The timing could not have been more propitious for Above the Line to speak with Edie Falco, as literally just one hour before our phone call, Peacock officially announced the second season renewal of Bupkis, in which Falco stars alongside Pete Davidson and Joe Pesci. She’s the woman in the middle, playing Davidson’s single mother and Pesci’s dutiful and durable daughter.
With all the acclaim that Falco has received for her roles in The Sopranos and Nurse Jackie — the trophies and nominations that she has racked up number nearly 100 — the last thing the actress expected was to star in a comedy.
It was especially hard for her to fathom why Davidson would choose her to portray his beloved mom in the eight-episode series based on his life story. Dropping in early May, Bupkis begins with Pete moving back into his mother’s home on Staten Island after achieving great success on Saturday Night Live and public notoriety thanks to his high-profile romances with various celebs and starlets.
Although it might be a different flavor than Davidson’s, Falco is very familiar with fame and notoriety. She began her career with roles in seminal shows such as Homicide: Life on the Street, Oz, and Law & Order, but it was her role as Carmela Soprano on the hit HBO series The Sopranos that brought her global fame.
Falco’s follow-up was nearly as buzzworthy, as she portrayed an opioid-addicted nurse on Showtime’s Nurse Jackie, which wrapped in 2015 following seven successful seasons.
Those are just a few of her career highlights, which also include last year’s mega-blockbuster Avatar: The Way of Water, as well as the films Sunshine State and Bullets Over Broadway.
Above the Line recently spoke to Falco while she was at a New York City dog park. Though our conversation was occasionally interrupted as she tried to keep the pup in line, it amounted to much more than “bupkis.” Enjoy our conversation below, in which Falco admitted to having a “ridiculous amount of fun” making the series, which Davidson executive produced alongside his former SNL boss Lorne Michaels.
Above the Line: Congrats on getting renewed for a second season of Bupkis. Is there anything you can tell me about what to expect from Season 2?
Edie Falco: Oh, God, no! I just got the news yesterday. It’s coming from Pete’s mind, so it could be pretty much anything.
ATL: I loved how the show blends outright comedy with elements of tragedy, but before we get into it, let’s talk about the first time we meet your character. You’re playing Pete’s mom, Amy Davidson, and you’re bringing the laundry down to the basement where Pete lives, and let’s just say that you end up having to do the laundry again…
Falco: I am actually the mother of a young adult now. Not quite as old as Pete, but life with a young man is interesting. I mean, I cannot say I can relate to that particular experience, but it’s never a dull moment. I think my agents weren’t sure that I would be able to get past that when I first read it [laughs], but I kind of thought it was funny.
ATL: Absolutely. There’s a theme that runs throughout this series, which really starts when Pete commends you for your response to that messy incident, saying you’re a “strong woman.” You also call yourself that in a scene with Joe Pesci, who plays your father.
Falco: Well, and I’m talking about the Amy that I am, sort of creating her with the writers. I do not claim to have any details about who she is or what her life is like. I have such respect for the fact that she’s okay with us using her actual name and many details from her life. So just to clarify that, if you think in terms of the fact that she has two young kids and her husband dies in this tragic way, and suddenly she’s a single mom, and it’s terrifying. You have no choice but to kind of buck up and move forward. And that’s what she did. So yeah, I think she’s a very strong woman.
ATL: In Episode 3, Amy finds out that Pete is “dead,” though it turns out to be a hoax that’s the work of an online troll. So, like every protective mother, you try to find the creep, Scatman76, and stop him. Can you talk about the scene in which you and Pete stake out his house?
Falco: I loved that because we didn’t get to do a ton of stuff together, Pete and I, with just the two of us, and I think they’re very close. I think mothers and sons, it’s a very specific relationship to start with. And they were forced to get close because of the loss of the husband, [Pete’s] dad. And you get a chance to see how sort of comfortable they are with each other, how they put up with each other’s eccentricities, and that there’s a genuine feeling they really care about each other.
ATL: There’s another scene in that episode that really struck me when, as a protective mother, you tell Pete’s friend Evan not to get engaged, basically asking him if he wants to have a song written about him.
Falco: Some of the stuff I read and I was like, “Oh my God, this is hysterical.” Like, such funny, protective, adorable stuff, really fun. The writing is so good. I really enjoyed working with these guys.
ATL: How much did you know about Pete Davidson beforehand and how did you get involved in the project initially?
Falco: I knew what he looked like because we all see the pictures of his social life, which is very active, but not much beyond that, so I frankly thought they’d made a mistake. How could they be asking for me? How could this kid possibly know who I am? [laughs] So it was very unusual. This was not a call I would have thought would happen. We just inhabit very different worlds.
ATL: So you get the call to be his mom, and then what?
Falco: They were like, ‘Yeah, there’s this project with Pete Davidson and they want you to play his mom.’ I was like, ‘What’s that now? What are you talking about?’ I could not make sense of it. I didn’t really know much about what would actually become of it. And then at a certain point, I realized, “This thing’s really gonna happen.”
I just thought it was hysterical that they were asking me. It just seemed so unusual. But I was also thrilled because it’s not the kind of thing I’m often approached about. I mean, I love the kind of stuff I get to do. It’s serious and often dramatic. But this was clearly a comedy made by people who do comedies. I thought, “Oh my God, I’m so glad you thought of me.”
ATL: So when you read the first scripts, what was your initial reaction?
Falco: I just thought it was hysterical. I thought it was really funny, and it kind of defies genre a little bit. I couldn’t quite tell what it was or what the tone was. And I thought, “Well, it is not my job to write scripts. It’s my job to either respond to it or not, and if I do or don’t do it.” And that’s what I did.
ATL: What was the mood like during production?
Falco: I kept thinking someone was gonna say, “Oh, no, that’s not how we do comedy.” I just kept showing up and I had a ridiculous amount of fun. It was a set that was easy and fun and nobody was taking it that seriously. I mean, insofar as historical accuracy, it was just about being funny and some of the more interesting moments about [Pete’s] actual life.
ATL: At one point you asked Pete, “Do you have any idea how hard it is to be your mother?” Part of that is, of course, how Amy lost her husband in 9/11, but talk about how those difficulties shape your onscreen relationship.
Falco: She knows he’s a big deal. He’s in the public eye. He’s had tremendous success. It’s something he loves and that’s exciting. But along with that comes all kinds of other potential dangers. And he’s an evocative person — he is interesting and interested and energetic, and at a certain point you realize, you can’t control your kids even under the best of circumstances. And you work on how to let them be, how to let them find their way, [and] how to jump in when you think they’re not taking care of themselves. It’s a lot for a normal parent. So, to be the parent of someone with that kind of attention, it’s a lot.
ATL: Did your own experience as a mother play into what you were feeling towards Pete as your onscreen son? I know the circumstances are different…
Falco: Absolutely. I’ve played a lot of parts that I’m… well, I did The Sopranos. I wasn’t a mother and I wasn’t a wife [in real life]. And you kind of find your way into those roles. But this was, I’d go to work and I’d be a mom, and I’d go home and I’d be a mom, dealing with a lot of the similar stuff about young men trying to find their way. So yeah, it was something I could understand.
ATL: You brought up The Sopranos, and the scenes of Amy in the kitchen naturally reminded me of Carmela in her kitchen with Tony and the kids, so I’d love to hear some of your memories of playing that role.
Falco: God, it was so different. I was a different person. I was at a different place in my life. It was all pretend. That big couch and the kids and the husband [were] all foreign to me. So it was really like a fantasy kind of thing. And the fact that the show was getting so much attention, all of us were kind of like, “What in God’s name is happening?” None of us had had any kind of real success other than Lorraine [Bracco], really. So tasting a little bit of that, at that time, was all very exciting.
And this [Bupkis] is different. I feel like an entirely different person from the person I was then, just having experienced so much more, [and] having been in this business for such a long time now. So I know there’s always going to be similarities between any character I play that’s in the kitchen.
ATL: After experiencing the huge controversy over the ending of The Sopranos, how did you feel about the ending of your next long-running series, Nurse Jackie?
Falco: Ending shows is so hard. People put so much pressure on the producers and the actors. So I just cut people a lot of slack. Nobody’s ever gonna really like every ending of every show. The subject of drug abuse is not funny and it’s kind of hard to say it’s a comedy about drugs. So it was important to me that the ramifications of her drug use were real and they weren’t funny and pretty because I think anyone watching the show who has any experience with that, you end up feeling a little bit cheated. Like, “Really, this is a joke to you?” So that was it. I just wanted them to take it seriously, and I felt like they did. You either put in 100 percent of your energy towards getting sober or you don’t stay sober. That’s it. So that’s kind of the way I felt about it.
ATL: Drug addiction plays a big role in Pete’s life as depicted in Bupkis, especially in those last couple of episodes, so you have a lot of experience now dealing with that onscreen.
Falco: That’s a tricky line with his mom because it’s hard to parent someone who struggles with that. How much can you actually tell them what they should be doing, at this point? He’s 30, so at what point can you just say, “I’m gonna love this kid as best I can, and hope he does the right thing.” It’s hard. It’s complicated.
ATL: Absolutely. Well, talk to me a little bit about another very high-profile role you recently played — that of Hillary Clinton in Impeachment: American Crime Story.
Falco: I have so much respect for her, and I did campaigning for her and all that. So it was no small thing to be taking her on as a character. I also felt a little bit like I know that I will be respectful towards her because that is how she needs to be treated in this story — or any story about her life — so that was it. I just wanted to make sure that it was treated respectfully.
ATL: You have said that playing Terry Glimmer on Broadway in Side Man was the role that is most important to you. So is that still the case?
Falco: That project carries to this day as still the most meaningful for me because of where I was in my life, because of how challenging it was to play that thing, [and] because of how much I love the other people in the cast. Was it the most important work I’ve ever done to a viewing audience? Who the hell knows? But from a personal standpoint, yes. I was involved in that project for many, many years from its inception to Broadway and the West End. It was a very big chapter for me.
ATL: So we now know about Bupkis being renewed for Season 2, but what else is on your plate upcoming?
Falco: Oh, God, who knows? I have my fingers in a lot of different potential projects. I happen to really love doing series television, so if I could find one that would keep me interested, I would very much like to do that. I’ve just gotta stay out of it and wait to see what happens next, so that’s where I am now.
ATL: Edie, you’ve gotten so much acclaim for your work, including multiple Emmys. What does winning that kind of recognition from your peers mean to you?
Falco: Awards are complicated. I have a lot of mixed feelings about them, but overall, I like to feel like it means that I am in the game, [and] that people get something out of the stuff that I do — that they either learn something or feel something. Or that the fact that I am working in this industry matters to somebody, and that means the world to me.
I mean, for many years, I did all kinds of projects that nobody ever saw or cared about or heard of, and after a while, as a performer, that gets a little lonely [laughs]. So the awards tend to mean for me, “Oh, alright. People are watching these things and they’re responding to ’em.”
ATL: Just in general, how are you feeling about acting?
Falco: My relationship to my line of work [has] just gotten more and more fun and more and more enjoyable. And I feel like I have more to offer as I’ve grown as a person. So I just keep waiting to get bored with all of it. But quite the opposite, I find I’m just truly pinching myself every day that I get to do this to support myself and my family. It’s really kind of miraculous.
ATL: I’m really happy for you and that you keep finding projects to challenge yourself with, as I didn’t quite know what to expect from Bupkis when it first came out in early May, but I loved how creative it was — especially how the opening of each episode was a little different in terms of graphics, like the one that was done in black and white as if it were a film from the ’50s.
Falco: Thank you so much. I agree with you because, of course, I had nothing to do with any of that. I didn’t see it until it came out and I thought, “You’ve got some really good creative people working on this thing!” I was very impressed, but thank you for that.
ATL: The very, very last scene was a little hard to take though. It was heading towards a really positive, upbeat ending, where he kind of figures out the meaning of life and rushes to the graduation, and then…
Falco: I mean, it’s Pete Davidson, for God’s sake! He’s not gonna end it that way, right?
Season 1 of Bupkis is now streaming on Peacock.