Slate: As an actor, how do you convey a shell like the one Jackie Peyton has constructed?
Falco: Well, it’s actually fun, because it’s so far from who I really am. Jackie’s kind of a hard-ass. She believes that, and the people around her believe it. She talks to people in a way that I would never talk to people. She conducts her life in a way that I never would. She doesn’t care how she’s perceived. She’s not interested in being liked, and that’s very freeing for someone who is not like that.
Slate: Back in your Sopranos days, you said that putting on the fingernails was what allowed you to become Carmela—once they were on, you knew what to do. Is there an equivalent for Jackie?
Falco: With everything that you do, once the costume is on, and you’re in the pretend hospital, and you’re there with your co-workers, it all sort of snaps into place: Who you are, what it feels like, who these people are to you. If I had to dress up as Nurse Jackie and show up at the Soprano house, I imagine that I would be deeply confused.
Slate: Who do you think would win a fight between Jackie and Carmela?
Falco: Carmela, because Nurse Jackie’s traveling as a lone soldier. Carmela’s got some serious firepower behind her. If Jackie’s smart, she’ll just stay away from Carmela.
Slate: The bulk of your TV career has been on premium cable, which has the obvious advantage of giving you these roles that I can’t imagine existing on network television, but it does mean that you’re seen by a lot fewer people. Are you aware of that? Are you concerned by it?
Falco: I haven’t thought about that much. I have kind of liked the idea that people have to choose to see the stuff that I do. Especially if a kid is looking through the channels and comes to something that I’ve done—which oftentimes means bad language or subject matter that’s not for kids—that would upset me, so I like the idea that people have to make the choice to see this particular show.
It’s a very complicated issue, this fame thing—I was not really cut out for it. There are some really fantastic things about it, but it’s difficult for a private person like myself. If it helps that fewer people see me, then I’m exactly where I want to be.
Slate: You won an Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series for Nurse Jackie. Do you think the show is a comedy?
Falco: No, not really. Like so many shows, it’s got a bit of everything. I don’t really understand why things are characterized the way they are. I suppose from a business point of view, it has to be done. Will and Grace was a comedy. I Love Lucy was a comedy. I don’t know what you call this particular genre.
Slate: What’s your favorite TV show? Do you watch much TV?
Falco: No, I watch the Knicks play at Madison Square Garden. I don’t watch a lot of television. Right now I’m watching House Hunters and House Hunters International, which is the most traveling I’ve done in a long time.
Slate: That show makes everyone want to be a therapist. “Dude, you do not need six bathrooms.”
Falco: Right. It’s like The Newlywed Game. You think, “The way these people talk to each other—I give that marriage 10 minutes.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.