Starting this Sunday, things are going to look a little different on the new season of Showtime’s hit series, Nurse Jackie. The biggest change? Jackie (Edie Falco) is actually trying to get sober, which, as fans of the show know, has been a long time coming. Since the series premiere in 2009, Jackie has been a high-functioning drug addict who has now seen just about everything in her life stripped away.
And, yes, Nurse Jackie is still a comedy — just a dark one.
To find out what’s to come on the new episodes, including what’s in store for bisexual Dr. O’Hara (Eve Best), who is single and pregnant, AfterEllen.com rang up Executive Producer Linda Wallem, who gladly opened up about the new direction of the series and even gave us a glimpse inside her project with real-life partner, Melissa Etheridge.
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AfterEllen.com: Let’s start with talking about Jackie because she’s going through so much this season. She’s actually trying to get sober, which we haven’t seen too much of in the last couple years.
Linda Wallem: It’s about time, huh? What she does is she takes it to a place beyond your wildest dreams. So, that’s what was exciting for this season. It was, “OK, Jackie’s still going to be Jackie up to her old tricks but she’s got to be a little more honest right now because she’s in trouble.” As a mom she’s realizing, “I’d better start taking care of myself because of my kids. This is really messed up … [and] I have a dead guy in my living room in the very first episode. What have I done?”
AE: One thing I don’t think we’ve seen too much of on the show is having somebody like the Laura Silverman character who basically calls her on her shit right to her face immediately as she tries to pull one over on her. She’s somebody who’s seen it all. She’s like, “No, that’s not what [I’m used to].”
LW: I’m so glad you like Laura because I worked with Laura on The Comeback and I think she’s genius. To have somebody who is also younger than Jackie — there is a very childlike quality about Laura, which is so great because when she says something it’s like “Ouch!” It was really great to see Jackie going, “Uh-oh. This is an emotional cyborg. I don’t get to pull my tricks with her. Shit.” You know? That’s what happens when you get to recovery and you get to rehab. You finally find they call you on your shit and part of you is really kind of relieved. So, it’s really important to cast somebody who can hold their own with Edie.
AE: What’s going to happen with O’Hara? I mean, she’s pregnant and single now. Do we see Julia Ormond back?
LW: They broke up and right now we’re seeing so many versions of straight people having babies, gay people having babies. This is a bisexual who’s not telling either side yet what she’s going to do. She just wants a baby. We see Cooper (Peter Facinelli) is going to try to step in and help out of such an innocent place. It’s really beautiful to see Eve Best, what she does with this character. That connection between O’Hara and Cooper is one of the funniest things you’ll see this year. It’s lovely and really inappropriately great.
AE: Do we see O’Hara dating at all this season or is she just all focused on the baby?
LW: It’s all about the baby and her. We debated that but we thought, you know what, it’s a little too complicated. This is more just about this woman and what this means for her. So, we kind of kept it simple.
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AE: Of course, speaking of Coop, I love it when his moms are on the show. Swoozie Kurtz and then whether it’s Judith Light or Blythe Danner, whoever you can get.
LW: Any combination of, yeah. We won’t see them this year, unfortunately, but we threw in some really great patient stories this year that are so exciting. We have a funny one with these two lesbians that come in and the girls are bickering constantly. I think lesbians are hilarious when they bicker. And they do a lot. So, the one girl doesn’t realize she’s giving her girlfriend, basically, a heart attack. We also wanted to show that at a young age you can have a heart attack.
AE: Akalitus seemed to take the news of her having to get back on the nurses’ floor pretty well when I thought she might fight it. Can you talk to me about that?
LW: I think she sees the writing on the wall. I think she’s so smart that she knows once this guy (the new hospital administrator played by Bobby Cannavale) comes in and she read the paperwork [and] she kind of knew. My favorite thing in the scene was he kind of says, ” You’re redundant. Look, you can go back on the floor and keep your pension in tact.” She says, “Will I still be their boss?” He says, “Is that important to you?” She goes, “Yes, that’s important to me.” He says, “Well, then it’s important to me.” So, she just still wants to be the boss but I think part of her misses nursing. I think she likes being in the trenches. I think she saw the writing on the wall and she kind of knew: “Well, I’m not ready to go yet. But maybe I can do a little more damage out in the field.” It’s fun to see. I just loved when she shows up in scrubs and you think she might be humiliated. But it’s the rest of everybody who is uncomfortable.
AE: I love when Jackie is in rehab and she’s calling in to O’Hara and Akalitus is there and they become like a little cheering section for Jackie together, which I don’t know if we’ve seen before.
LW: We really wanted to show almost like two lesbians going, “Honey, we’re having a baby! How are you?!” That’s why it was so fun to do that scene. The ladies just sit there and be on the phone together. They are such funny pairings of this group, including how much Cooper cares about O’Hara, not necessarily sexually but just cares. You know these are really kind of complicated, weird people. It’s really fun to see how their hearts work.
AE: I’ve always loved the Zoey/Jackie relationship because Zoey (Merritt Wever) worships Jackie and it’s fun how you’re throwing them together this season when they end up living together.
LW: Oh, my god. Isn’t that fun? She’s not in love with Jackie. She just loves Jackie. There’s a big difference. That’s what’s so beautiful: She moves in and sort of becomes her wife. It’s so gorgeous because it’s coming from the most beautiful place. She’s talking all about the kids. “Oh, my god. We have a 14-year-old at home that’s so hard.” Well, it’s sort of my experience in my own life, which took a funny turn a couple years ago because I’m with someone now [Etheridge] and I have four step kids. So, that’s why we poured a little bit into Zoey about her wanting so badly to be a mom and family. To do it for Jackie — Oh, my god, this is perfect.
AE: Rosie Perez is great when she’s on but even when Jackie is in rehab and we see Mary Louise Wilson (Tony winner for Grey Gardens) and Margaret Colin (Gossip Girl), those actors that are so great.
LW: Oh, isn’t [Margaret] wonderful? I was so excited that she said yes to this. It’s kind of a small part. She was amazing. Back in the ‘80s when I was an actress, every time I’d walk into an audition she would be there. I’d go, “I’m leaving. Margaret Colin’s here.” She always got the jobs, not me. I had to tell her that, but she and Mary Louise Wilson, who is a scream — we actually wrote that part for Joan Rivers [but] we could not figure out the timing. It was just Joan Rivers is the busiest woman on earth. But we got lucky because Mary Louise is genius. And Rosie Perez, you know, it’s ridiculous if she doesn’t win an Emmy for what she did on the show. I think she was perfect. It’s funny, some of those actors that get a little more age on them, they even become more interesting. She is remarkable. I think she is amazing.
AE: Tell me: Who played the two lesbians in an upcoming episode where they’re a couple that fights the whole time? They were so fun.
LW: Jennifer Dundas hadn’t acted in two years because she started an ice cream company in Brooklyn so we got her out of retirement. ” Just come play this little part.” Wendy Hoopes just came in and auditioned. We put them together and they were so funny. I said, “This is great. The bickering lesbians, you guys are perfect.” I loved them. I thought they were wonderful.
AE: When Edie won her Best Actress Emmy for the show, I remember her saying she’s not funny, which is hilarious and so not true.
LW: Two years ago. I know. She doesn’t have a clue how funny she is. She’s hilarious.
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AE: Do you think part of the key to that is she doesn’t play funny? She just plays the character and she’s such a good actor that she just plays the role and doesn’t think about trying to be funny?
LW: There’s a scene where she gets served divorce papers. Well, it’s the whole idea of Edie and I, from our own experience with addiction and sobriety, we laugh about how when you have a feeling in the old days you order a drink, now you just get cranky and you want food and, “Give me some sugar!” When you play the truth of that it’s really funny. It’s like something inside you goes, “Fine, fine, have pie.” So, Edie is so good at that I’m like, “I’m hoping that you’re seeing that you’re funny.” And she says, “No, I’m not.” And I say, “Well, you are. You are funny.” I think she’s finally learning that she is.
AE: What’s the update on the Melissa project?
LW: It’s so exciting! I’ve always loved her music and I always knew, “She needs to write for Broadway!” She has written such cool music for the original musical. It’s a little early to talk too much about it. I’m nervous to tell you more about it.
AE: So it will have original music but will it also have her big hits that we all know?
LW: No, actually. This will actually be all original. She’s writing her story, and that is so fun. We’re both such musical theater geeks so, no, she would be writing her story. But some of the songs are so amazing. She’s going to be in the studio starting Monday and she’s about to put out a new album so some of the stuff that’s in the musical could come out on her new album, which is very exciting but, again, it’s all still under wraps and as soon as we know more about what to tell you we’re going to tell you.
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AE: Is biographical the correct word to use for the project?
LW: Let’s see, the story is more autobiographical on my end about my experiences in New York back in the ’80s. That’s all I want to say. I don’t know if it’s going to be a period piece or not. We’re not sure yet but it’s all about what happened to me in the ’80s here.
Nurse Jackie airs at 9pm et/pt Sundays on Showtime.