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Outstanding

For some people, Edie Falco will always be Carmela, the loyal and long-suffering wife of Tony in HBO's multi-award winning series The Sopranos, which tackled life for a family inside a Mob family. To others, she's Diane Wittlesey, the first female correctional officer in the critically acclaimed prison drama series Oz.

To a new generation, Falco is the eponymous Nurse Jackie, playing an emergency room life-saver at New York's All Saints' Hospital. "Well, as an actor, it's just great when people don't think of you as only one character," says the 48-year-old actress.

"You can have a hard enough time convincing yourself and those around you that you're a certain character without the extra-added baggage of a famous role standing in the way, too. But, you know, I've been very lucky -- I've had a few famous roles, and each one has been a joy. And kept me in work, which is the most important thing."

Falco lets out a laugh. The only actress to win Emmys (that's TV's answer to the Oscars) for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy as well as Outstanding Actress in a Drama, Falco has come a long way from her Northport High School performance as Eliza Doolittle in a production of My Fair Lady. That was 30 years ago.

"Holy, it seems like yesterday," says Falco. "At the same time, it feels like it was a lifetime ago too. I knew then that this was the life for me though. I just got such a kick out of acting, and from there, I headed into an acting programme, and I've never looked back really."

PAUL BYRNE: With Nurse Jackie, you're nominated again for an Emmy, having won before for the role. Do you still get excited by such gongs and trinkets?

edie falco: Oh, sure, that's a big part of this job. If nothing else -- and everyone is flattered by any kind of pat on the back, no matter what they tell you -- the bottom line is, it keeps you in the game. It gives you a little leverage when it comes to landing that next part. And the part after that.

PB: Surely the success of a show like The Sopranos would guarantee Edie Falco work for another 10, 20 years ... ?

EF: It might, but then again, it might not. It doesn't take long for people to see you as yesterday's star, or yesterday's flavour of the month, and agents are only concerned with how audiences might perceive you. If they like you -- or, to be more precise, they like the work you've done -- that's certainly an advantage. But you have to keep making good work to stay afloat in this business. No amount of flash, bang or wallop from your agent, no amount of red-carpet surfing, is going to sustain a long career. And I want a long career. I'm not interested in being really famous. I'm interested in making really good work.

PB: It's a plan that seems to be working out for you. I'm guessing you at least have the luxury of being able to choose the roles you take on these days.

EF: I have a certain amount of sway, yeah, but it's not like I'm Angelina Jolie. It's always a gamble, and you hope that the combination of people you're going to work with along with the script all come together to make something special. On paper, Nurse Jackie might not seem like the most commercial property there is, but, thanks to the wonderful people I work with -- onscreen and off -- it works. Beautifully. And that's really the only goal you can have. If the work is good, you sleep better.

PB: Let's go back to the start, when your first real break came when Homicide: Life on the Street executive director Tom Fontana cast you as the wife of an injured cop. When he later came up with Oz, he cast you again. Did it feel like the beginning of a wonderful career at that time, or were you just happy to get money for the rent?

EF: I was mainly just happy to get money to pay the rent [laughs]. Truthfully, when anyone casts you because they like your work -- Tom had seen me in a 1992 film Laws of Gravity -- it's flattering. And it makes you work that little bit harder, because you want to repay their trust. I don't think I was ever expecting to become any kind of overnight sensation -- I wasn't that kind of actress, and I wasn't that kind of girl. So, yeah, I was incredibly happy to be getting any work, and certainly work that was being seen by millions of people.

PB: Over the years, you've won four Emmys, two Golden Globes and five Screen Actors Guild Awards, and now you've just picked up your first Tony Award nomination, for the current Broadway revival of The House of Blue Leaves, in which you star alongside Ben Stiller and Jennifer Jason Leigh. You never appear self-satisfied, but there must be a part of you that feels pretty damn chuffed with yourself?

EF: Oh, sure, there's definitely a part of me that feels chuffed. You feel proud of the work you've done, and the people that you did that work with. You can only truly look good in good company, and so I always think of all the other wonderful people around me when an award comes along. They're the ones who made me look good.

You know, playing Carmela Soprano when James Gandolfini is playing Tony Soprano, that's pretty inspiring stuff. It's like playing a duet with a great musician -- it just inspires you to go higher and higher, to find the real truth of the moment. As I've said before, I've been very lucky down through the years to have sparred with some wonderful, wonderful people. It's all about mixing it up, and getting to work alongside great people. That make you look good ...

Nurse Jackie is on BBC4 on Wednesdays at 10pm; the 63rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place on September 18


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