Actress Edie Falco

The multiple Emmy-winning actress dishes on the final season of the Showtime hit series Nurse Jackie.

Edie Falco is one of America's most respected actresses. She's appeared on the Broadway and London stages and in indie and mainstream films. After recurring roles in HBO's Oz and NBC's L&O and Homicide, her star-making role came in The Sopranos. For her performance in the acclaimed HBO series, she was the first actress to win the Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG Awards in the same year. A Brooklyn native, Falco successfully battled breast cancer in '03.  After also winning an Emmy in 2010 for lead actress in Showtime's Nurse Jackie, she became the first actress to win the award in both the comedy and drama categories.

TRANSCRIPT

Tavis: She is the only actress ever to win the lead acting Emmy Awards in both comedy and drama, and is the most nominated performer in the history of the Screen Actors Guild awards. Pleased to have Edie Falco back on this program.

She, of course, starred in the groundbreaking HBO series, “The Sopranos”, and is now in her seventh and final season–say it ain’t so, say it ain’t so–the seventh and final season of the Showtime hit, “Nurse Jackie”. Before we start our conversation, a look at a clip from “Nurse Jackie”.

[Clip]

Tavis: You have been through quite an ordeal in seven seasons.

Edie Falco: Mm-hmm.

Tavis: What do you make of this journey, Miss Falco?

Falco: Well, not me, her.

Tavis: Her. Yes, well…

Falco: You know how these actors are. They like separate themselves from character.

Tavis: I understand. Separate the character from the person. I get it, yeah.

Falco: Yeah, she’s a mess, you know, at the mercy of her addiction. Yeah, that’s grounds for a pretty messy life.

Tavis: Yeah. Has this series given you any takeaways specifically about addiction?

Falco: I don’t know. I kind of went in with a lot. You know what I mean [laugh]? And what I am most pleased about is how true to life it felt, how the writers were really open to the suggestion that it was important to me that it represent my idea of what it’s about to be an addict, to have an addict in your life, rather than maybe a more stereotypical TV version of that.

Tavis: What have you most heard from the fans of this show specifically about that issue of addiction? I mean, I can imagine over the years, you must have gotten letters and obviously you’ve been stopped in airports and other places. What do you hear consistently from people?

Falco: Well, you know, I like the show. Not necessarily saying their vantage point. I only know from hearsay that there were nurses–are nurses perhaps–that are not thrilled with the portrayal of nurses as drug addicts, but that’s not at all what we were saying. Saying that this one woman is an addict.

There are a number of people who’ve said it was nice to see portrayed what really does exist in their experiences as people in the healthcare industry, that you have such easy access to these things.

It’s a different thing when you can’t get at what it is you need, but when it’s right in front of you and that, apparently, the problem does exist at least to some extent, you know, in hospitals and that people were pleased to see it portrayed.

Tavis: How did you know–’cause every actor has his or her own way of figuring this out–because you said earlier you wanted this series to be so true to life and it has been that for a lot of people.

But how as an actor do you know when you’re in that zone, in that space where you’re clicking on all cylinders, and it is coming across as authentic and real as you want it to be?

Falco: Right. Hard to say. You know, it’s a visceral thing. For me, there’s a bunch of different things that happen, but to large extent, I don’t see the words anymore ’cause I memorize very close to when we shoot. Because if I memorize too far in advance, it already starts to feel sort of old.

So I’ll sometimes memorize in the makeup chair before I go out, so the words are very new. If a scene is not–if I don’t feel like I’m really there, I can still sort of see the words on the page. When all that stuff disappears and I’m actually looking into the eyes of an actor and have some sort of kinesthetic thing going on, I know that all is well.

But I will sometimes, you know, when we finish a take where all I saw was, okay, that’s the end of that page, turn the page, next line is up here, you know, I’ll ask to do it again or something. Because at the very least, I want to feel like at least I was present, you know, in an honest way for each scene.

Tavis: I guess I could ask this question now that it’s basically over, or almost over. That is whether or not there was ever a time in this seven-year run when you had a problem with the direction that the character was moving in.

Falco: Not really. I think I was given a lot of leeway to put in my two cents. Writers, producers, etc. were only too open to hear what I had to say. And for the most part, I really didn’t have any complaints.

You know, I said early on that, if we’re going to use this drug addiction piece, which was a question in the beginning–I’m trying to think of–the very original script that I read was called “Nurse Mona” written by a guy named Evan Dunsky.

And I don’t think the drug addiction was a huge part of it. God, I should know the answer to that. But, anyway, once I realized we were throwing that in, I said it’s got to be legitimate. And then they kind of stayed with that.

Every once in a while, a line didn’t feel quite right or I’d say, wait, she wouldn’t say that if she just brought this up in the last scene or whatever. There wasn’t even a lot of that. I felt in very good hands with the writers.

Tavis: I want to circle back to the distinction you made earlier in this conversation which I could have made and you made me fix it [laugh] between the character and the person, between Nurse Jackie and Edie Falco. What have you learned from her? What has she taught you over these seven years?

Falco: Oh, gosh, let’s see. Just that, you know, I’ve had the experience in my own life, not my addiction, but certainly that of friends around me where you can’t believe it’s not enough already, you know, where my idea of what is finished is not necessarily the same for someone who’s going through it.

And with Jackie, I mean, for heaven’s sake, you would think whatever, you know, all the trials and tribulations that she’s gone through, you would think, oh, finally. She’s bottomed out, you know. And you realize she still has more fight. She wasn’t ready to give it up yet.

And it just sort of brought home what I already knew to be the case, but the fact that she was so functional. She was able to live a productive, theoretically, certainly a professional life without a lot of ramifications as an addict.

They’re oftentimes the most troubling kinds of addicts ’cause they can go for a very long time before things really fall apart. Just the heartbreaking aspect of addiction. It is truly heartbreaking. You know, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

Tavis: This is one of those obligatory questions, but I feel like I need to ask it for those who are watching on our show tonight, and that is what you’re going to most miss about doing the show.

Falco: What I will most miss most–I wanted to say it ’cause I knew it was tongue-twister–what I will most miss is the days on the set, the workaday environment at Kaufman Studios in Long Island City in Queens.

We were able to gather together however many people, hundreds of people, that would get together every day to work on the show, the most, I don’t know, lovely group of people. We wanted everyone to be good at their job, which you assume at a certain point in this industry, that’s a given.

But more than that, they had to be nice ’cause I’d been on sets for years and there are personalities and bull stuff that you always sort of were told you had to deal with. And I said, you know, if I’m given the option here, we’re not dealing with it. So so-and-so isn’t gonna work here, this one isn’t gonna work here, this one is gonna work here.

We put together a phenomenal group of people that made it a joy to come to work every day, laughed our heads off, supported each other. Because when all is said and done, it’s a TV show which is great, but it’s 16 hours a day that I will never have back and I want to enjoy them.

Tavis: It occurs to me that you’ve now, in these two series at least, “Sopranos” and “Nurse Jackie”, watched two sets of kids grow up.

Falco: Very unusual. Seven years in my life, you know, I sort of feel similar to the way I did when we started the show. When you watch, certainly in “Sopranos”, Robert Iler who played my son, I think he was 11 when we started and 21 when we ended. Those are huge years in the life of a human, the life of a boy.

Very hard to say goodbye and certainly with the girls on “Nurse Jackie”, the same thing where teeny little kids, sort of shapeless, formless little muffin girls, you know, with their little pink pigtails, and Ruby Jerins’ graduating like high school, as a grownup and going out into the world.

It’s just so bizarre to watch them through these years and then say goodbye like, well, take care, best of luck. I mean, they have real parents, so I know they’ll be okay [laugh].

But at the same time, it’s a very unusual trend for people who are seemingly sensitive people in the arts, actors, to have to get that intimately involved with people and just say goodbye. Very strange.

Tavis: I know there’s much more to come from you. Your acting career has a lot more life left in it, but to what–in my exit question here–to what do you attribute–this is my word. You can use your own. To what do you attribute the blessing, the good fortune, of being able to be in not one, but two series that have had the kind of impact that you have had?

Falco: Luck. You know, I don’t know. I’m almost afraid–I’m always wanting to knock wood, especially coming from where I come from. Just a really regular middle class suburban kid in Long Island wasn’t meant to have this kind of success in my mind.

So to a certain degree, you grow up and you have to make peace with what your life looks like, whatever that may be. So the good fortune that I’ve had professionally is sometimes disarming for me, and at the same time, I’m not willing to say, well, that’s enough. Woo, God!

I’m like, listen, if nobody’s saying anything, I’m still going to move forward until it’s, you know, time to not be able to do that anymore. So, anyway, the long answer is I have no idea. I’ve been very, very lucky and I have been too stubborn to find anything else to do with my life.

Tavis: You’ve been lucky, if we want to use that word, but you’ve also been good. There is an element…

Falco: There’s a lot of good people waiting tables right now.

Tavis: There is an element of talent. I know you’re modest about this, but there’s an element of talent that goes in that as well, so I digress on that point.

Falco: Go on [laugh].

Tavis: It’s seven seasons later and “Nurse Jackie” is saying goodbye to Showtime. And Edie was here when the show first went on the air and I am honored that you came back to say goodbye at the end. So thank you, and congratulations.

Falco: Thank you so much. A pleasure.

Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.

Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at pbs.org.

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Last modified: April 24, 2015 at 2:14 pm