TORONTO - When it comes to portraying conflicted characters, Edie Falco's got the territory covered.

She's best known for her role as Carmela Soprano, the wife of a violent mob boss on "The Sopranos." Before that, she played cigarette-smuggling prison guard Diane Whittlesey on the brutal prison drama "Oz."

Now, Falco is returning to TV with yet another morally questionable character in "Nurse Jackie," a pill-addicted ER nurse who will do just about anything to get through her chaotic shifts.

"There's a lot of stuff about her behaviour that I don't entirely understand, from an intellectual place," Falco says by phone from New York of the latest anti-hero to hit the small screen.

"But from an emotional place it's easier to get to. I think she's very complicated."

Falco's Jackie Peyton is a sharp-tongued nurse at New York's All Saints Hospital. Dedicated and highly principled, she nevertheless has no qualms about bending the rules to get what she wants, while relying on ill-begotten prescription medication to cope with chronic back pain.

"Quiet and mean, those are my people," Jackie tells an impressionable nursing student in the 30-minute series opener, airing Monday on The Movie Network and Move Central.

This crusty caregiver is not above forging a dead patient's organ donor card or stealing a wad of cash from another to suit her personal sense of justice.

Jackie joins several corrupted characters already on the dial, including meth-dealing cancer patient Walter White on "Breaking Bad," and marijuana-pushing mom Nancy Botwin on "Weeds."

Falco says such flawed figures make for interesting television, and are easily embraced by today's audiences.

"They're more willing to accept the grey area rather than this black and white we've been fed for so many years," Falco says.

And although Falco may not entirely comprehend Jackie, she says she can at least relate to part of her troubled personality.

"She does the best she can to balance all the stuff that she cares about when it's very hard sometimes to keep them all in the same world. I oftentimes think that in the real world, that's when drug abuse comes in," says Falco, whose co-stars include "Damages" star Peter Facinelli as a cocky doctor and "Sopranos" alum Paul Schulze as the in-house pharmacist.

"(It) is when they can't really justify their own behaviour but they are compelled to behave that way - so as long as you're keeping yourself a little messed up, you know, you don't really have to think about the ramifications of your behaviour."

Falco speaks from experience, having survived her own battle with addiction and having watched close friends struggle with substance abuse.

"A lot of us drank together 20 years ago and now we're living adult, sober lives," she says.

"It's a phenomenon I'm very familiar with, but you know, the more people I talk to, the more I realize it's not such a secret club anymore. Everybody I know either knows somebody who's had a problem with drugs or has a problem themselves. As a kid you think it's such a secret until you get out into the world and you realize we all have our stuff that we think is secret."

Falco says "Nurse Jackie"'s complex script stood out from the pile that landed at her feet following "The Sopranos," where her acclaimed portrayal of a mob boss' wife established Carmela Soprano as the iconic New Jersey matriarch.

When the series ended, she says there was little variety in the material that came her way, much of which cast her as a suburban wife or a mom with teenage children.

"I was just looking for a character that I'd want to play for a while. That was it. I was looking for a character that seemed to activate my insides and made me think, 'Oh, I could do this, I think there's a lot to explore here."'

That role was Jackie, and Falco signed on to the project eager to be part of a sharp medical drama. Trouble was, she learned later that "Nurse Jackie" was actually billed as a half-hour sitcom.

Despite its weighty issues, a dark humour weaves through varied scenes that alternately dwell on medical ethics, bloody gore, workplace hijinks and adulterous sexploits.

"I thought I had agreed to do a drama, you know. I was like, 'Oh good, this looks good,' and it's complicated and it's an emergency room, and next thing I know there's all this very funny stuff in it," says Falco, finding herself at a loss to describe the genre.

"I don't know what the heck you call it."


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