Edie Falco works her last shift as “Nurse Jackie” on Sunday. It’s a testament to Falco’s skill that she was able to segue so quickly after “The Sopranos” into the skin of another enduring TV character. As “Nurse Jackie” wraps its seven-season run, the four-time Emmy winner spoke with Variety about endings, beginnings, why she loves working in series television and why she still hasn’t seen every episode of “Sopranos.”
How does it feel to be bringing this chapter of your career to a close?
Most of us never know when the end is coming. You’re kind of half prepared a lot of the time. It’s almost like someone you know having a disease — you know they’re going to go at some point. Will they last another year? Six months? Every time your show is picked up for another season that’s great news — crazy great news. But because (“Nurse Jackie” has) been around for seven years, you’ve developed some pretty important relationships. There’s a certain attachment to a particular work day you’ve created with this group of people. We created a work environment on this show that is unrivaled in my life for the kindness and respect that we had. It was not by accident. When we were putting it together we spent a lot of time asking people — what’s he like to work with after 16 hours? So you had a group of 200 people who were hand-selected for their kindness. It worked for us and it was magical.
In hindsight are you surprised you were able to transition to a successful new show barely a year after the end of “The Sopranos”?
Think about being unemployed for a year. That’s a long time to not have a job. I’ve worked since I was 14. I’ve had all kinds of crazy jobs. I worked at a library, I worked at an ice cream parlor. It’s what I do. I’m a worker. I love doing series television because it’s consistent and it feels like a real job. For me to be unemployed for a year, there’s a part of my brain that’s going like this (shakes her hand). From my vantage point I had plenty of time to let go of Carmela and get to know somebody new.
How do you feel about the final episode of “Nurse Jackie”?
I feel fine about it. There’s this pressure about it being the ending, the final episode. In my mind if it’s in keeping with the general tenor of the rest of the show, it’s going to be OK. There’s no way you’re going to wind everything up in one episode. Just have it in keeping with the characters such as we know them.
Around “The Sopranos” it was the same thing — this feeling of, oh it’s the finale. I try to remove myself and let the writers off the hook. It’s just another episode. We’ll do a good job. It’s a crazy thing, this pressure.
Were you ready for the show to end?
I like to work. If they’d said we were going three more years, I would have said OK, we’ll find stories. But everybody’s take on it was we have been incredibly lucky, why don’t we leave it when everybody still wants to watch it.
What drew you to “Nurse Jackie”? Although you talk about being unemployed after “Sopranos,” I have no doubt you had plenty of offers.
I don’t need to work like I used to need to work. I feel like it’s got to be worth the considerable time and effort I put into it. It’s got to be worth taking time away from my family. (After “Sopranos”) I started to think that maybe I was done doing this. There’s this visceral thing that tells me when it’s right. I thought, maybe I’m done? And then I read a script, at the time it was called ‘Nurse Mona’ and I thought, ‘there’s something percolating here.’
Did the show come together quickly once you expressed interest?
It was a slow build. The character really interested me. The world she inhabited sounded more challenging to me. There were other things about it that didn’t seem possible and it was also really, really dark. Then they handed it to (original showrunners) Linda (Wallem) and Liz (Brixius) and made it lighter. That made the character more appealing. It was a slow process.
Did you have confidence in the beginning that the show had the potential to last as long as it has?
At some point in the process I was confident that this will be my next job. It would be a pilot or 12 episodes. Thinking beyond that is going to lead you to very bad places. There’s no guarantees.
Was it hard for you to adjust to working with a new cast and crew after so long on “The Sopranos”? Jackie Peyton was a very different animal than Carmela Soprano.
Carmela was long gone from my brain. Our job is to play a character and do a good job. and when you go home, she’s gone. As soon as I start a new job I’m somebody new. I’m not carrying the old job with me. (After “Sopranos”) I got plenty of scripts about mob people, and about being the long-suffering wife of a powerful man. I was not all that interested in going into that territory again. Even physically, I didn’t want the hair and makeup and jewelry routine. I just wanted short hair and one outfit.
What was it like going from being a key supporting character to being the center of the show?
It was good for me. I’m kind of a busybody. I like to be around all the time. I love to watch when everybody’s working. It’s just the way I am. I like to be involved.
Do you have any interest in writing or directing?
That does not interest me at all. I love what I do. There’s plenty more to do there.
What are you looking for as you hunt for your next series? Would you be open to a traditional comedy series?
In a word — no. It’s fun but I need to be moved. There are people who can feed their whole soul with comedy. I really need to feel like there’s some deeper subterranean movement in the piece. Whether or not other people see it, I need to feel that there’s something deeper going on. … I’m reading all kinds of stuff, I’m back in that place but nothing’s grabbing be. I’ve relied heavily on this unnamed visceral thing that I’ve come to trust. It’s still sleeping. I’m not being moved by anything. I’ll know when it’s time. But as of now I’m spending a lot of time with my kids which is what I miss most ferociously when I’m working. My kids are 10 and 7 — the age when they recognize when their mom’s not around.
Are you looking for stage opportunities?
I love the idea of doing stage. But my standards have changed. Theater in particular is really grueling. You’re never home in the evening, you never get to say goodnight to your kids. Your weekends are blown. That schedule is hard on a family. If it’s not something I’m absolutely crazy about, I can’t do it. I’ve done plays that were not well received, and you still have to show up and do eight shows a week.
Do you like to watch your work after it’s done?
When I see something I shot even a year ago, I have no memory of doing it. I shoot it and it’s gone. I memorize things so quickly before shooting. With “Jackie” I would occasionally watch to see how it was cut together, for educational purposes. But once it’s done my interest wanes. … There are many episodes of “Sopranos” I’ve never seen. I fell into this binge-watching thing recently with “Six Feet Under.” I saw “Sopranos” (was available) and for the first time I actually said ‘Maybe I’ll watch that show.’ But I still can’t do it. It’s not the benign experience it might be for other people. And also because of Jim (Gandolfini), who I love — I still can’t do it. It’s too emotional. (Falco’s “Sopranos” co-star died in 2013).
As “Nurse Jackie’s” finale approaches, how do you feel about the overall experience of the show?
I love what I get to do. I love it so much. (Co-star) Merritt Wever was a gift from heaven. We had so many great people on this show. It’s such tremendous good fortune that I get to do this and make a living at it. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude all the time.