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Nurse Jackie’s Edie Falco on a Dramatic Season, Playing an Addict, and Jackie’s Future

This past Sunday, Showtime’s dramedy Nurse Jackie wrapped season six with Edie Falco’s titular, pill-popping alter ego in deep legal trouble and ostracized from nearly everyone in her life. Fortunately, the actress herself — who’s been sober for more than 20 years and whose children happily arrive home from camp during our chat — shares little of Nurse Peyton’s dysfunction. And despite being eager to catch up with her kids, Falco took some time to discuss the distinction between portraying and obsessing over characters, Jackie’s uphill battles, and having fun amid all the scripted gloom.

Were you a part of the decision-making process to take Jackie’s journey to such especially dark places?
Originally, the drugs were not a part of her story, and I had all kinds of mixed feelings about it. But I thought if it was gonna be about her drug addiction, then it’s gotta be portrayed in a way that feels real to me. I wanted to depict my experience of addiction. Not my own, per se, but certainly my experience with addictions in the lives of people I know and love. It’s very rarely smooth and pretty, and it’s more often than not a tragedy. I have no idea what the next course of action is for Jackie. I ask them not to tell me until they get there. I let them do their piece. So I had nothing to do with the ins and outs of what happened to her, but that was the one piece that was very important to me.

Did it pain you to play her this past season, as she made such terrible choices?
It’s hard to say, because as an actor, it’s fun. [Laughs.] But also, there’s something redemptive about feeling so personally far away from her journey and to be able to step inside of it knowing that I can go home to my real life, which is pretty spectacular. It’s just a bizarre thing, what I do for a living.

As you read the season’s scripts, was there ever a point where Jackie struck you as an out-and-out villain?
Um, no, not really, 'cause I see it from more inside of her. I can guarantee you that nobody’s harder on her than she is. It’s not like she doesn’t, on some level, know what she’s doing. It’s not like she doesn’t desperately want to not be doing those things. But when you are a slave to your addiction, it’s always your master, and there’s nothing you can do. But if you’re lucky, you break free from it; but more often than not, you’re at it’s whim. It’s heartbreaking in that way.

Do you think it’s understandable if the people around Jackie, or any addict, have their limits?
Absolutely. And if you go to any Al-Anon meeting, they will tell you that a sane person will walk away from that in order to keep their own sanity and ultimately be more helpful to the addict. But yeah, everyone has a different tolerance level, and there are some people who groove on being around somebody who’s a mess. It makes them feel valuable. There are all kinds of crazy, codependent relationships that go on around an addict, but there are some people who would and should walk away.

Is Jackie’s relapse, and the way it has affected her family and friends, illustrative of why she never wanted them too close?
Gosh. I don’t know if I have perspective enough on that. As far as Adam Ferrara’s character [Jackie’s boyfriend, Frank] is concerned, I don’t think she’s capable of really letting anybody in until she’s spent some good, solid time alone — kind of letting herself in, building up some solid trust in herself. So any attempt she may make to pull people in is only gonna backfire, because she’s incapable of connection at this point.

The only person she feels safe turning to, who doesn’t judge her, is Eddie.
Right, he’s tried and true, to some extent.

But is he an enabler?
Yeah, of course. But also, I think she knows she has him caught a little bit. If she was to decide, “It’s me and you, let’s do this,” he might drop everything and go for it. He’s under his own spell around her. It’s not just a friend helping a friend. It might be interesting to him because he knows he can’t have her. I don’t think it’s a completely healthy friendship, but it’s the one that’s been sort of consistent.

What might Jackie have to do to get people like Grace and Zoey back on her side?
The truth is, whatever they write is what’s gonna happen. [Laughs.] I feel like it’s my job to make it make sense. Any number of things can happen. There are as many possibilities as there are addicts in the world. It depends on a million different things about the people around her and their tolerance, and Jackie and her ability to pull herself together, or willingness, even. There are so many variables, so I’m glad I’m not at the helm having to make those decisions.

Grace in particular has really stood as more than just your token angsty teen.
Yeah, she’s more than a typical teenager going through their hormonal, rejection-of-Mom kind of thing. To add the piece of her mom’s craziness into that certainly changes the dynamic. If you knew [actress Ruby Jerins], you would not believe how far from this character she is. She’s smiley and jumps around, and is absolutely darling and sweet and smart and well spoken. And then she gets on set and I can’t stand to be around her. [Laughs] Grace is like a monster. She’s just awful — that kind of surly, monotone thing that all teenagers have.

Is it important for you to distinguish between being a conduit for Jackie versus taking full ownership over her?
Exactly. I know my limits as far as what I’m interested in. I don’t want to create the show. That’s a whole different part of my brain. I’m very happy to say the words that other people have spent hours figuring out how it works in the larger scheme of the story, and I trust them implicitly.

Photo: Splash News/corbis