The ''Nurse Jackie'' star and former Mrs. Soprano talks about her exciting new role

By Missy Schwartz
July 24, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT

When you star in one of the most celebrated television series of all time, you have to get used to people confusing you with your character. Long after The Sopranos ended in 2007, fans still addressed Edie Falco as Carmela. ”You get in that groove of people going ‘Hey, how you doin”” she says in a pitch-perfect New Joisey accent. ”It’s easier to join in than to tell them, ‘I’m not actually that lady.”’ Now, on her dark Showtime dramedy Nurse Jackie, Falco’s playing a very different kind of lady: a hardworking, morally complicated ER nurse who is devoted to her family but indulges in an ongoing fling with the hospital pharmacist — who, in turn, helps feed her addiction to painkillers. In the weeks since Jackie‘s June 8 premiere, viewers have started to embrace the three-time Emmy winner’s new identity. ”I was at a carnival this summer and somebody screamed, ‘Hey, Nurse Jackie!”’ she says. ”I almost broke down. It wasn’t ‘Carmela!’ which it’s been for 10 years. I thought, Wow. There really is a passing of the chapter here, right in front of my eyes.”

Warm and friendly in person — at one point she chats giddily about her fascination with tough-guy docuseries like COPS — Falco is vocally grateful for the fact that Showtime has renewed Jackie for a second season, even though with an average of 891,000 viewers for Monday’s 10:30 p.m. airing, it falls far short of The Sopranos‘ ratings highs. At the same time, she has no interest in drawing any attention to herself off screen. The VIP treatment she received from doctors during her 2003 battle with breast cancer, for example, made her extremely uneasy. ”It was a result of having been on Sopranos,” she recalls. ”I’d never been treated like that in my life.” (She’s now cancer-free.) Resolutely no-nonsense, the 46-year-old single mom lives by a simple rule: Go to work, then go home to her kids, Anderson, 4, and Macy, 1, whom she adopted in 2004 and 2008, respectively. (”I’m just not one of those people who thought having biological children was that important,” she told Parade in May. ”To me it was more about wanting to raise a child.”) And even when the praise is flowing, she never, ever reads her own press. ”There’s really no way to stay sane and read stuff that’s written about me,” she says. ”It’s better if I just do my job as best I can.” In that department, she couldn’t be more fulfilled. She appears in nearly every scene of Nurse Jackie, and, she says, ”[the producers] ask and they are generally interested in my input — I feel like such a grown-up!”

As season 1 heads to its Aug. 24 finale, Jackie will face serious consequences for her behavior, with her adultery and drug use leading to dramatic confrontations at work. But as far as next year’s story line goes, Falco is blissfully ignorant. ”I haven’t the foggiest,” she says. ”I love having no idea. I love that it’s not my job and I won’t find out until we start shooting again in September.” And if she’s lucky, by then everyone will be calling her Jackie.