Actress Edie Falco is highly celebrated, but she is surprisingly as down-to-earth and humble as possible. The talented and venerated performer spoke to us by phone about her upcoming CBS and Global series Tommy, in which a previously high-ranking police officer from New York switches coasts to become the first female Chief of Police in the history of Los Angeles.
The following is condensed and edited from our phone conversation with the compelling Edie Falco of the series Tommy.
Brief Take: Congratulations on this series! Your entrance into the show is fascinating as everyone in the room stands up when you arrive, and you say something like: “If you keep doing this, boys, you’ll break your knees”. You seem to gravitate to a series in which Tommy, quite like you, doesn’t care for pomp. Is this intentional?
Edie Falco: I think that might just be a coincidence, but yes! Maybe that was one of the reasons that I responded to this character is that she wants to do her job and she wants to be good at it, but it’s also right at that same scene, oh maybe not, I forget, but at some point she says: “I have to go there down there myself because I’m a cop, I didn’t come down here to go to golf tours”, or something like that. Because she’s used to being on the street, she’s a street cop. And she’s not big on sitting around and letting other stuff happen, so yes, I think that’s an interesting parallel which I hadn’t thought about.
BT: This series is so interesting because it dresses New York as Los Angeles, when often it is the other way around. Do you feel a bit out of place when you are a New Yorker in Los Angeles?
EF: Yeah, a little bit. I kind of enjoy being in a place that is different. I would like to say, “Take me to the place that L.A. people love”, I like the fact that it’s different, but it’s definitely not home, that’s for sure. It has definitely always felt like a place to which I have to go, usually for work stuff. But I don’t imagine I could live there, I never felt like I could live there, so yes, I guess in that way, it’s sort of similar in that she is, it’s not familiar to her, like New York.
BT: Do you feel like this role brings you full circle a little bit from your work on Oz (as a prison guard), and Homicide: Life on the Street?
EF: Huh. I don’t know. Like I cannot think in those terms, but perhaps that’s true. I kind of read whatever is the next piece of work and if it’s interesting, I’ll do it. And it’s always later on that I’ll be like: “Oh yeah, that’s interesting, that’s like a thing that I did a thousand years ago”, or it tends to be more tracking my own interests as they’ve changed over the years. The kind of work that interested me, the kind of characters that interested me, because I never really know what’s going to strike my fancy, you know, until I read it, and then I think: “Okay, this is what I’ll do”, but it’s not by of any sort of overt plan, it’s just because of some intrinsic judging system that I have, that this before has not led me astray.
BT: I’m curious about that. Is there a moment when you’re reading a script in which you feel a “click” with the material?
EF: Yeah! And it tends to be pretty early on, like even…I’ve thought about this, when I read a script, the first thing I see is the writer saying: “We find ourselves in the middle of an L.A. street”, you know what I mean? Like they try to set the scene, and often, that first paragraph I can tell that this is something that I want to do. There’s a way that the screenwriter describes things that would often indicate to me if they could describe or portray people interestingly, and it’s been pretty accurate so far, I have to say.
BT: This series has so much energy to it. Do you feel that while shooting?
EF: Well we always move so quickly when we’re working because we have to get so much done in a day. I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s also how the show feels. Perhaps it’s because it’s a busy police precinct, I suppose. But I don’t know, I’d have to get more familiar with the show, to be honest.
BT: I’m really enjoying the metaphor of the series and the themes definitely resonate with me. You have discovered the language of the show. Does this series feel like world building?
EF: Yeah, for sure. For sure! But very clearly, I don’t do it alone. That would be boring and certainly very mono-dimensional, the idea that I can walk on set that’s a police precinct that people have designed and built, I’m wearing clothes that someone else decided she would wear, saying lines someone else wrote, with my hair styled in a way…like I prefer to let each department do their job. I let people do their job, I let them have their say about who they think this person is and what the world will be, and then within, and the more time you spend there, and the days are usually long, but very quickly it starts to become a world, for sure. That’s one of the things that I love about it.
BT: In another interview you mentioned that you had input into whether Tommy wears her police uniform or informal clothes and when she does. Are you actively involved in the production decisions?
EF: No…well, I have been included in every decision. People have asked me, “How do you feel about this, or that, or whatever”, and I often times don’t have feelings about them, like especially, like I said, I think that a lot of other people on set do have feelings about it. And I prefer to defer, because that was a question…”Will she be in her dress blues all the time, or is she going to be more casual?” and it was decided that she’s going to be more casual.
BT: You had said previously to Brief Take that you hadn’t done a network series and then you did the Menendez Law and Order: True Crime. Was that a entry point into toplining a network series such as this one?
EF: I don’t know! Like again, I haven’t thought about it so much as going from cable to network, it just so happened. Like if they said: “We’re doing the show Tommy on HBO…” It sort of didn’t matter to me where it was being done, I just found the scripts compelling for whatever reason. I do have a little bit of a feeling, like we went pretty far into the sex and bad language thing, it got to the point in which: “What can you say that hasn’t been said, or shown that hasn’t been shown before it turns into pornography and goes on to a different channel”. So I thought that perhaps we’ll have to find something else or go in a different direction, to be different or to push the envelope. Maybe we’re going to find more complicated people, or people who don’t fit the profile of people with whom we are familiar. Which other ways can you be daring? And so far, it hasn’t been an issue, the fact that we are on a network, in that I find that networks are also finding themselves having to push themselves a little bit to have to compete with the cable shows. They’re more open to seeing stuff that maybe might have been out of their comfort zone some time ago.
BT: How does it feel to be toplining a network tv series for essentially the first time and for CBS?
EF: Well it’s crazy to me. I always thought: I’ve been on all these tv shows. I’m sort of over the being recognized thing or whatever, just from the commercials, the number of texts and phone calls I’ve gotten from people I haven’t heard from in a million years is unbelievable. I forget that network really is a different thing, that it’s there in those people’s houses, without them having to order it in especially. I forget that network tends to be more far reaching, which is neither here nor there when I chose to do the show and it still isn’t, but it sure is different.
BT: Yes! I keep seeing you on commercials all the time and the promotion for this show is incredible.
EF: They really put their push behind the show and that’s kind of great. Like give it a chance, you know? Now I certainly hope that we get to make more of them, there’s so much more, I feel like you’re just figuring out who are these people and getting a rhythm, and then they’re like: “Okay, we’re done for the season”, and so, you know. And you never know what’s going to happen with anything, but I love the idea of getting to explore more who she is and who they are together and the things that could be grappled in this form.
BT: Had you previously worked with anyone on this series?
EF: Well I’ve been doing series television in New York for a very long time now so I have lots of people on the crew who worked on Sopranos and a ton of people who worked on Nurse Jackie. So it is just beyond- beyond, beyond, that I get to see people that I know and love and at least as many people that I have come to know and love during the many months we’ve worked together. But there are people with whom you learn a shorthand very quickly, and they’re good at the their job and they’re kind and they’re funny and whatever, you really hope to bring them along with you and that’s been my hope. I’ve been very lucky thus far to have a tight group of people that I’ve been able to bring along with me.
BT: What was your experience like working on The Land of Steady Habits for Netflix? I really enjoyed that film.
EF: I loved it so much. I loved the script, I loved the story, Nicole Holofcener, I’ve been a fan of hers forever, she makes the kind of movies that I like that are just about people talking and the relationships, and working with Ben Mendelsohn – I’ve become his biggest fan. I didn’t really know him when I made the movie, but I recently started watching The Outsider, just really, really, really the kind of acting which I respond to – truthful and honest and spontaneous. Bill Camp, I love, and Elizabeth Marvel, there were so many good people on that movie, and I loved it, I had a great time.
BT: You’re a very charitable person. When you’re choosing projects such as this one, would you consider your profession to be one in which the personal needs to blend with the professional?
EF: Ummm…these are such good questions. It depends on where I am in life, like if I haven’t worked in a long time and I’m concerned about money, that kind of goes to the wayside a little bit. But there are projects that I would certainly never do. Like I was offered a job in a movie about a woman with Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSBP), in which she does terrible things to her kid, I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t. And I know there’s a story to be told and I just wasn’t able to go there. But I absolutely feel like if people for whatever reason are watching things that I do, then it does matter to me what I’m putting out there. That, even if I’m playing a bad guy, I think that the story needs to be about why that’s bad [laughs] or whatever. It’s got to have a larger message. To put more trash out into the universe is not at all interesting to me, there’s plenty of people who could do that and yeah, it matters to me that the things which I care about in my life are somehow or other, nearer than the work that I do, yeah.
Tommy premieres tonight at 10/9c on Global and CBS