January 15, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

One would expect Edie Falco to be frazzled when she shows up for lunch at a Manhattan cafe. The actress has a lot on her plate. She costars in two HBO series, the Mafia saga The Sopranos and the prison drama Oz. She just shot a part opposite Harrison Ford in Random Hearts. She’s about to make her Broadway debut alongside Christian Slater in Side Man. Oh, and did we mention she’s moving today? And that she has bronchitis?

Yet Falco couldn’t be calmer. She’s thrilled with her vastly divergent HBO roles: Carmela Soprano’s a suburban mom married to a Mob don; Oz‘s Diane Wittlesey is a single mom working as a corrections officer. ”I’m shooting in either a prison or a New Jersey mansion, so it’s very different,” Falco says. ”On Oz, there’s so many guys that there’s a whole testosterone thing going on. I love a lot of these guys dearly, but they’re not all that tough.”

Being surrounded by guys is nothing new to Falco — her resume is studded with such macho fare as Law & Order and Cop Land. ”It’s where I’m most comfortable,” says the Long Island native. ”I grew up as a tomboy. I was always barefoot, running races with the guys on the block, climbing trees, and beating kids up.” That is, when she wasn’t watching her mom act in local productions. Falco studied theater at SUNY Purchase, where she met aspiring auteurs Hal Hartley (Trust) and Nick Gomez, who used her in their no-budget films.

Tom Fontana first saw Falco in Gomez’s Laws of Gravity and cast her in Homicide: Life on the Street and Oz. ”She’s an actress who’s unadorned by any embroidery,” he raves. ”She does everything with such simplicity and honesty, it’s breathtaking.” He doesn’t mind her Sopranos moonlighting, either: ”She should be on every HBO show. Put her on Arli$$!”

Falco probably wouldn’t complain about adding even that lame series to her packed schedule. ”Growing up, all I thought was if I can just act, I’d ask for nothing more,” she says. ”And I’ve got so much more — I have a home and a dog [Marley, a yellow lab/white shepherd] and a boyfriend [John Devlin, an assistant director/actor]. This is a little too personal, but in the middle of the night, I was crying because I’m so happy.” Don’t tell the cons on Oz.

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