Falco lays down the law
Sopranos star talks to about playing defence attorney Leslie Abramson in a new look at the Menendez case.
In 1989, Edie Falco paid little attention to the sensational Menendez murder trial. ‘‘The case was in the background of my life,’’ says Falco, when asked about the national fascination with the brutal Beverly Hills slayings of entertainment executive Jose Menendez and his wife, Mary Louise ‘‘Kitty’’ Menendez. The suspects were their sons, Lyle and Erik, 21 and 18 respectively at the time of the murders.
‘‘There were other things to think about, and there were not ,000 channels at the time,’’ says the Brooklyn native. Her distracted impression was that it was just ‘‘a couple of bratty kids that killed their rich parents’’.
A few years shy of the crime’s 30th anniversary, the case has moved to the frontline of Falco’s character gallery as the actress – who scored back-to-back triumphs with her Emmywinning roles on The Sopranos and Nurse Jackie – stars in Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders, which premieres in New Zealand on TVNZ1 on October 12.
Falco plays no-nonsense defense attorney Leslie Abramson in the eight-episode series, which introduces a nonfiction extension to the brand created by Dick Wolf. The producer hopes the project is the first of many that can use the L&O formula.
The Menendez series will feature some Law & Order hallmarks: the colourful opening logo and the ‘‘chung chung’’ between scenes.
‘‘You have to appeal to your base,’’ Wolf says with a chuckle. ‘‘I’m using every comfort zone for my audience.’’
The docudrama also marks the latest in a stream of Hollywood projects that reflect the ongoing interest in the scandalous murders, which centred on whether the Menendez brothers were cold-blooded murderers or victims of horrific child abuse who killed their parents to escape torment (the brothers were sentenced to life in prison in 1996).
Among the various projects were Lifetime’s June film Menendez: Blood Brothers, which featured Courtney Love as Kitty Menendez, and two separate made-for-TV movies in 1994.
The Law & Order version is the first to position Abramson as the central character, and a more extensive examination of the killings is planned.
Executive producer and showrunner Rene Balcer believes the brothers were unfairly treated by what he called a corrupt justice system.
‘‘These guys never should have been sentenced to life without parole,’’ Balcer says. ‘‘They were over-charged and over-sentenced. They were abused kids who killed their abusers.’’
Although she had little interest at the time, Falco says she was attracted to the series by the complicated dynamics.
‘‘Things are never what they seem,’’ the actress adds.
Just minutes earlier, she had put on the wig that matched Abramson’s famously frizzy mane. Her appearance was worlds away from that of manicured mob wife Carmela Soprano or drugaddicted nurse Jackie Peyton.
‘‘It’s a story of child abuse.
That stuff hopefully affects everyone, but it really just gets me right in my gut what these boys were put through,’’ says Falco, the mother of two young kids. ‘‘There’s something more grotesque about the fact that they had money. They were not allowed to be seen as victims.‘‘
She was also moved by Abramson’s mission to do right by the brothers.
‘‘Leslie is a woman who is very good at her job,’’ she says. ‘‘She is passionate about it and believes in her clients. That doesn’t necessarily mean she believes they’re innocent, but she believes in their right to a fair defense.’’
Moments later, Falco was on the steps of an office building substituting for the Beverly Hills Courthouse, surrounded by extras playing reporters at a brief news conference. Her tone was direct and stern as she channelled Abramson, accusing prosecutors and police of violating her clients’ rights of doctor-patient privilege by seizing notes from Erik Menendez’s psychiatrist.
‘‘Any of us that sees a doctor, consults a lawyer or even confides in a priest, minister or rabbi had better be worried,’’ she says, as Abramson.
Lesli Linka Glatter ( Homeland), who directed the first two episodes and also serves as an executive producer, said she was continually impressed by Falco’s performance.
‘‘Edie is an amazing actress, and she cannot lie,’’ says Glatter. ‘‘When she takes on a role, she gets fully inside a character.’’
Taking on such an intense character in a broadcast network drama was not part of a specific career plan, says Falco.
‘‘I have never known my creative direction after two iconic roles,’’ she says. ‘‘For a long time after The Sopranos, the offers were all Italian wives. After Nurse Jackie, it was tons of scripts about drug addicts.’’
Reflecting on those roles gives her both personal and professional perspective.
‘‘The only thing that comes to mind is gratitude,’’ she says. ‘‘I feel tremendously blessed that I was presented with these two things that kept me busy for 10 years each.‘‘ – Los Angeles Times
Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders 8.30pm, Thursday, TVNZ1.
Edie Falco plays defence attorney Leslie Abramson in Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders.
Falco is back in the spotlight thanks to Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders.