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Edie Falco on her new CBS drama 'Tommy,' and reliving 'The Sopranos'

PASADENA, Calif. – Edie Falco will forever be known as Carmela Soprano, the iconic mob wife she played in HBO’s “The Sopranos” from 1999-2007, and as the drug-abusing “Nurse Jackie” in the Showtime series that ran from 2009-15.  

Now, in her first broadcast-network series, Falco, 56, stars as Abigail “Tommy” Thomas, a New York City transplant who becomes LA’s first female police chief, in CBS’ “Tommy” (premiering Thursday, 10 EST/PST). In the drama, created by Paul Attanasio (“Homicide: Life on the Street,” “Bull”), Tommy is a lesbian with an estranged daughter and a complicated personal life, but she remains ever dedicated to her job.

Falco, a New Yorker with several Broadway credits, says she has “an odd relationship” with real-life cops and tools around Manhattan in a Vespa. She spoke with USA TODAY about her latest role.

Edie Falco says CBS drama

Family matters:Why Edie Falco loves having her kids on the set her new CBS show, ‘Tommy’

Question: Would you describe the show as different from other police shows?

Edie Falco: I haven’t seen police shows. I don’t really know what’s out there, I’m embarrassed to say.  All I know is I responded to it when reading it because they felt like people who happened to be cops. It wasn’t just like a procedural … the dialogue felt real, and that was far more interesting to me than some of the other stuff I’ve read.

Q: What other roles have you been offered?

Falco: Other cop shows, for sure. Another nurse on a show, which tends to happen that you play a part and they’re like, “I know who can play a nurse!” The wife of a Joel Osteen big church guy. A cult leader. Some of the ideas were interesting, but the writing was less so.

Q: Mob wives?

Falco: That finally went away. It took a long time.

Q: How would you describe Tommy as a person?

She’s a cop to the bone, comes from a cop family. She’s very good at her job, takes it seriously; she’s passionate about it. She has a messy personal life, like many people I know. And she is ultimately a good person. 

Edie Falco plays a complicated but dedicated Los Angeles police chief in CBS drama

Q: So she’s more of a heroic character than some of those you played?

Falco: I hope so, but it’s not as black and white as that. She wants to do good and be good, but that doesn’t mean she succeeds. It’s what she aims toward. She certainly does the best she can, but her idea of what’s right may not be everybody else’s.

Q: Did any real people inspire your portrayal?

Falco: Not to my knowledge, but in thinking about it (later) some people have come to mind. Did you ever watch “Pit Bulls and Parolees”? I am obsessed with that show. It’s on Animal Planet. This woman adopts pit bulls – as she says, the world’s most misunderstood breed – and she only hires parolees, the people no one else will hire. It’s really very moving. Her name is Tia Maria Torres, and I was watching the show the other day and thought, ‘Maybe there’s some of her in Tommy.’ She’s just straight-ahead badass, and I kind of hate that phrase, but she gets (expletive) done. She’s somehow able to be funny and kind and she’s moved by things, but her priority is taking care of these dogs.

Edie Falco was

Q: Is there a political element to this show?

Falco: That’s not part of the dialogue. We deal with issues, but we don’t take political sides … As soon as you identify yourself as having a particular point of view right now in this country, you’re losing half of the audience. They’re able to talk about the issues in an open-minded way so that nobody feels left out.

Edie Falco as Abigail

Q: But with current issues like immigration, which is a focus of the series premiere, isn’t it hard not to have a point of view?

Falco: Sure. But when in doubt, she follows the laws.

Q: What got you to do your first broadcast network series?

Falco: I’m lucky enough in that I get to bounce around and do a little of everything. But I do love series television … you get to play the same character for a long time, you get to know more about them And on the nuts and bolts side, there’s a crew you work with, a family of people. And in such a transient, gypsy-type career, it’s almost like having a real job, and that’s very appealing to me. I’ve always said if I could find a series I could imagine doing for a while, I’m in, and that’s what this was.

Edie Falco won fame playing mob wife Carmela in HBO's acclaimed

Q: Carmela Soprano was such an iconic role, that maybe you were associated with it more than you’d like. How did it define your career?

Falco: Not only did I get to support myself and do so comfortably, I’m bathed in gratitude for all of it, how lucky I was, and it could so easily not have happened. It was not anything I gave a lot of thought to. Here it is, 20 years later. You never know what things will turn into.

Q: Do you ever rewatch it?

Falco: Aida Turturro, who played Janice, is one of my best friends. She and I, a couple summers ago, said, ‘Let’s sit down and watch the damn thing’ because we haven’t seen most of the episodes. We got four episodes in and we just couldn’t continue. It wasn’t joyful. First of all, it was hard to see Jim (Gandolfini); he was young and healthy and excited. We were all so much younger then. The kids (Robert Iler and Jamie-Lynn Sigler) are now adults with their own children. We couldn’t do it; it was too evocative to be joyful. We were watching it at night, she was staying at my house on Long  Island. And I couldn’t sleep; I said, “What am I doing? I should be watching ‘AGT.'” Maybe I’ll watch in another 20 years.

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