Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning actor Edie Falco doesn’t just take roles on a whim.
Like her compelling take as mob wife Carmela Soprano on The Sopranos or her drug-addicted E.R. nurse Jackie Peyton in Nurse Jackie, Falco invests herself in the heaviest, meatiest roles possible.
Playing prosecutor Leslie Abramson on miniseries Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders, Falco is back playing another powerful female character. Though the 1994 high-profile Menendez trial didn’t resonate as widely as the O.J. Simpson murder trial — even though they took place around the same time — there was certainly intrigue, and it played like a soap opera.
At first blush, the case has many titillating factors: a wealthy family, two good-looking young men, admissions of guilt and stories of sexual abuse. But as Falco (and series co-executive producer Dick Wolf, the grand poobah of Law & Order) discovered while making the series, there’s more to it than what’s on the surface. Even Falco’s Abramson says the case isn’t solely about the murders; “What these boys did is not the issue,” her character declares. “It’s why they did it.”
Global News spoke briefly with Falco over the phone from New York, and she spoke about her feelings on the case, the abuse the Menendez brothers suffered and of course, that big, curly wig.
Global News: As you shot the show, how has your opinion changed about the case?
Edie Falco: As I agreed to do it, I started doing research and reading the script. Little by little, my opinion changed. A compassion grew on me like a fungus. [Laughs] To think what these boys went through growing up, you know, which is torture. It really is torture. They were supposed to lead somewhat of a normal life after that kind of thing. And to know what was happening to them, first of all, wasn’t normal, and second of all, wasn’t OK… and these were supposed to be their caretakers! Yes, I started to feel very passionate about it, what they’d been through and what they’d done.
Of course, there is a lot of grey area, because you can’t kill people. At the same time, there should be different punishments for different crimes.
In the media at the time of the trial, the focus was solely on the murders. The way this series is done, the child abuse is more at the forefront. Would you agree?
Yes, I would agree. Since the show is done, more or less, from the point-of-view of the defendants (the boys), the perspective of the show is going to be, “How do I defend these boys from the things they’ve done?” You then go through the mindset of what turns them villainous. What could make them, even for a split-second, think that this is something they could do to respond to this? Because it was such an afterthought in the media coverage back in the day, the point was to bring it to the forefront in the retelling of the story.
This is even happening right now. What is it about humanity that makes us not believe stories of abuse?
It’s everywhere. It’s a mess. If you allow yourself to believe that these things are true, all kinds of things have to shift as a result. Consider Kitty Menendez and what was going on between her husband and her children. She knew what was going on, and if she was going to respond to it in a sane way, her life would undergo huge changes.
She’d have to take the kids in the middle of the night, move them to some sort of safehouse, divorce him, have no money… to some people, the idea of it is intolerable. It’s easier to ignore it and pretend it’s not happening. It’ll shift the sand that you stand on.
Getting onto more serious things… the wig. I have to ask about that wig.
[Laughs] Please do, go ahead! But how do you know it’s a wig? [Laughs] It was actually very light, homemade, a nice lace wig. It was almost like a little piece of pantyhose with hair coming out of it.
The first two, three hours, it was fine, but 18 hours in, it was crooked, hanging off the side in my face, and it was itchy. [Laughs] I couldn’t stop scratching my head. It was very sweaty and itchy. That’s what I get paid for. [Laughs]
The weird thing is that… when my mother was my age, in her 40s and 50s… and now, I’m that age, and I look so much like her, it’s alarming. It’s incredible. My mother had that hair, corkscrew, redheaded permed hair, so I put that thing on and I said, “Holy Jesus God, I am my mother!”