Edie Falco leans on producers, cast & crew to play the drug-addicted Nurse Jackie

by Ellen Gray

Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

28 April 2010


Jackie Peyton does not lead a safe life.

The title character of Showtime’s dark comedy “Nurse Jackie” is using — and stealing — drugs, cutting corners at work and is about to resume an affair with the stalkerish ex-lover who recently struck up a friendship with Jackie’s husband.

Is there anything Jackie isn’t capable of?

“No, I don’t really think there is,” Edie Falco, who’s played the emergency room nurse for two seasons now, said in a phone interview last week.

“Especially if you add the variable of drug addiction, where so many rules change under those circumstances,” Falco said. “Depending on how deep in she gets, I think she could potentially be capable of anything.”

Clearly that’s a big part of Jackie’s appeal for the actress, who’s in rehearsals for an off-Broadway production of “This Wide Night” — “me and Allison Pill, who is just beyond amazingly spectacular” — in which Falco plays an ex-convict “trying to find a life outside of prison.”

But there’s a difference between playing a character who lives on the edge of disaster and living there yourself, and it’s a difference Falco appears to appreciate.

“You start out hoping that you’ll trust them,” she said of “Nurse Jackie” executive producers Liz Brixius and Linda Wallem. “You kind of go into it with a certain amount of trepidation, keeping your antennas up. But we’ve got a solid two-plus years under our belts — going on three years, since I met them — and we are still obviously on the same page ... tastewise.”

It doesn’t hurt that Falco, who came out of HBO’s “The Sopranos” with three Emmys and considerably more show-business clout than she’d had going in, has managed to surround herself with people she trusts.

“Pretty much everybody working on ‘Nurse Jackie’ I have a history with, and that was not by accident,” said Falco, whose lover on the show, a pharmacist named Eddie, is played by Paul Schulze, whom “Sopranos” fans will remember as Carmela’s Father Phil.

“Me and Richie — my manager and executive producer of the show, Richie Jackson — and Liz and Linda spent a good deal of time handpicking not just the cast, but the crew,” Falco said. “Because if you’ve been doing it for a while, you really start to travel in the same circles and, ideally, when you get to a job, you’re like, ‘Oh, fantastic! He’s working on this! That’s great, I love that guy.’ We got all of those guys in the cast and in the crew.

“So to be in an environment where you have absolutely secured a safety zone for yourself and your castmates, it really is just completely different. The kind of thing you really hope for. The kind of thing very few people have the luxury of really being able to do.

“Going on set, I knew most of these people the first day,” Falco said. “It’s a very different thing. I really feel like — it feels a lot like home, you know? A very safe, comfortable place to be.”

Does that make it easier when what Jackie’s up to might not be so comfortable?

“Sure. Absolutely,” said Falco, who never misses an opportunity to talk about how hard everyone else on the show is working, whether it’s the writers or the crew.

“You know there’s mutual respect. I’m in awe what these crew people are able to do.

“The hours — they’re there before I get there and they’re there after I leave and just what we’re able to accomplish in the course of a day, the concentration and all that stuff. And they trust us as well and ... it’s like a petri dish for creativity in a way. We’re all in a place where we know we are trusted. We can try things that work and try things that don’t work and know that, either way, we still think a great deal of each other.”

With shooting set to resume in September for a 12-episode Season 3, Falco said that she’d be willing to spend even more time with the “Jackie” cast and crew.

Though the schedule’s “ideal” for her as both a mother and an actress who wants time to do theater, “I would do more. I would do maybe 15 or 18 or something, just because we’re up and running and we’ve got a real shorthand with each other. I feel like we just start to get that rolling and we’re done,” she said.

“But I think it’s a matter of what Showtime needs or wants, or schedules — I don’t really even know the inner workings,” she said. “But 12 is what it is.”

As for the half-hour format: “They have to pack a lot in,” she said. “But you know that’s not unlike what I imagine an emergency room to be like. There’s just a hell of a lot going on in a short period of time and it’s all really high stakes.”

Asked about the recent announcement that New York City’s St. Vincent’s Hospital, a Greenwich Village institution, would close this month and what that might mean, scriptwise, for “Nurse Jackie’s” fictional All Saints, which it in some way resembles, Falco deferred to the writers.

“That remains to be seen,” she said. It depends on what Liz and Linda come up with.”

“Without ever thinking about it until this moment, yes, it does feel like (All Saints is similar to St. Vincent’s). I’ve lived downtown in my whole life as an adult, so St. Vincent was always the hospital, the emergency room we went to.

“It really is like the end of an era. It feels really sad. And during 9-11, that’s where we all ran to give blood, not knowing that that was futile and all that. That’s a lot of history, and the fact that it just disappeared for financial reasons is troubling. I don’t know if we’re going to mirror what’s actually happening there, but you know, anything’s possible.”

She wouldn’t be surprised, either, if the new health-care law became part of the discussion on “Nurse Jackie.”

“I bet it will, because it’s something that we all are aware of, paid attention to, cared about — care about — so, yeah, I imagine it will be reflected in the writing.”

As for Jackie, “I think she’d be thrilled” about the new law. “It’s just everything that she wanted. Certainly make her job easier” if more people have insurance, Falco said.

Just don’t expect anyone to reform “Nurse Jackie.”

Though Falco’s often approached by fans of the show, including nurses, she said that she doesn’t hear too many wild stories.

“The truth is, they don’t tell them to me as much as they tell them to the writers, who relay them to me,” she said.

“We get all kinds of stuff that makes All Saints look like a playground, you know what I mean? ... Just absolute crazy stuff goes on. There’s an endless storehouse of stories for us, should we be lucky enough to continue for any length of time.

“I guess they’re thrilled to have a venue where people are actually interested in hearing these things. Because it’s wild, absolute craziness, what goes on.”

//Mixed media