Emmys: Edie Falco of 'Nurse Jackie' Gets Candid About Jackie's Evolution
"Everything was going right for Jackie, and when push comes to shove, I don't think she can handle that," the actress tells THR.
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the fifth-season finale of Nurse Jackie.]
Jackie Peyton is back where she started on Showtime's Nurse Jackie.
After two seasons playing sober on the half-hour dramedy, Edie Falco's titular character was overwhelmed when she struggled to adjust to a new feeling: happiness. In a bid to gain control over the newfound sensation, Jackie does the unthinkable just as she's preparing to celebrate one year of sobriety: She pops a pill and heads to the ceremony -- attended by friends and family -- high as a kite.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with four-time Emmy-winning Falco to discuss the character's evolution as well as filming scenes that hit close to home for the sober actress.
The Hollywood Reporter: This was your first season with new showrunner Clyde Phillips. What kind of discussions did you have with him about changes to the show?
Edie Falco: My manager, Richie Jackson, who is also an executive producer of the show, told me about him and said he came very highly recommended, and we all had a lunch. I got a feeling from him that seemed just right. Personality-wise and also, to a large degree, it was his enthusiasm about the show and taking over this job that sold me. He's a big fan of the show, and he wanted to see a little more humor. He wanted more extremes, for some parts of the series to be more lighthearted and some to be heavier. He wanted the emergency room scenes to have higher stakes.
THR: Last season, Jackie was dealt a very big loss with the death of her young rehab confidant, Charlie. This season, she tried to maintain her sobriety. Did your approach to the character change knowing she'd still be clean this season?
Falco: Charlie's death was big. When it comes to addiction, it's not very discerning or discriminating; it doesn't matter the age or the ethnicity or the sex of the person. You will find a compadre who will listen and who you can listen to, and Charlie was the guy for her. That storyline was very sweet and rang true to me. I didn't feel any different this season because in the past she had moments of trying to do good in various departments of her life. She re-ups and starts again, so it felt kind of like that but with more history behind her and having control of her addiction. Everybody knows she's not just fighting the good fight to try to save herself, but she's also fighting her reputation in that people are always going to assume the worst. That carries with it its own challenges. She felt like the same woman to me just in a different chapter of her life, which God knows we all have. It felt very much in fitting with the character I'd known before.
THR: This year, Jackie had a new romance with Frank (Adam Ferrara), which starts out completely honest but quickly devolves from there as we see Jackie struggle with being happy and sober at the same time.
Falco: She was really struggling with, is it OK to be happy? Does she deserve to really have a good thing with this guy after all that she's done? And the Cruz (Bobby Cannavale) situation [where he returns and Jackie cheats on Frank with him] would certainly be a way to muck it up and feel very much in keeping with the part of her as an addict. It was taking a little foray down the rabbit hole because she feels that's what she deserves -- that she's not really as clean and as good as Frank makes her feel. So it's a way of reminding her who she really is in her dark places.
THR: There's this great line in The Perks of Being a Wallflower where they say you accept the love you think you deserve, and Jackie's decision to sabotage her relationship with Frank very much reminded me of that.
Falco: That's it. It's so antithetical to the way she's been, and it doesn't fit in with the way she's treated herself all these years on some level.
THR: The final moment of the finale finds Jackie popping a pill she'd stashed with her wedding ring and heading off to take her one-year of sobriety cake.
Falco: Everything was going right for Jackie, and when push comes to shove, I don't think she can handle that. I don't think she knows yet how to do that, how to be OK with that. The whole thing is on such a deeply unconscious level that it defies intellectual description, certainly by her. I don't think she can articulate why she was compelled at that last moment. But yes, it seems like everything about her life was good, and all the people who mattered to her were going to be at her ceremony. She had to f--k it up. It's heartbreaking because you see it everywhere in your life. When people see a young kid, it's, "He had such promise in high school, but he just threw it all away by drinking and drugging." If the outside is not matching the inside, something has got to give. Something has got to make sure they do match one way or another.
THR: As a parent, what was it like filming the scenes where your onscreen daughter gets caught experimenting with drugs?
Falco: It was really, really hard. My kids are little and they still adore me, and like every parent, you think your kids will never go through that. I'm still living in that oblivious place right now. As a single parent with an addiction problem, I think it certainly does complicate matters. Ruby Jerins, the actress who plays Grace, is so good it made my job easy.
THR: Did Clyde's focus on adding a bit more humor this season make the heavy material easier to play?
Falco: For sure. I think also in real life if you talk to the real nurses we get to meet as we work on this there's a lot of joking around that goes on in the emergency room as a way to keep sane and balance the seriousness of the real world stuff they're dealing with every day.
THR: As an advocate of the 12-step program, what was filming that final scene like where Jackie says she's an addict and is a year sober and the audience knows she's high?
Falco: It's awful. I've lived that scene, not personally, but having been in the audience in a crowd for who's celebrating who's f--ked up and someone who's loved someone who has been in and out and struggled and come and gone. It was an outcome of the life of an addict who is recovering that's very dramatic, and it rips your heart out. But it's no joke, and you want to get angry at these people, but the truth is they would do better if they could. To see them fall down again and again and it just rips your heart out. It makes no sense to someone who doesn't understand the nature of addiction. It's like, "What the hell?" Everything was going great, and that's exactly why Jackie took that pill. But it's hard to understand that if you don't come from that mindset.
THR: At what point this season did the producers tell you exactly what Jackie's journey would be?
Falco: They didn't. Three days before we shot it, I read it at the same as all the cast. I don't want to know. I've asked them specifically not to fill me in on that stuff. If I know about it beforehand, it changes my performance, even in subtle ways. I prefer to go at it like you go through real life when something broadsides you. I really want it to do that to the extent that I can with the script.
THR: What was your reaction when you first read it?
Falco: I was devastated. All of us in the cast and crew after we got the script couldn't believe it. The second feeling though was ecstasy. It's very brave I thought, and if you're going to do a show about addiction, all I ask as someone who has struggled with this is that it be true to life to the extent that you can make a TV show true. When it's the last thing that you think will happen, someone turns around and falls off the wagon and you're devastated by it. This is about as honest as you can be, and I'm very proud to be a part of the show that is brave enough to do that.
THR: What did you say to the writers after reading the scene?
Falco: I told them it was devastating but that I was very proud of them for doing it because that was what I said early on. I said in season one or two that we're telling the story of an addict, which can be very funny, but I also have a very warm place in my heart for this subject matter and want it to be something very real. I don't want it to be, "Oh look how funny it is that she chops up pills and puts them into Sweet'N Low." There have to be ramifications for this. I have an obligation to myself to not have this whole show be just fun and games. If we're going to continue doing this show, it has to have consequences. So it meant a great deal to me. I really was very grateful to the writers and the production team for taking that seriously.
THR: How many takes did you film for that scene where Jackie is standing at the podium taking her cake?
Falco: We did about 600 different takes because we didn't quite know what we were going to do. First Jackie was going to say something, then she was going to say nothing, then she was going to say something and pause. So we tried a million different things, including where she looks at O'Hara (Eve Best), who returned for it. We shot about 50 different pieces of a puzzle so that they can go into editing and put it together in a way that made the most sense. We all put our two cents in, and then we got together to decide what we can do best and came up with something that we were all pleased with.
Sundance: On the Scene