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Edie Falco: Art Mirrors Life
(Novus writes inspirational stories of people in the news who have overcome addiction. This is not to infer that these people are connected to Novus Medical Detox Center but simply to provide hope and encouragement to those fighting addiction.)
For most of us, making tough decisions about career, finances, parenting – almost anything these days – can be stressful. But most of us are living rather uneventful 9-to-5 lives.
Actors live in another universe of stress.
We see the fame, the glamorous lifestyles and big fat paychecks. And while that is the upside of showbiz success, actors face a life notorious for its roller-coaster ups and downs, outrageous media hype and endlessly conflicting personal agendas.
The struggle for showbiz success depends on more than just talent. It demands make-or-break career choices every day, and constant attention on things like appearance, public and private behavior, even one’s health. A few poor decisions can send a career into a tailspin. Recovering from that can sometimes be impossible.
Decisions, choices and the unexpected
Edie Falco, 53, is perhaps best known for her role as Carmela Soprano, the tough, conflicted wife of brutal Mafia mob boss Tony Soprano on HBO’s smash hit series, The Sopranos. That iconic show ran from 1999 to 2007, and Falco won countless accolades and awards for her work.
Immediately after The Sopranos, Falco went on to new accolades for Nurse Jackie, the hit Showtime series that ran from 2007 to 2015. Falco starred as prescription-pill-addicted nurse Jackie Peyton in a busy New York City hospital ER. She received more awards and nominations for her outstanding work on that show.
But Falco has had to face, and deal with, more than an actor’s normal share of tough decisions.
Early in her career, before all the fame and fortune, Falco had to confront a serious situation that threatened her career and possibly even her life. A decade later, after dealing with that first threat and achieving success as an actor, Falco was confronted again with an even more dangerous situation.
The first problem was drug and alcohol addiction. Back in the early ’90s at the beginning of her career, when she was in her 20s, she “battled an alcohol addiction for years.” Falco told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that her own addiction “informed” her role as a pill addict in Nurse Jackie.
Of course that doesn’t mean addiction should be a desirable experience for any actor. “It would be not far enough from the actual experience, but I think it has really helped me because I certainly have known a lot of addicts. And I’ve known a lot of people in the lives of addicts who are often saying, ‘He had so much going for him, why would he do this?'”
“And I get it, I know exactly why he’s doing it because you’re addicted and it’s completely irrational behavior. And you lie and you cheat and you do whatever you need to do to get what you need. For the normal person it’s impossible to understand. So it’s helped my performance.”
The toughness factor
Falco told NPR that “everything I’ve ever been through is contributing on some level to the decisions I make” about choosing and acting a role.
“The [Nurse Jackie] addiction piece, I have to say, is a huge part of my life. Not just my own, but that of many people I love. The helplessness around that, 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. All that stuff is of tremendous interest to me. That keeps me very deeply involved in Jackie’s journey.”
In a NY Magazine piece, Falco describes the final experience that helped her make the tough decision to quit drinking once and for all. “I was drunk all the time!” she said. “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.”
The toughness factor doubles
The second situation was learning she had breast cancer at age 40, when she was already a huge success on the hit TV series The Sopranos.
“I found out in the morning,” she told NPR, “and then I had to go to work, and I told very few people, but I told the producer. I said, ‘I have an opportunity to meet this doctor in an hour, can I go and do that and then come back and shoot?’ And that’s what I did.”
The doctor gave her the diagnosis, “and then I went and shot a couple of scenes after that, and that was pretty surreal. I don’t remember a whole lot of that day except that I was not there much at all. And it was okay because there were scenes where James Gandolfini and I were…something about walking in a parking lot with a bag of groceries, and I had to drop the groceries or something.
“It’s funny. I have very weird memories of that day. But it helped me to just keep moving, to not have it be this huge comma in my life where everything waited. I was able to pretty much keep up my schedule and go through what I needed to go through. I wouldn’t have done well if everybody had known.”
Like with the alcohol decision, Falco was able to dig down and make the right choices about her struggle with the cancer diagnosis and treatment. Falco says that everything now is for her two kids, son Anderson and daughter Macy. She’s still cancer-free after 13 years, and still a showbiz success story.
Falco told NPR that her professional success is “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.”
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