Interview: Edie Falco


NEW YORK: Edie Falco, known to many for her role as Carmela in The Sopranos, talks to World Screen about the world of dark comedy and the series Nurse Jackie.


WS: The Sopranos was perhaps the first show to feature flawed multi-layered characters. There are now flawed characters in comedy. What has given rise to the popularity of these types of characters?
FALCO: I think it’s a simultaneous shifting in people making the shows and people watching the shows. There seems to be an appetite now for people that audiences can actually relate to, as opposed to people being presented to them who in reality don’t exist, such as people with one dimension—they are good; they are bad. This way more viewers can actually say, “Oh I know that guy,” or “Oh boy, I’m kinda like that.” It’s a deeper way to tell a story if you are using characters that people understand and can relate to.
WS: I would imagine that as an actor, those roles are more interesting to play?
FALCO: For sure. You want to give people the feeling that being complicated and being unsure and being ambiguous is OK. We are all like that, we’re all good people and we’re all bad people and perhaps that’s the beginning of a huge healing. We don’t have to adhere to standards that none of us could possibly reach. So, yes, and they are far more complicated and interesting to play.
WS: Addiction is not a topic one would associate with comedy. Do you feel a certain responsibility to present the problem of addiction in all its facets and to show the consequences of certain behaviors?
FALCO: Absolutely yes. I originally fought early on with the idea that Jackie had an addiction problem. When it was presented to me I felt very strongly that I didn’t want it, because I do feel a sense of responsibility to people. Then once I realized that it really was important for the storytelling and that it does make good drama, I said it is absolutely of dire importance to me that we can’t just show A plus B, you have to see what C is. Yes, the ramifications portion of it was very important to me.
WS: How do you bring comedy to the topic of addiction? I find myself laughing at things that are kind of tragic.
FALCO: A lot of that is the writers, and I have to say there is humor in every aspect of life if you are willing to look for it and that is part of who she is. She doesn’t really take herself too seriously on some level. While we are presenting the circumstances, the dire ramifications of such behavior, I think there is definitely room for some humor.
WS: You have had guest roles in comedies like 30 Rock and Will & Grace. How are those comedies different from Nurse Jackie?
FALCO: It’s complicated because the kind of comedy in Nurse Jackie or The Sopranos, you don’t really play it any differently than you do if it’s just a straight up drama. You’re playing it for the reality and it’s the reality of the situation that is funny and that is where the comedy comes from. But shows like Will & Grace and 30 Rock and I Love Lucy—it’s an entirely different animal. And what people like Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey can do I am in awe of because I don’t understand it and I don’t know how it’s done. It’s a completely different set of muscles that I haven’t really been called upon to exercise very much. That really is about timing and about choosing the right words. It’s not from an emotionally visceral place. It’s a very different place.
WS: What did you learn from your experience on The Sopranos? Do you ever learn things from the characters you play?
FALCO: What I learned from The Sopranos is how much I enjoy that genre, doing an episodic television show. You get to play the same person for a long time and get to experience her in all different dimensions. It was my first time doing episodic work and I loved it. When I’m reading scripts I am drawn to characteristics that maybe I wish I had more of, so that I am always in awe of [the person I’m playing]. One of the things about Carmela was her ease with people. She felt at ease in her world. She had been with her husband since they were teenagers, she was very deeply ensconced in a community. The ease she had with touching people and calling people—the way she treated her daughter was very physical. That’s very much not the way I used to be. I was so taken by that and so thoroughly enjoyed getting into the body of a person who behaved that way.
Nurse Jackie was on some levels the antithesis of that. She was just such a cold wise-ass. She was not concerned about being liked while Carmela was so concerned with being liked. I think it’s about where I am, at the time, and what it is about that character that I find appealing or want more of in my life, or at least want to live there at least for a little while.
WS: Do you contribute ideas or do you just play what it’s in the script?
FALCO: I do not participate in any of the story lines. I’m sure if I were interested it’s always been a very open atmosphere. I prefer not knowing anything about it. I prefer to tackle it as it arrives to me, otherwise by the time we shoot it, it feels old already. I get the script two or three days before we shoot it and it works for me.
WS: I have spoken to other actors who have talked about the need to feel safe. The need to know they can screw up if necessary and then do another take and get it better, and they talk about the need for trust.
FALCO: I agree 100 percent, that is of dire importance and I have been in situations where that has not been optimum. Regardless, it is my job to find a way to do the performance that I want to do. But sometimes it is like [going into] battle. When we started doing Nurse Jackie, as we hired the crew and the writers and the actors, we did a little bit of vetting. We found people who had worked with them and asked, I just want to know what this person is like after 12 hours on the set. I know they are talented because they got this far in the industry, but I just want to know if are they going to be manageable when we are tired. Because ultimately you spend a lot of time with these people. It was somewhat more important to me that the people, the personalities are warm and kind and respectful. I was willing to forgo talent for a work environment that is pleasant—that is incredibly important to me and I’ve been doing this too long to put up with any bullshit. Or however you might want to say that [laughs].
WS: Have there been actors, writers or directors that have influenced your work or that you have admired?
FALCO: Oh gosh, yes, a million actors, Meryl Streep among them of course. I’m a huge fan of Marcia Gay Harden and Dianne Wiest. As for directors, there was someone we worked with a great deal on The Sopranos, Tim Van Patten, he now works on Boardwalk Empire, and he personifies the ideal director to me. He has the absolute perfect way of conveying what he means while being utterly respectful and easy going with his cast and crew. He has a way of keeping the environment on the set just utterly conducive to a fantastic experience and a great product. Whatever it is that he does, he does it very organically and it is excellent.