Edie Falco has tackled a wide variety of roles on the stage and screen since beginning her career in the late ‘80s. But she is arguably best known for her breakthrough performance as mafia wife Carmela Soprano in HBO’s drama, The Sopranos. Falco has also won multiple awards for her portrayal of a nurse hiding her drug addiction on the Showtime black comedy Nurse Jackie. For the latter role, the 51-year-old actress has her own well of personal experience to draw from, since she has personally been sober for over two decades.
Falco’s drinking first got out of control back when she was just a fledgling actress in the early ‘90s. “I was drunk all the time!” she told NY Magazine in 2008. “My life was an absolute mess, and I was hanging out with very scary and dangerous people and behaving in ways that I was horrified by. And after one particular night of debauchery, where I woke up—I won’t get into it. But I realized, Okay, I’m done.”
Although Falco had worked with such acclaimed directors as Hal Hartley and Woody Allen, and racked up recurring roles on the various prime time crime procedurals, she didn’t become a household name until years after she got sober—when she was cast on The Sopranos in 1999.
Being a sober cast member of the mafia drama proved a challenge, given her co-workers’ penchant for partying, she told NY Magazine. “This cast in particular, they really love to hang out and party,” she said. “They make it look like fun. And it was fun for me! They spend a lot more time without me than with me… 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.”
When The Sopranos ended after its six-season run, Falco moved on to Nurse Jackie, where she plays an emergency room nurse whose hidden drug addiction wreaks havoc on her personal and professional life. Her character is seen in various states of addiction, recovery and relapse, and it’s not uncommon for scenes to play out in rehab facilities or 12-step meetings.
Falco said in a recent NPR interview that playing a character who struggles with addiction particularly resonates for her because addiction is “a huge part” of her life. “All that stuff is of tremendous interest to me,” she said. “The helplessness around [addiction], and learning to deal with that, and all the various 12-step programs I’ve been a part of over the years, and how much they’ve helped me, and how hard it is to love somebody who is going through that and remain distant enough to not let it crush you each time.”
Falco has called her professional success “an embarrassment of riches” that she never expected, especially back when she was still using alcohol and drugs. “I had never anticipated also to not be going through my days drinking,” she said. “Of living a life without any kind of crutch. It’s a lot of really good stuff. And I dreamt small. So it’s all big. And continues to be.”