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FAREWELL, CARMELA

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Multi-faceted star of TV, stage and film, Edie Falco is a true Brooklyn success story.

In the late-1990s, when the Greenpoint native was up for the role of Carmela on the HBO series, "The Sopranos," she was sure one of her better-known Italian-American rivals would end up playing the small-screen mob wife instead of her.

Falco told reporters in Manhattan recently that she had been shooting another acclaimed HBO show, "Oz," when she heard from a friend that a really good pilot script called "The Sopranos" was making the rounds.

"I, like everybody else, thought it was about singers and assumed I would never hear anything about it. [But] I got a call that they wanted me to audition for the part," the 42-year-old actress recalled. "I read [a couple of scenes] and I thought, ’I know exactly who this woman is and they’ll never cast me.’ Because it’s a television show about an Italian mom, and I pictured Marisa Tomei or Annabella Sciorra - women who got a lot of the roles that I was up for that were sort of like that.

"But those are sometimes fun auditions to do, because you know you’re not going to get it, and you can go in and have fun without the pressure of, ’Will this be my next job?’ Because you know you’re not going to get it."

Much to Falco’s surprise, she did get it and was cast as mob boss Tony Soprano’s long-suffering spouse in the show’s pilot.

Although the series would go on to be a great success and the role would later earn Falco Emmy, Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe awards, the then-struggling actress was most grateful for the initial check that helped her pay off her credit cards and treat herself to a few dinners out and cab rides home.


Juggling act

Of course, the show would prove far more rewarding than that. In addition to offering her a fantastic, multi-dimensional character to play on a complex, intelligently written series, the show’s extra-long breaks between seasons have also allowed Falco the freedom to pursue other acting projects.

Since taking on the role of First Lady of the New Jersey crime family in 1999, the SUNY Purchase graduate has also earned raves for her performances in the Broadway dramas, "Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune" and "’night, Mother." Last year, Falco even found time to film the new thriller, "Freedomland," which opened in theaters on Feb. 17.

"I consider myself an exceedingly lucky person that I get the opportunity to move around like I have," she said. "Maybe actors make the decision, ’Oh, I’m only going to do films.’ I don’t know. Perhaps that is interesting to some actors, but there are so many different kinds of acting to be done, and it is very different doing a play than it is doing a movie or television. You really get to use different muscles, so I’m thrilled I get to bop around."

Falco insists she doesn’t prefer one acting medium over the other and reveals she would love to keep moving between them.

"They are all necessary," she maintained. "If I go too long a period without doing one, I really miss it. Although I don’t have a plan, I feel like it’s time to do a play, and I had signed on to do [’Threepenny Opera’] which I had to drop out of [because of ’The Sopranos’], but I really feel like it’s time."


More than Carmela

Although clearly disappointed she was not able to star in the play, Falco is not wanting for work these days. Currently shooting the sixth and final season of "The Sopranos" at Silvercup Studios in Queens, the Manhattan resident is also juggling mothering her 1-year-old adopted son, Anderson, with completing her promotional duties for her latest movie.

Based on the Richard Price novel, directed by Joe Roth and shot in Yonkers and Staten Island, "Freedomland" is about a white woman (played by Julianne Moore) who ignites racial controversy after wandering into a hospital, claiming she was carjacked by a black man near low-income projects in New Jersey, while her 4-year-old son was asleep in the back seat.

Samuel L. Jackson plays the detective investigating the perplexing case, which might not be all it is cracked up to be, while Falco portrays the leader of a group of volunteers searching for the missing boy.

"I was not a mom yet when I got the role," said Falco. "If I had been further into motherhood, I don’t know if I could have done this. It might have been too intense."

Although Karen is another strong female character for her to play, she bares little resemblance to the well-coiffed and manicured Carmela. That’s OK, Falco says, she eagerly welcomed the change.

Told by a journalist she was nearly unrecognizable in the film, the actress exclaimed, "That makes me so happy!

"Seeing past Carmela may be a bit of a challenge, but I also believe that if I go into a new role with the degree of commitment that you need, that the audience will come with me," said Falco. "But I know Carmela has been around for a while now, so it’s a lot to ask. The fact that people might actually have watched a little bit of this character, Karen, without comparing her to Tony’s wife makes me very happy."

Real to reel

To prepare for the role, Falco spent time with Donna Cutugno, the Staten Island activist who was the inspiration for her character. Although she initially feared the prospect, thinking this civilian would try to tell her how to play the part, Falco says it turned out to be a very positive experience.

"I dutifully showed up at her house, and I found out she was just the best thing ever," said Falco, pointing out this was the first time she played a character based on a real person. "She was just more than excited to have me there, and she had a wealth of information to share with me. She was thrilled we were making this movie. She was on the set all the time and she never said a word if she wasn’t asked. But when she was, she had tons of stuff to share."

Falco says she felt right at home with Cutugno’s Italian-American sisters, big "Sopranos" fans who hoped they could ply her with food in exchange for hints about the show’s upcoming season.

Of course, the tight-lipped Falco disappointed them.

So, what did she take away from the experience of acting in a big Hollywood thriller?

"I’ve gotten so comfortable in my ’Sopranos’ world with the actors and the crew people, and we’ve created quite a safe environment for each other, so it makes it very easy to do my job," said Falco. "So I didn’t know going into [’Freedomland’] with these movie stars and Joe Roth and Scott Rudin and all these names I’d heard as a struggling actorI didn’t know if I would be able to go in and do the job I’d hoped I’d be able to do.

"I found that underneath all my nonsensical chatter about that kind of thing in my head, I can still focus on what has to get done," concluded Falco. "At the end of the day, I thought: ’No, I think that’s it. I think that’s what I wanted to get at in the scene.’ That I’m able to put aside some of that other stuff and still do the work, is meaningful to me."

 

The final season of "The Sopranos" will premiere March 12 at 9 pm on HBO.

"Freedomland" is now playing at Access Digital Theatres’s Pavilion Cinema [188 Prospect Park West at 15th Street in Park Slope, (718) 369-0838]; UA Court Street Stadium 12 [108 Court St. at State Street in Brooklyn Heights, (800) 326-3264 ext. 615] and UA Sheepshead Bay [3907 Shore Parkway at Knapp Street in Sheepshead Bay, (800) 326-3264 ext. 614].

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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