Edie Falco: from mobster wife to pill-popping nurse

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actress Edie Falco’s latest career turn offers a lesson in how to follow up one of the most successful dramas on American television:

Actress Edie Falco is shown in this undated publicity photo in her role in the Showtime series "Nurse Jackie", released to Reuters June 4, 2009. Falco's new role on the dark comedy series, which premieres on June 8, could be just what the doctor ordered for the actress who spent eight years as Carmela Soprano in the Mafia series "The Sopranos". REUTERS/Showtime Networks/Handout

Take a two-year break from the small screen, cut your hair, scrub off the make-up, get rid of the long, mobster’s wife fingernails and return to TV as a strong-willed, pill-popping nurse whose mantra is “I don’t do chatty.”

Falco’s new, title role on “Nurse Jackie,” a dark comedy series which premieres on the Showtime cable channel on June 8, could be just what the doctor ordered for the actress who spent eight years as Carmela Soprano in the award-winning Mafia series “The Sopranos.”

Falco, 45, said she got plenty of offers for roles after “The Sopranos” ended its run in 2007, having brought the actress three Emmy awards for her ambiguity-filled portrayal of the wife of depressed mob boss Tony Soprano.

“But my standards are very high, so there was not all that much that was grabbing me,” Falco told Reuters.

“(Nurse Jackie) is physically low maintenance -- that was a huge appeal. Very much like I am. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time in makeup. On Sopranos, the nails, the hair, the makeup and the jewelry was very not who I am. It was fun, but after eight years I was ready to try something else.”

Nurse Jackie Peyton is a working mother who gets through her long shifts in the emergency room of a New York City hospital by snorting painkillers, having extramarital sex in a supply closet, juggling ethical dilemmas and, in episode one, flushing a patient’s detached ear down the toilet.

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With the tagline “Life is full of little pricks,” the series is as far removed from a long-running TV medical drama like “ER” as “The Sopranos” was from “The Godfather” movies.

“She’s very strong willed and single minded and is not all that concerned with other people’s opinions of her. I’ve always been drawn to people like that because I am so much not that way. She is about getting what she needs,” Falco said.

What Falco needs these days after “The Sopranos” is not fame and Hollywood red carpets, but time to herself and her recently adopted son, age 4, and one-year-old daughter.

The trappings of success and public recognition came hard to the essentially private actress, who had struggled for 15 years to establish herself in New York but who says she is “completely uninterested” in media attention.

“A very smart person told me once what other people think of me is none of my business. ... I do not Google myself. I know that’s only going to end badly,” she said.

Falco spent some time in hospital emergency rooms researching her role but said she “felt terribly like a sore thumb” observing patients going through traumatic moments in their lives. So, she soon ended the experiment.

By sheer chance, she found she already had a bird’s eye view into ER life as a big fan of documentary medical shows.

“For years it has been something I’ve been glued to. It’s watching people behave naturally in high stakes circumstances without being in the room or in their face. It’s not like ‘there’s that actress who was in ‘The Sopranos’,” she said.

The actress at the center of one of the most-acclaimed TV shows of the last 10 years has already filmed the first 12-episode series of “Nurse Jackie” and is in no hurry to step into another role, again.

“For the first time in my life I told my agent that unless it’s something absolutely spectacular I don’t even want to hear about it,” she said. “I have a family now, which is still relatively new thing for me. I don’t need to be busy all the time. I have learned how to be still and read a book and roll around the beanbag chair with my kids.”

Showtime Networks Inc is a division of CBS Corp.