Edie Falco Plays Another TV Mom

Edie Falco doesn't mind that people still see her as Carmela Soprano, the matriarch of television's most influential family drama. She just doesn't want to be seen as one of those mothers. You know the type. The self-righteous mommies who think parenthood demarcates humanity, separating the enlightened givers from the selfish egotists. She's not the kind to rail against immunizations or lecture on the evils of gluten. And yet, she can't help herself. "I hate the words coming out of my mouth, because I know how it sounds," says Falco, 45. "But being a mom is the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, and I can't believe how profound this experience has been for me."

That's not a statement made lightly for someone who has won three Emmys and a pair of Golden Globes, and triumphed over breast cancer. Falco's children, Anderson, 4, and Macy, 1, both of whom she adopted, must really be doing a number on her in the way that children do—by waltzing into their parents' lives and tossing things around unexpectedly, even when, as in Falco's case, they were expressly invited.

If you're just now finding out Falco adopted two children, it's not because you're out of the loop. It's because—though the Madonnas and the Jolie-Pitts of the world might disagree—it's possible for celebrities to adopt children without scrutiny or fanfare. Especially for a celebrity like Falco, who gives the impression that if it were possible to be a highly successful actress and anonymous, she would prefer it that way. But the chances of that are slim, since her face—and a syringe meant to evoke her raised middle finger—are now plastered on billboards advertising Showtime's Nurse Jackie.Jackie is about a New York City nurse as virtuosic as she is idiosyncratic. And perhaps with the show comes another chance for Falco, who understands parenting in a way she didn't when she started playing Carmela, to create another indelible pop-culture mom.

Falco's journey to motherhood began in 2004 following a battle with stage I breast cancer, as she continued to transform herself, with voluminous hair and acrylic nails, into Mrs. Soprano. "I had been through this whole ordeal, and I had been in a number of big, important relationships that had fallen apart," she says. "I had been thinking kids because I was in these relationships, but even though the relationships ended, the desire to have kids just grew. So it was just like a-ha! Fill out the paperwork and write the check." A year later, she was holding her new baby boy, and in another three, his sister.

That's not to say the quaint notion of love and marriage laying the tracks for a family didn't occur to her, but Falco has never been a huge proponent of that. Her parents, jazz drummer Frank and actress Judith, were a short-lived couple, and the Falcos of Long Island, she says, have trouble keeping marriages together. So Falco is convinced she's taken the wiser path. "There are a ton of people raising kids on their own who hadn't planned on it, and that seems like a horror to me," she says. "You thought you would be doing this with someone and it fell apart. Raising kids is already so hard, but to combine that with the pain of a relationship dissolving? I just can't imagine. I walked into this knowing I would be by myself."

Falco has more in common with her new character, Jackie Peyton, than she did with Carmela. Jackie, like Falco, isn't much into appearances, and is a blue-collar girl who believes in the redemptive power of a hard day's work. But Jackie is an unrepentant crank—"I don't do chatty; I like quiet and mean," she snaps at a loquacious nursing trainee—while Falco is prone to explosive flashes of warmth. Midway through a solemn reflection, a blond boy toddles by. "That looks just like my son!" she beams. "The back of his head, anyway." And while it can be argued that Falco has one man too few in her life—she says she's open to a relationship, but it's not a priority—Jackie has one too many. There's her bartender husband, Kevin (Dominic Fumusa), and her work playmate Eddie (Paul Schulze), the pharmacist who satisfies her libido and her painkiller addiction.

The behind-the-scenes irony is that Schulze, who has been one of Falco's closest friends since they met at SUNY Purchase, has in real life done anything but enable her addictions. "I remember she had a pretty bad night of drinking, and she came to me and said, 'Paul, I need your help'," says Schulze, who also played the family's priest and Carmela's extramarital temptation on The Sopranos. He took her to her first Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and she's been sober for the 17 years since. "Edie commits to things. That's what makes her so good at what she does and what helped with her recovery. When she decides she wants to do some-thing, she goes all in." Falco's decision to adopt didn't surprise Schulze because at that point, he knew how fearless she was. "We waited tables together at a Southwestern restaurant, and she was just awful at it," he says. "She decided that she didn't care how broke she was or how much debt she was in, she wasn't going to do anything other than acting, and she convinced me to do it too."

These days—and she knows how this sounds—her priorities have changed. What's most important to her is heaping love on the kids and the dog, her nuclear-disarmed family. But she thinks her new attitude toward her work-life balance actually helps her work. "My work stuff doesn't have the same intense desperation it used to have, and now that the desperation is gone, it's more about doing the work because I love to do it, not because it's the only thing that matters to me." To that end, while she loves playing Jackie, she has a healthy attitude toward the show's success. "If people respond, great. If not, onto the next thing. I'd be sad, but that's life." Wise words from an actress who understands that you never know when it could all suddenly cut to black.