Fans who've long dreamed of Edie Falco coming out—alas, she likes men, fam—will have their fantasies at least partially fulfilled with Tommy.
In the new CBS show, the four-time Emmy winner—best known for portraying The Sopranos mob wife Carmela Soprano and the morally dubious titular lead on Nurse Jackie—plays her first lesbian character: Abigail “Tommy” Thomas, a New Yorker forced to become the first female Los Angeles police chief after an LAPD scandal involving male officers, hookers, and an underage girl.
Following a case-of-the-week format, Tommy’s narrative threads also track the character’s evolving relationship with her estranged daughter Kate (Olivia Lucy Phillip), who holds a grudge over her mother’s devotion to her career over her family, as well as power players like Mayor Buddy Gray (Thomas Sadoski), press secretary Blake Sullivan (Adelaide Clemens), and her romantic interest Kiley Mills (Katrina Lenk), a well-connected sports agent to whom Tommy is introduced by her actor ex-husband (David St. Louis).
Though cautious not to reveal too many spoilers about Tommy's first season, Falco dished to NewNowNext about learning the queer lingo, that time she had to call the cops, and why she'd never mess with Frances McDormand.
Was Tommy an easy "yes" for you?
I read it and loved it, period. I liked who Tommy was—kind of goofy and offbeat—so I was sold pretty quick. Except they said it took place in L.A., and I was like, "Oh, that’s too bad," and said no. My manager called sometime after and asked, "What if they shoot it in New York?" I thought he was kidding, but here we are months later, shooting Los Angeles scenes in New York!
How is Tommy like you?
She’s confident, good at her job, and reliable. One of the ways she’s unlike me is she’s very tough and has tremendous confidence about her standing in the police community. That was one of the things I was most impressed by and looked forward to embodying.
Edie Falco (left) as Abigail "Tommy" Thomas and Katrina Lenk as Kiley in Tommy.
Did you draw from any lesbians you know while developing the character?
I’m sure on an unconscious level. With any character you’re drawing on a number of little pieces of this or that person, depending on what’s appropriate. But it’s likely not on a conscious level.
Tommy hits on a lot of timely hot-button issues, from ICE and family separation to racism, predatory movie producers, and #MeToo justice. What topic were you most invested in?
There was one about international adoption, and as my own children are adopted I found myself connecting on a more visceral level to it. The needs of a child who is being adopted and the parents—it pulled at my heartstrings in a way that some of these other things didn’t.
Tennessee governor Bill Lee signed House Bill 836 into law on January 24, which gives the state’s adoption and foster care agencies, including those funded by taxes, the right to turn away LGBTQ couples and anyone else they object to on “religious” and “faith-based” grounds. Did you catch that news?
I did not, and in Tommy the couple that is adopting is two men, and I have to tell you I didn't even think about [their sexuality being a problem] until right now. The idea that it’s even an issue is still shocking to me. There’s certain information that I don’t take in if it doesn’t match my idea of the way things should be.
Does Tommy’s sexuality cause any issues for her?
You can tell with some of the older, old-school white cops who have been in that world for such a long time that this might not be an ideal situation, but they have no choice. It may very well be in the background, but she’s so not having it, not even entertaining it being an issue. She’s so offhand about it being part of who she is, it’s not even open for discussion or debate, so people around her act in kind.
Falco and Lenk in Tommy.
You have your first same-sex kiss in the show, and although you can’t tell us much about what happens between Tommy and Kiley, are you looking forward to all the erotic fan fiction this will spawn? There’s plenty of shipping between Carmela Soprano and Dr. Melfie.
You know, once I step off a set at the end of a show, all kinds of shit goes on that I don’t know about that has nothing to do with me or the way I make a living. But as long as it brings joy, I couldn’t be happier about it. I’m not going to say yea or nay about any of it.
Have you ever made a citizen’s arrest?
I have inadvertently. Some of those decisions happen unconsciously, like part of me saying, Edie, stay out of it, stay out of it, as I’m walking into the situation I’m going to get involved in. I won’t get into details, but one situation involved a father and his kid and it was awful. I didn’t arrest the guy, but I made it clear he couldn’t continue [his behavior] without being noticed or having the cops called. [In those situations] something bigger than me takes over.
Have you ever had to call the police?
Yes, I have! I’m reluctant to get into this as well, but I had a crazy roommate. It was one of my millions of living situations over the years, and I found him through The Village Voice and he turned out to be a lunatic and I had to call the cops. This was before they did background checks and all that stuff, and the cop yelled at me! He actually said, "You kids, you get roommates out of the newspaper. What the hell are you thinking?!" I was like, "Please don’t yell at me, Mister Policeman." [Laughs]
Nurse Jackie liked to dole out justice, though often in a very morally dubious way. Is there a little bit of Jackie in Tommy? I noticed a sly wink in how she handles some cases.
They’re all aspects of me, so I’m sure there will be crossover, but there was such a darkness with Jackie; I think she had a hard time living in the world where you find a lot of drug addicts. Tommy seems more optimistic, tackling issues from a place of goodness. She legitimately cares about justice and doing the right thing, and seems to have fewer conflicts with actually making those things happen. I think Jackie wanted a lot of those same things but couldn’t get access to it because of her own issues.
Speaking of Nurse Jackie, your former co-star Haaz Sleiman, who just had an episode in the Apple TV+ anthology Little America, came out in 2017, saying he is a “total bottom.”
You know, I did hear about that, and we were like, "Whaaatt?!" We haven’t heard from this guy in, like, 1,000 years and how’s he doing? That’s more than I needed to know, but God bless him! Please send him my regards!
So you knew what a “total bottom” was?
Oh god, yes. Are you kidding me? I’ve been living in Manhattan for 30 years, and I’m a 50-something-year-old woman. Very little can surprise me these days.
You and Nurse Jackie’s Stephen Wallem, who was a gay nurse on the show, seem to spend a bit of time together. Does he teach you the latest gay lingo, like "hunty" and "henny"?
He’s one of my dearest friends. We’re at every fundraiser and opening night. He totally schools me on every term that comes my way, and he does it subtly so people don’t realize I don’t know what the hell’s going on around me. But I forget them as quickly as I learn them. It’s a real problem.
You will appear in two of the upcoming Avatar sequels. Will there be any LGBTQ Na’vi?
I’m afraid I’m sworn to secrecy, and with those blue people I’m not sure how you would even tell.
You played another police officer before Tommy: Marge Gunderson in the 2003 pilot for a Fargo TV series that unfortunately didn’t get picked up. Have you and Frances McDormand ever done dueling Marges in the same room?
We haven’t. She’s got the Oscar. I think I’ll stay away from that.
If I was dying and had a "Make A Wish" moment, that might be my request.
Oh god! That’s the scariest thing I’ve ever heard. Please don’t ever make that happen.
Tommy premieres February 6 at 10pm ET on CBS.