowing me away. You know, I’m going, “My God, they’re all so good.” It’s just really fun to be a part of it.
Tavis: The night’s final honor went to a familiar choice, Mad Men, after being rejected by HBO. The 60s era drama about New York’s ad industry has put the AMC Network on the map and cemented creator, Matthew Weiner, as one of the best writers in the business.
Matthew Weiner: Yeah (laughter).
Tavis: I’ve been amazed watching this series now in this third season at the way you have weaved in the critical issues of the day, the events of the day, into the story line of the show.
Weiner: Well, it’s hard, you know, because I didn’t want the show to be a history lesson necessarily and I did want it to be about now to some degree. One of the most interesting things as a writer apart from all the actual events of that time and a lot did change, my original inspiration in doing the show was to like start with people in 1960 and see what it was like to get there, especially adults at that time.
If you’ve lived through the Great Depression and you see the social upheavals of the 60s, you’re kind of like, “So what? You know, here it comes again.” And it does go like that, it really does. But one of the most interesting things as a writer is really seeing how people experience history, how they experience what is going on in their everyday life.
Is it just a reference? Some people read the paper, some people don’t. Some gigantic event may have happened in the economy. You know, the recession may be officially over right now and we don’t know it, but a year from now, everyone would say, “Remember that thing that happened on September 18? That was it.”
You don’t want to be preachy and you also want to be true to the people. In this world that they’re in is a very specific world, so I try and have some events come in and different things come in at different times, but I don’t want it to be like, well, here’s the big event, here’s the big event, you know.
Tavis: Those who are fans of the show, if you read anything about this show, whether you’re a fan or not, you know this part of the story, which is that this show was turned down not once but twice. It got turned down a couple of times by some major outlets.
Weiner: It got turned down pretty much everywhere, it’s fair to say (laughter).
Tavis: (Laughter) I was trying to be nice saying a couple of times.
Weiner: You know what? If you don’t have the stomach for this, you can’t do this. You have to be a kind of person who thrives on rejection to do my job (laughter).
Tavis: That’s why I’m sitting here and that’s why you’re sitting there (laughter). But I raise that because the one thing I’ve always wanted to ask you – I mean, I celebrate the fact that you got it on after all those no’s, but what was it about what you had done that made you think that you had something that could work?
The only thing that really matters is what does Matthew think? Does Matthew believe that he can sell? That this is a good product? And if you believe that, you keep pushing and pushing and pushing and eventually gets it. But what did you know or believe you had?
Weiner: It’s a weird thing, you know, looking back. It’s such an interesting question because you’re looking back and you’re like, if I had known it was gonna take five years – I now wrote it nine years ago. If I’d known it was gonna take five years when I was pushing, I didn’t. I kept thinking it was gonna happen tomorrow.
You go through cycles and anyone who – I did believe in it because I thought it was really entertaining and I felt very proud of it. I was sort of hard on myself and I wouldn’t say that I’m modest, but I’m definitely hard on myself. I gave it to my agents and I was like, “I think this is the best thing I’ve ever done.”
I thought it was related to a different time period. I thought it had a lot going for it just entertainment-wise and that’s really what I am, an entertainer. But it would be a lie to say that I did not give up on it plenty and I have an amazing support system. My wife was like, you know, “This is really good” and my representatives had a lot of faith in it.
I showed it to a few writers, many of whom I work with now. Just four or five people were the audience for the show. I gave them the script and they were so encouraging. When I would talk to them, I was on The Sopranos, you know. It got me my job on The Sopranos, which is plenty. It was my writing sample, but they were always like, “What are you doing with that? What are you doing with that?”
I will not lie to you. I carried it around in my bag and, if you and I had sat next to each other in an airplane and enough time had passed, I’m that guy, by the way, on the airplane (laughter).
Tavis: “Hey, take a look at this,” yeah.
Weiner: You always want to sit next to a beautiful woman, but it’s me asking you to read my script (laughter).
Tavis: So next year, Mad Men will try to join Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law and The West Wing as the only series to be named Best Drama four times.
[Walmart – Save money. Live better.]
Announcer: Nationwide Insurance proudly supports Tavis Smiley. Tavis and Nationwide Insurance – working to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. Nationwide is on your side.
And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.