From the heart of the mob to the ER

'Nurse Jackie' is the best of the new hospital drama imports from America, thanks to a blistering, blackly comic turn from 'Sopranos' star Edie Falco

In the post-ER world of American medical dramas, doctors are making way for nurses – and the two most hotly anticipated new US shows of last year featured very different breeds of nurses as their chief protagonist.

Christina Hawthorne, the eponymous heroine of Hawthorne, played by Jada Pinkett-Smith (Mrs Will Smith), is a paragon of a head nurse: a beautiful widow who sticks up for her patients and staff, even championing the janitor when he complains the hospital bean-counters have made him switch to a cheaper brand of disinfectant.

Jackie Peyton, on the other hand, a New York City emergency room nurse at the centre of the dark new comedy drama Nurse Jackie, couldn't be less saintly. Addicted to painkillers ("What do you call a nurse with a bad back?", she asks at the beginning of the first episode. "Unemployed... boom, boom."), Jackie isn't above having functional sex with the hospital pharmacist in return for her regular fix of pills. Oh, and she quotes TS Eliot. She's complex and flawed, and no prizes for guessing which nurse critics and viewers have taken to their hearts.

Nurse Jackie is up for a Golden Globe later this month – or, to be precise, its star, Edie Falco, has been nominated as Best Actress. Not that the 46-year-old, Brooklyn-born Falco is any stranger to Golden Globes. Over the course of the Noughties she picked up two of them, as well as three Emmys and five Screen Actors Guild Awards (the first actress ever to pick up that particular triumvirate) for the role that plucked her from obscurity – Tony Soprano's wife, Carmela, in HBO's The Sopranos.

Falco's portrayal of the First Lady of the New Jersey mob was so beautifully nuanced and ambiguous, that a character that might easily have been despicable for her crass materialism and her willingness to turn a blind eye to murder and infidelity in order to enjoy the fruits of her husband's labour, became instead deeply sympathetic. For Falco the role changed everything. She went from being an actress in her thirties, with plenty of bitter waitressing experience ("I was a monster; I was rude."), to being feted internationally.

"Thank God I was in my mid-thirties when this all started to happen," Falco told New York Magazine in 2007. "Had this happened to me 15 years ago, that would not be good. Bad, ugly things! Luckily, nobody cared. Nobody was taking pictures." She is referring to her drinking – her years of "hanging out with very scary and dangerous people and behaving in ways that I was horrified by" – until after one particular night of debauchery, she woke up and realised "Ok, I'm done".

She's been dry for 17 years now, which made hanging out with The Sopranos cast – notorious party animals, by all accounts – more of a chore than a blast. "I'm always invited, and I'm always there for two minutes and I leave, because I can't live in that world anymore. It's too dangerous", she said at the time. Her experiences have left their mark, however, and her face is a compelling mixture of lived-in, slightly damaged street savvy and a sensitive, sharply intelligent beauty. She looks more like her Swedish-American mother than her Italian-American father.

Nurse Jackie provides another plum role in a show that looks like it might run and run – a second series was commissioned just two days after the first episode aired in the States and in the UK, the first five episodes will be shown over five consecutive nights on BBC2. The other post-Carmela parts Falco was being offered weren't worthy – she didn't have high hopes when her friend uttered a phrase she had come to dread. "Those scary words: 'My friend has a script he wants you to read.'" However she saw something in Evan Dunsky's darkly surreal narrative, which was then handed over to television comedy veteran Linda Wallem (Cybill; That '70s Show) and her writing partner, Liz Brixius, for a rewrite. Brixius and Wallem were then able to put their own life experiences to use. Wallem had been to the Betty Ford Center when she was 31, and Brixius spent her 21st birthday in rehab – her third spell. "We have no interest in someone who's getting sober," Wallem told the Chicago Tribune. "I said to Lizzie, 'She can't be sober for at least five seasons.'"

Nurse Jackie's adultery and pill habit didn't please nursing bodies and conservative groups however, much to Falco's anger. "This is the story of a woman. It's not about nurses – she happens to be a nurse. If she was a plumber, she'd still be a drug addict. She'd be sniffing Drano or something."

However, the goodwill built up over six seasons of playing Carmela Soprano gave the character considerable leeway. Jackie has her own family to deal with (including an over-anxious daughter) – even if it is only mildly dysfunctional compared to the Sopranos. Falco herself has two adopted children, four-year-old Anderson (named after her mother, actress Judith M Anderson), and a baby daughter, Macy.

Nurse Jackie's substance abuse is not the only semi-autobiographical element in the show – for Falco has also been one half of an adulterous relationship, when an affair with Stanley Tucci, her co-star in a 2003 Broadway production of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, caused a temporary rift in Tucci's marriage. Tucci, an old friend of Falco's from acting school, returned to his wife, Kate, a year later.

"We were together and then we broke up," was Falco's terse comment on the matter. "He's a lovely man, and he's back with his wife and kids, and I'm thrilled."

Tragically, Kate Tucci died of breast cancer last year. Falco was herself diagnosed with the disease in 2003, but seems to have made a full recovery. Naturally shy (like many a hard drinker, or ex-hard drinker) and private, she is one of those actresses who let their performances speak for themselves. "Don't pin it down. Leave questions. Treat the audience like they're smart," she has said of her creative philosophy.

"Having Edie – it's like watching Tiger Woods play golf. It's more exciting if he has a really hard course," says Wallem. "Nine times out of 10, [Falco's feedback is] 'This is a little too much. Can I say less?'" says Brixius. "How anti-actress is that?"

'Nurse Jackie' starts on BBC2 on Monday at 10pm

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album