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'Nurse Jackie' star Edie Falco embraces change for season 5
Showtime dramedy will have a new showrunner in 'Dexter' vet Clyde Phillips
For most of her TV career, Edie Falco has benefited from continuity. Tom Fontana was the boss on “Oz” the entire time she was there. David Chase ran “The Sopranos” from first minute to last. And for the first four seasons of Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie,” Falco reported to writer/producers Linda Wallem and Liz Brixius.
But Wallem and Brixius left after the hospital dramedy’s fourth season, and have been replaced by former “Dexter” showrunner Clyde Phillips.(*) With the fifth season set to debut on Sunday night at 9, I talked with Falco about adjusting to a new boss, where Jackie’s head is at now that all her secrets are out in the open, and what her expectations are for whenever the series ends — especially given how her last show concluded.
(*) For years, I looked at both the Phillips-run “Dexter” and the Wallem/Brixius-run “Jackie” as two sides of the same coin: Showtime series that had great concepts and lead performances, but that squandered their potential by running in place and refusing to change the status quo. In the fourth “Jackie” season, Wallem and Brixius finally shook things up, and the series was vastly more interesting as a result. I was concerned that Phillips’ arrival might lead to a gigantic reboot to the way things used to be, but while he does undo a couple of things his predecessors set up last year, for the most part the five episodes I’ve seen feel of a piece with season 4. They’re good episodes, and I’ll pop in at some point during the season to comment on how things are going.
I’m curious about your reaction when you found out that Linda and Liz were leaving after having run the show for all those years.
Edie Falco: Well, you know, I’d seen them on a day-to-day basis, so I knew the difficulties with them remaining in New York. It wasn’t a huge surprise. It must be very hard to pick up your whole life and move to the other side of the country. So it’s not as if I didn’t understand.
Sure. But you had four years with them getting used to the way they ran the show, getting comfortable with the character. When you were on “The Sopranos,” David Chase was in charge of the show the entire time. Here you’re in a situation where somebody new is going to be taking over. Was there apprehension about that?
Edie Falco: Not really. I think because I had known for a while that this was likely going to happen, I had already prepared myself to some extent for things being different. I love Liz and Linda and they know that. But sometimes new stuff can really shake things up. I was able to organize it in my head so that that is what I was prepared for. It was exciting in a way.
Okay, so tell me about first meeting Clyde and what the two of you talked about in terms of what he wanted to do with the show.
Edie Falco: Well, when we first met, what I was most struck by was his excitement about the show and how much he thought of it and how much thought he’d given to the this meeting, and how much he looked forward to getting in there and seeing the way it worked. I can’t think of the right word but he’s very compliant, sort of. He wanted to hear about how we were used to things going. And he was respectful of the fact that we’d been doing this for a while. So it was definitely a great first meeting.
The previous season when Linda and Liz were still in charge was something of a big shift for the show, in that Jackie started having to really deal with the consequences of her actions and having people learn all these things about her. And Zoey moved in. So you’d already been through something of a big change with the character and the show.
Edie Falco: Right. Right. The thing is the nature of these series things is that there are always gonna be changes and I’m not the writer nor the show runner or creator. So I never know what’s gonna come at me. And the way I prefer to work is that I find out last minute, so it’s always exciting in that way. It’s a roller coaster and change is kind of what it’s about. You learn to roll with that and adjust as quickly as you can and make what you hope are interesting choices about character for the moment.
And now that you’ve filmed the whole season, looking back, how would you say the experience of doing season 5 was as compared to the other four?
Edie Falco: It couldn’t be more different. Apples and oranges. They almost feel like two different shows. Just in the energy — it’s neither better or worse, just very different. Linda was there all the time, so just to have that person absent, you definitely feel it. But we had a lot of new people who were also exciting and I tend to make the best of situations. Each year there’ll be a character or two that has an arc. And then when you start the following year they’re not there anymore, and you feel a loss. But also at the same time you’re adding new characters into the mix, so there’s always a different alchemy every year. And that’s actually kind of exciting.
So when somebody new comes in, what’s that experience initially like of, “Okay, we’re now gonna be spending a year together”?
Edie Falco: To tell you the truth it wasn’t really any different for me because I don’t really have a ton of contact with the major showrunner. I just do my job. They give me the script and we have the read throughs. The main actors and many of the core crew members were still there. That’s kind of where I focused: the storyline, the characters, the relationships, my daughters, and all that stuff that keep a strong sense of continuity. Other people kind of fold into the mix but it didn’t make such a huge impact that I felt like it was something that needed to be dealt with in any way. Things chugged along.
And Jackie still felt like Jackie to you?
Edie Falco: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. More so because every year as you, you know, we get to know her better and you’ve done another year of work as her and, yes, so every year it will continue. If it was anything other than that, we’d have to make an adjustment.
What kind of place is she at emotionally, would you say, coming into the season? We’ve already been through the year where all the secrets come out and the marriage falls apart. So where is Jackie starting season five?
Edie Falco: You know, life as a sober person which is, in a lot of ways, kind of like a rebirth. It’s like learning to walk again, because you don’t even realize how much you’ve used the crutch until you’ve stopped. You have to rebuild all those muscles, and I think that’s where we find her.
You famously said when you won the Emmy for the part that you’re not funny and you didn’t understand why you were getting it.
Edie Falco: Right.
Sometimes the character’s dramatic, sometimes she’s comic. Do you feel more comfortable with the comic side of things, five years in?
Edie Falco: Well, I will always get in trouble for this but I don’t – “Nurse Jackie” isn’t a comedy in my mind, you know what I mean? For some reason it’s been characterized that way, which is fine. It’s neither here nor there. But when I think of a comedy I think of “30 Rock.” There’s not a lot of drama in “30 Rock.” Nor is there supposed to be. It’s a different genre. So, you know, I just – it’s lovely. The whole thing is crazily flattering but I feel the same about comedy or drama as I always did: that people like Tina Fey have a talent that I can’t begin to understand. Really it’s a whole other thing and I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for what they’re able to do.
True, but even on “Sopranos,” which was even more overtly a drama than this is, you had a number of very famously funny moments on that show.
Edie Falco: Yeah, most dramas have a modicum at least of comedy in them. I think that makes them interesting and dimensional but I don’t think that was any more a drama than what I’m doing now. The way this business is run, things have to be categorized. It’s one of many things about this business I don’t understand, and I’m told to stop saying it’s not a comedy.
We don’t know how long the show is going to run at this point, but you’re almost certainly closer to the end than you are to the beginning. Have you given any thought to how you might like to see or how you might expect Jackie’s story to end?
Edie Falco: No, not even for a second, God’s honest truth. I don’t know. I also don’t have a lot of faith in my ability for wanting to say how should the story go. All I seem to do is go from the inside of the character. I can approach it from there. And the writers are so much better at coming up with the overall arc of a show, so I kind of stay out of it. And I’m always so excited and pleased to see what they come up with. It’s just like a different brain I would have to use in order to know the answer to that question. So I don’t really know. I imagine it could go any number of ways and I’m very excited to see which way it ends up going.
But if Clyde or whoever’s running the show at that point comes to you and says, “Okay, Jackie’s going out. She’s gonna have some onion rings. Then there’s gonna be a cut to black,” I assume you’re gonna protest.
Edie Falco: (laughs) I say, “Okay, when do I show up?”
It’s six years later. Do you still get questions about what you think happened there?
Edie Falco: All the time. All the time. It’s really unbelievable. It’s quite a phenomenon. I sure do.
And what do you tell people?
Edie Falco: I tell them I have no idea. And that’s the truth. You know, there are millions of theories and I’ve had so many people say, “So what actually happened?” Which is the idea, you know, that something happened and they just didn’t see it. They don’t realize that somebody yelled “Cut!” and we all went home. That’s what happened, you know. It’s charming and sweet and flattering, all of it. All of it.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com