In praise of Edie Falco

Actress and undeniable (but possibly unwitting) lesbian icon Edie Falco will grace Late Show With David Letterman tonight.

She’ll no doubt be touting the final season of her long-praised HBO show The Sopranos, on which she plays endearingly put-upon mob wife Carmela Soprano, who tolerates her lovable thug of a husband and his immoral, illegal actions — not to mention his goomahs.

At this point, reams have been written about the show, the actors, the writers and the mafia; the series has won a mountain of awards. Little ink has been spilled, however, about Falco — and yet she portrays arguably the most complex character on the much-celebrated show. Sure, Tony has his family/Family angst and not a little childhood baggage. But as the main character, he’s a showboat, and an obvious one at that — it’s the rare scene in which Tony’s actions and expressions are a surprise. Falco’s Carmela, on the other hand, is a revelation in every scene. She’s both a sympathetic witness and a shrewd plotter. (She did, after all, extort her husband for a half-million-dollar spec house.) You never quite know what’s going on behind her eyes. I have nothing against James Gandolfini’s Tony, but the real heart of the show is complicated Carmela and her counterpart, the Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG Award–winning Falco.

But why is the woman so compelling? What is her appeal to lesbians in particular? (Or at least every lesbian I know who watches the show.) Well, as is the case with so many lesbian icons, we know it when we see it. But it’s probably for the same reasons we connect with actresses like Emma Thompson, Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton and Helen Mirren, and their younger counterparts including Kate Winslet, Rachel Griffiths, Tina Fey, Mary-Louise Parker and Toni Collette — they’re real, they’re ridiculously talented and they’re naturally beautiful (to name but a few reasons). And the corollary is also true in my experience: As a people, we don’t like Nicole Kidman, Gwyneth Paltrow and Renee Zellweger* — they come off as vain and shallow superstars, or perhaps they’ve just been covered so relentlessly in the gossip rags that it only seems that way. Regardless, they just don’t have it.

Falco’s real accomplishment is that she comes through as authentic despite Carmela’s inch-long nails, Aqua Netted bangs and tacky taste. Falco is a humble, unassuming talent. She quietly and privately battled and survived breast cancer in 2003 and just as unobtrusively adopted a son in 2004. She has a background on Broadway, and though surely she has her choice of film roles, she consistently chooses to do indie movies during her hiatuses, such as John Sayles’ Sunshine State and Hal Hartley’s The Girl From Monday.

I’ll certainly miss my steady fix of the masterful, enigmatic Falco after the sun sets on The Sopranos — or maybe today’s the day I’ll finally pitch Sopranos creator David Chase my idea for a spin-off in which Carmela takes over the family business. …


[*Except in Chicago.]

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