Edie Falco: ‘Alcohol was the answer to all my problems – and the cause of them’

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IDie Falco has never been the type of actor who demands and repeats entrees. Fanfare and fuss are not his bags, and he has little time to show off. When other actors talk about their “process,” as she says it—with a capital P—she thinks, “What are you talking about?!” With her open, thoughtful face and wide smile, she looks like she could be your friend from the local coffee shop, in contrast to one of the most acclaimed American actors of this century, who has won two Golden Globes, four Emmys, and four Emmys. Five screens have been submitted. Actors Guild Awards, as well as a jaw-dropping 47 nominations. This impression of straightness and — oh terrifying word — relativity makes his subtle performances of self-deceiving characters even more powerful. As Carmella, the wife of the mob in The Sopranos, she could tell Tony (James Gandolfini) what she thought about him being out all night with his “guts”, or mistresses, but she could accept herself. Couldn’t do that too badly to fund the life she loves. Likewise, as Nurse Jackie in the eponymous TV series, her clean face and wispy short hair belie her character’s drug addiction.

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So it seems fitting that, as we join the video chat, Falco, 58, is sitting—not in a fancy hotel room or Hollywood mansion, but in the insanely messy basement of her New York home, where she lives with him. Son, 16, and daughter, 13. Electrical appliances hang from the wall behind her, and she leans on a table she describes as “god knows, some stuff.”


“I’m in my office, or the craft room, I don’t know what you call it. That’s where I hang things and fix things and sew things,” she says. It’s hard to imagine That Carmella has started a drill, but then again, Falco and her most famous character don’t have much in common. For a start, Falco can’t cook. Wait, Carmella, the best cook in the state, Manufacturers of the largest baked ziti God ever known, can’t make Bolognese?

“Not even around. If you look at the scenes in the show in which I have to cook, you’ll see that the camera never showed my hands, because I don’t know how to do that. That food’s like my food I was a vegetarian on the show and in the last 10 years I became a vegetarian.

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Edie Falco with James Gandolfini in The Sopranos. Photograph: Channel 4 Picture Publicity

Tony would never stand up for it. So how did he eat all that lasagne on The Sopranos? “We learned the tricks so it felt like we were eating, but we weren’t. But Jim ate at every friggin’ take, and he ate in between. There was a scene we were shooting where he was eating a bowl of ice cream. was eating, and at every take he ate and then refilled the bowl, and then at one point, I realized he wasn’t really listening to me – he had gone into a sugar coma! Us another day The rest of the scene was to stop and shoot. He was like a five-year-old: ‘Ice cream is good, I love it!’ I was like, ‘You stop, you’ll be sick!'”

Gandolfini died of a heart attack in 2013 at the age of 51. “It’s sad. Just incredibly sad,” she says. Recently, she and one of her closest friends, Aida Turturro, who played the deliciously infuriating Janice Soprano, tried to watch the entire show as they had never seen it. They only lasted four episodes.

“It was so frightening, and a big part of it is Jim. People die and you move on, then you see them on screen, and it’s so shocking. And Jimmy and I were kids then! Neither of us” knew what we were doing, but we acted the same way, not preparing, but in a sandbox like kids. Aida and I watched a few episodes and I said, ‘This is killing me,'” she says .

Falco and Gandolfini’s marital chemistry was so true, their on-screen fight so devastating, that the audience felt like they were actually married, and Falco felt the same way. “I adored Jimmy, but we didn’t hang out much. So when I looked at his face, it wasn’t Jim, it was Tony. Plus, she adds, “married” to him for eight years in The Sopranos. spent, she had “the longest intimate relationship ever.” She’s certain it’s because people still think of her as an embattled wife, 14 years after The Sopranos ended, giving her her latest role. In Impeachment as Hillary Clinton: American Crime Story, Ryan Murphy Reflects on President Clinton’s Affair with Monica Lewinsky. “I’m sure Ryan thought, ‘Oh the fight scene with Eddie’s husband’ do’, you know what I mean?” she says.

Impeachment: Eddie Falco as Hillary Clinton in American Crime Story.
‘I think Hillary is a really good person’ … Eddie Falco as Clinton in Impeachment: American Crime Story. Photo: Tina Thorpe/BBC/FX

I’d never thought about the relationship between Hilary and Carmella before, but in fact, they stack up pretty well: They’re both women married to powerful men with definite self-control problems. They are determined to keep their marriages together, even if it means compromising themselves to do so. And they too, in varying degrees, lie to themselves. According to the impeachment, Hillary is really shocked when Clinton finally tells her that she had an affair with Lewinsky, even though they were accused of having affairs before. “I don’t know how Hillary could have gone through the day if she had told herself.” [what her husband was doing], and Carmella’s whole life was denial. Had she thought about what her husband had done to earn money, he would have blown up the whole family.”

But Falco is a Hillary supporter, so she takes care to emphasize that the former secretary of state doesn’t exactly sound like the mob’s wife: “I think Hillary is a really nice person and in public service. I don’t believe that was the case with Carmella. She wanted what she had: home, kids, money,” she says.

It’s a bit unfair to ask Falco to compare his character in Impeachment to his character in The Sopranos, as he played the former for a few days and the latter for eight years: “By the end, I really felt like That I’m behaving a part of myself. Like Carmella, like she was my alter ego,” she says. When The Sopranos’ creator, David Chase, called her a year ago to ask if she wanted to be one of her Sopranos. As Carmella could do a monologue for the prequel film, Many Saints of Newark, Falco was playing: “And then, just like that, I was Carmella again, who felt so crazy, because I was now a different person.” The person I was,” she says.

I ask what he thought Vera Farmiga performance As for Tony’s mother in the film, noting how similar she was to Carmella, playing the Freudian side of Tony: “Well, it was weird looking, manners. But she did a great job.” Did Falco,” she says. Was Falco annoyed that Chase eventually cut her monologue? “No, never! It was a lot of fun working with David. I honestly couldn’t care less about not being in the movie. It’s always just about work,” she says, and I really believe in her.

Edie Falco with David St. Louis in Tommy.
Edie Falco with David St. Louis in Tommy. Photograph: CBS Photo Archive/CBS/Getty Images

Falco grew up on Long Island, the second of four children, with a mother to an amateur actor and a jazz drummer father. “There was very little about my upbringing that was traditional. We had two creative-minded young people trying to create a family, so we really grew up,” she says. Her parents divorced twice and remarried each other, “and my mother had other husbands in between, so there was a lot of chaos.”

Does she wonder why her onscreen marriage with Gandolfini was her longest relationship, since she didn’t grow up with a template for marriage? “So much.

Her mother would bring her along whenever she was rehearsing a play, and Falco quickly got the acting bug. The problem was that she was very shy. She was talented, so she joined the State University of New York (SUNY) purchase (acting) program, in the same era as Stanley Tucci and Ving Rams. But, while the other kids were good at putting themselves forward and talking about their “process,” Falco remained in the shadows, and his confidence plummeted. He has talked about his alcoholism in the past and I ask if he started drinking to compensate for his shyness.

“Totally. I hadn’t been drinking for years, then I had my first drink in college and I found nirvana. It was the answer to all my problems, and the cause of all my other problems.” Did he just use alcohol? “Yeah, but only because I didn’t have money. I was a big fan of cocaine if it was around, but I could never stand it, and marijuana just gave me anxiety.

She would choose boyfriends based on whether or not they drank — “I was waiting to hear how soon they’d mention alcohol, and that’s how I knew they were the next guy” — and reassured herself. Did that she did a better job when she was hungry. But one March morning, when she was 29, she woke up in her apartment after a long night, saw she had left her front door open, and knew she was done. Soon after, her career took off, with small roles in films including Cop Land with Sylvester Stallone and Hal Hartley Trust, although she was still, she says, “a waitress for almost 20 years”. When she auditioned for The Sopranos, she was sure Marisa Tomei or Annabella Sciorra would get the part, which allowed her to enjoy the audition and not worry about it. Was she scared when she found out she had it? “Absolutely not. I knew I could do it. An Italian-American…

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