Edie Falco On Sobriety, The Sopranos, And Nurse Jackie's Self-Medication
Falco plays ER nurse Jackie Peyton, who is competent at her high-stress job but struggles with addiction. Falco was nominated for an Emmy for her role on Nurse Jackie, which is in its sixth season.
Originally broadcast April 9.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR, I'm Terry Gross. This week, we've been featuring a series of Emmy award related interviews. We heard this year's host Seth Meyers, we heard from several of this year's winners. Today, we hear from a couple of this year's nominees. Later, we'll hear from Jon Hamm, who's been nominated for 13 Emmys over the years. Up first, Edie Falco - this year she was nominated for her role in Showtime's "Nurse Jackie" in the category of Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series. She won an Emmy for the same role in 2010 and she's won three Emmys for her performance on "The Sopranos" as Carmela Soprano - Tony's wife. In "Nurse Jackie," Falco plays an ER nurse who's addicted to pills.
In season five, she got sober and started going to 12-step meetings. But she saved one pill, and right before going to the party celebrating one year of sobriety, she took it. In the sixth season, which ran earlier this year, Jackie was back on pills and back to hiding her addiction. When I spoke to her in April, we started with a scene from the premiere of season six. Although Jackie was back on drugs, she was still going to her twelve-step meetings, pretending to be sober. Here she is at a restaurant with one of the women from the meeting, played by Julie White, who likes to speak her mind even if it means being rude to another member of the group.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "NURSE JACKIE")
EDIE FALCO: (As Jackie Peyton) I know it's supposed to help, but I (beep) hate the program.
JULIE WHITE: (As Antoinette) Me, too. It's all of that 12-step God talk. It just drives me up a tree, which is why I kind of pick and choose - a little of the big book, some therapy, dash of Oprah. I mean, it's taken me a long time and a few slips to find my path. How about you?
FALCO: (As Jackie Peyton) Well, the day of my one-year anniversary, they got me a nice cake. I took a pill.
JULIE WHITE: (As Antoinette) Ooh. My first relapse I went on a three-month bender. It was so much work, all the lying and hiding.
FALCO: (As Jackie Peyton) Trying to catch the next high.
WHITE: (As Antoinette) Oh, explaining to my husband where the money went.
FALCO: (As Jackie Peyton) Trying to cover the high instead of just relaxing into it.
WHITE: (As Antoinette) That was the worst.
FALCO: (As Jackie Peyton) You want to tell these people just get away from me so I can enjoy this.
WHITE: (As Antoinette) I took a lot of bubble baths with a bottle of whiskey.
FALCO: (As Jackie Peyton) Sounds nice.
WHITE: (As Antoinette) It was so nice, which is why that was just my first relapse.
WHITE: (As Antoinette) Keep going to meetings, work the steps. You've got a sponsor?
FALCO: (As Jackie Peyton) I'm not very good with authority.
WHITE: (As Antoinette) OK, I am very good with people who are not good with authority.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
FALCO: (As Jackie Peyton) OK.
GROSS: That's a scene from the new season of "Nurse Jackie." Edie Falco, welcome back to FRESH AIR. It's such a pleasure to have you back on the show.
FALCO: A pleasure to be here.
GROSS: So I'm kind of sorry that Jackie's back on drugs. It's like a nice plot twist, but I hate to see that happen to her.
GROSS: How do you feel about her relapse?
FALCO: Not unlike the way I feel about anybody's relapse, even though she's pretend. You know, it does, I think, pretty accurately mirror the experience in real life of when someone that you know is not able to stay on board. It's heartbreaking and makes you feel helpless and all that stuff. So I think it's pretty, pretty accurate.
GROSS: Do you feel like you understand why she would have chosen the first anniversary of her sobriety to start using again?
FALCO: Absolutely. The mind of a – of an addict is so seemingly irrational to an outsider, but there are all kinds of things at play that are not easily understood. But, you know, she's about to hit a huge milestone. And if the interior work isn't done, like the why she uses drugs in the first place – from my vantage point, she was not making her priority to remain sober - and so it will slip away
GROSS: I want to get another scene in here. And this is from the previous season of "Nurse Jackie," toward the - it's like the next to the last episode of the previous season. And at this point, her teenage daughter, who is going through a difficult phase, has started using pills. So in this scene, Jackie's ex-husband has brought their teenage daughter to the hospital to, like, leave her with Jackie. And along with the daughter, he's brought the pills that he's found that his daughter is using. And he's, like, shocked to find this. And of course Jackie is outraged that her daughter has started using pills. But the daughter is acting all innocent and saying oh, no, these aren't my pills, these are my mother's pills, she's using again. And at this point, Jackie has not started using pills again. They're not hers.
GROSS: So she takes her daughter in the hospital for mother-daughter blood tests to prove who's really using, you know, who's really taking these pills. And they're having a fight as they're having these blood tests, and also in the room is nurse Zoey and Jackie's ex-husband.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "NURSE JACKIE")
FALCO: (As Jackie Peyton) Where’d you get the drugs?
RUBY JERINS: (As Grace Peyton) It's not that hard to get Adderrall.
MERRITT WEVER: (As Zoey Barkow) I think you need to make her feel like she can tell you the truth.
FALCO: (As Jackie Peyton) Zoey, please. Who got it for you?
RUBY JERINS: (As Grace Peyton) Nobody got them for me. I got them from a girl at school.
FALCO: (As Jackie Peyton) You were taking drugs at school?
JERINS: (As Grace Peyton) I was studying at Danny's and we tried it, and I got an A on my test - that's it.
FALCO: (As Jackie Peyton) OK, so you were just studying and taking drugs with a boy you lied about not seeing anymore. Really, so that's it?
JERINS: (As Grace Peyton) Yeah, mom, I took something and I still did everything I was supposed to do. You know what that's like, right?
FALCO: (As Jackie Peyton) OK, she's with me today, all day.
JERINS: (As Grace Peyton) Um, I have school.
FALCO: (As Jackie Peyton) Welcome to Scare the (Beep) Out of You High.
JERINS: (As Grace Peyton) I (beep) hate you.
FALCO: (As Jackie) Grace?
DOMINIC FUMUSA: (As Kevin Peyton) Whoa, we're just swearing at each other now? Enough.
FALCO: (As Jackie Peyton) All right, can you go over and talk to Danny and his parents? Make sure the message is loud and clear - he is to stay away from Grace. We are a zero-tolerance household.
DOMINIC FUMUSA: (As Kevin Peyton) Yeah, yeah that's a good idea.
JERINS: (As Grace Peyton) Oh, are you guys, like, friends now? Awesome. That's – that’s great timing.
GROSS: So that was a scene from the previous season of "Nurse Jackie" with my guest Edie Falco as Jackie, Dominic Fumusa as her ex-husband, Ruby Jerins as her teenage daughter and Merritt Wever as Nurse Zoey. So you and Carmela from "The Sopranos" had similar problems - teenage kids who were rebelling, talking back to you, which I suppose is pretty typical, yeah.
FALCO: I was going to say Jackie, Carmela and every mother I've ever heard of, yeah.
GROSS: (Laughter) Right, and you've both tried - you know, both characters have tried tough love in ways that aren't necessarily very effective.
GROSS: So you have two children, age nine and six. Are you dreading their teenage years based on the series that you've starred in?
FALCO: You know, you can live in denial for a few more years in my case that somehow it'll be different for me. So I'm kind of hanging on for dear life to that at the moment. But if present behavior is any indication, I’m, you know, I'm in for a wallop.
GROSS: That's not what I thought you were going to say (laughter).
FALCO: So sorry. No, I have two very, very bright, very willful kids and with me as a mom. So, you know, it's a lot of energy and headstrong individualism in my household.
GROSS: Can you imagine saying any of the things that Jackie or Carmela have said to their teenagers?
FALCO: I would like to say no. But you don’t even know what’s going to come out of your mouth when you feel as helpless as you sometimes do in the face of a, you know, a smart kid.
GROSS: What's an example of something you've said that's really surprised you?
FALCO: Oh gosh, this is going to be terrible, but I'll tell you. My son was - issue with coming into my bed - this is some years ago now. And he kept coming in my bed in the middle of the night when I'm half-asleep. I was working at the time, so I was getting four or five hours of sleep. And he came into my bed, and I think the words if you don't get out of my bed, I will throw you down the stairs.
FALCO: My son looked at me wide-eyed and went back into bed. And then in the morning, he said did you say last night that you were going to throw me down the stairs? And I was, like, blushing. I said Anderson (ph), I said that to you and I cannot believe I said - it has become now something we joke about. And every once in a while, he's like what, you're going to throw me down the stairs? I'm like Anderson, I am sorry. I'm not responsible for what I say at 3 in the morning when I'm not getting sleep. So anyway yes, it's really insane what happens under dire circumstances - lack of sleep and, you know, kids who want their way. So I'm not proud of that, and I'm, you know, deeply working on it, let's just say.
GROSS: (Laughter) Your parents divorced when you were 14. Were there big fights in your family?
FALCO: There - you know, there were, I guess. It's funny how it's like a big blur, a lot of what happened when I was younger. And it's funny, I didn't even know that I was 14 when that happened. So...
GROSS: Well, I read that. I can't guarantee you that that was accurate, but that's what I read.
FALCO: I think it might - I think I might have been younger. And then they also remarried each other. So I'm not quite sure when these things happened.
GROSS: Oh gosh, really?
FALCO: Yeah, and then they, you know, they split up and got back together any number of times but without the paperwork. So it's a little complicated as to what happened when. But yeah, there were fights.
GROSS: Did you mouth off to them at, like, the teenagers…?
FALCO: You know, I didn't. You know, they may, if asked this question, they make think otherwise, but I don't think I did. I was a really compliant sort of kid. I was a bit of a goody-two-shoes, which annoyed my siblings no end. I was the one who would tattle if I smelled pot smoke coming from the end...
FALCO: It's like mom, I don't want to say anything, but...
FALCO: But I did. And so yeah, I got a reputation.
GROSS: There's a long distance between the goody-two-shoes and the characters that you're most famous for, nurse Jackie and Carmela.
FALCO: Well, it's because I didn't go through it then. So I get to live it out now. It's one of the beauties of the thing I do for a living.
GROSS: Does it feel good to...?
FALCO: It feels tremendously good, yeah. To act out in anger and to feel righteous about it and to not have there be any real ramifications is exquisite, yes. I recommend it to anyone who might be interested.
GROSS: The ramifications are all good, I mean, for you. It's great…
FALCO: Yeah, exactly.
GROSS: …Acting performances, yeah.
FALCO: And then, you know, they yell cut and I can give a big hug and kiss to whatever child I'm acting opposite, which I always do.
FALCO: Because it's mortifying. You know, I'll say, you know I'm not really mean.
GROSS: So did you - what's the name of the actor who played Anthony, Jr.?
FALCO: Oh, Robert Iler.
GROSS: Robert Iler, yeah. You had these incredible fights with him because he was the child left at home when Meadow, your daughter, was already on her own and in college. And he was just so lost…
GROSS: …You know, just so very lost. And he would have these, like, terrible fights with you. Would you give him a big hug afterwards?
FALCO: Oh my gosh, yes. I just adore that boy so much and he was such a sweet kid. And so yes, I was constantly apologizing for the work I had to do.
GROSS: Your role in "Nurse Jackie" connects with two major things that have happened in your life - you had breast cancer. I'm sure you spent a lot of time in hospitals and also you had an alcohol problem. So you understand the difficulties of sobriety. Did that figure in to your wanting to do the role?
FALCO: I have to say I never really know exactly what makes me want to do a role. It's some sort of wordless place, you know? And I imagine that everything I've ever been through is contributing on some level to the decisions I make. But I'm not privy to them on some level. But the addiction piece, I have to say, is a huge part of my life, not just my own but that of many people I love. And the whole nurse piece, I mean, the breast cancer aside, just all my dealings with nurses, it is such a tremendously selfless way to spend one's life, one that I know I couldn't do. I have a tremendous amount of respect for these people. And it's as close to sainthood as I've seen people get, you know.
GROSS: We'll hear more of my interview with Edie Falco after a break. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.