After seven seasons and four Emmy nominations (including a 2010 win for best lead actress), Edie Falco is preparing to say goodbye to her adored but troubled character Jackie Peyton when Showtime’s Nurse Jackie signs out for good on June 28. Falco chatted with EW about what it was like to play a highly skilled but drug-addicted medical professional, how she drew on real life experiences to get into character, and what they secretly used for all those drug scenes.
EW: Nurse Jackie has been both a critical darling and a fan favorite since the beginning. Did you have any idea it would be so embraced?
EDIE FALCO: No idea. When I go into these things, I only have a visceral sense that there’s something interesting about the character — I never know how the character will be perceived. You only hope people will want to watch her as much as I like to play her. But I’m grateful people have watched the show they way they have.
EW: How difficult was it to do a comedy focused on something as serious as drug addiction?
EF: The first version was called Nurse Mona, and there was nothing funny about it. It was really, really dark. I responded to it immediately! The comedy came in when [cocreators] Liz Brixius and Linda Wallem got ahold of it, and Showtime was looking for a comedy. They infused that into the script, and we ended up with this unusual piece, tonally. I didn’t know what it would be like for an audience to watch. We were doing a show that’s funny and lighthearted but, yes, at its center, was about an addict, so it was important that we be respectful of the magnitude of that issue. Because anybody who’s been through it knows it isn’t funny.
EW: How did you research the character’s addiction? For her rehab stint, did you visit any rehabs?
EF: No. I’m a longtime AA person, so I definitely understood the language of the 12-step programs, which they often use. But since she was a newcomer to all of it, I thought, “I’ll be a newcomer, too.”
EW: Can you tell us what you guys used for the countless drug-snorting scenes?
EF: I’m afraid I can’t divulge. Nah, I’m kidding. [laughs] They were sugar pills. We had a lot of opportunity for mishap, but thankfully that never happened.
EW: What’s going to be the hardest part about saying goodbye to the show?
EF: The reality of showing up to the job every day. The people I worked with…I’ve never known a work environment like that before. I’d like to think I’ll have it again, but I do know up until this point it’s never been this good. I’ll miss seeing my friends every day.
EW: Did you get to keep any mementos from set?
EF: I did keep the necklace that Jackie always wears. And some of the costumes.
EW: I bet the costumes were actually really comfy.
EF: They were! It was one of the lovely things about playing this character — she wore a lot of comfortable shoes. Huge relief.
EW: So many fans were invested in this character for so long. At the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from it?
EF: I wanted people to know that they are not alone — caring about someone who doesn’t care about themselves, what a losing battle that can be for someone who loves them. It’s everywhere, and not a weakness on your part that you keep helping them; it’s just the nature of this illness. It’s just tremendously sad.
EW: On a lighter note, you also got to make out with a lot of hot guys like Billie Joe Armstrong over the years.
EF: Yeah, it’s crazy. With Billie Joe, I didn’t know much about Green Day or him, but added intimidation does nobody any good. So as far as I was concerned, he was just a guy.
EW: Have you watched the finale yet?
EF: I haven’t! I get kind of weird about that stuff — I still haven’t seen a lot of The Sopranos at this point. But I did [watch] the Sopranos finale with friends. I burst into tears and couldn’t stop, and completely fell apart. You just think, ‘It’s the last time we’re doing this!” This just feels the like the end to me. I’m funny about this stuff.
EW: What’s up next for you?
EF: I’m reading things, but it’s got to be something that I’m knock-down, cuckoo-crazy about. There are lots of interesting things out there. I’m up for another series — it’s a lifestyle that really suits me. I like having a steady work life. It’s like having a real job!