It’s a no-frills, working-class aesthetic that informs her best parts—like her three-season stint as a corrections officer in HBO’s Oz, or her current role as Jackie Peyton, a committed if weary nurse in a New York City hospital. Falco passed on the original Nurse Jackie pilot, when it had a supernatural bent. Her manager, Richie Jackson, liked the hospital idea, so Showtime recruited writer-producer Liz Brixius and sitcom vet Linda Wallem (The Comeback, Cybill) to rework the script. Brixius and Wallem resolved to make Jackie less M. Night Shyamalan and more Paddy Chayefsky, specifically aspiring to the latter’s poison-penned institutional satires The Hospital (1971) and Network (1976). “In both films, there’s a crumbling, monolithic business and a wise, slightly unhinged character at its center,” says Brixius. “And that’s Edie, at the center of a crumbling health-care system, where poignancy, humor, and absurdity live.”
Not to mention good old premium-cable anti-heroism. If Falco’s new gig has her leaving behind Carmela Soprano’s capo di tutti capi and Roche-Bobois furnishings to portray an overworked cog in the medical-industrial complex, it also keeps (a)morality at the center of things and her character in the grip of something larger—where once it was the family (and the Family), now it’s an addiction to prescription painkillers.
That dark master leaves Jackie just corrupt enough not only to break hospital protocol—and, occasionally, the law—in the name of helping a patient but also to engage in daily adulterous hookups with the in-house pharmacist (Sopranos alum Paul Schulze). Falco, Brixius, and Wallem are all 12-steppers with double-digit years in recovery. The three tapped into the memory of their “active” years, which is why Jackie’s experience mirrors Falco’s own—in “how a teeny part of your brain is telling you ‘I’m going to have to deal with this one day,’ but not even enough to form that sentence. It just sort of looms.” Falco loved the process of creating her character. “There was something about the energy of three sober women sitting in a room together,” she says, “like, Holy shit, look at us, all these years later.”
In late 2004, she adopted her first child as a single mother: Anderson, now age 4. Last year, she adopted Macy, who is 1. “I don’t know if it comes across,” says Mendelsohn, “but Edie is an intensely rigorous person. She sets very strict demands for herself. But she’s so unbelievably carefree and playful when it comes to the children, and even luxuriates in giving them allowances she doesn’t give herself.”
The word Falco uses to describe her new life is surprise. She recounts a scene from that morning. “I can’t get Anderson to sleep in his bed,” she says. “So I put a mattress on the floor in my room. Then I got Macy up and gave her a bottle, and I sat there looking out my window at the trees and thought, This is me and my family. I don’t know; I’ve never been this happy.”