Falco lays down the law

So­pra­nos star talks to about play­ing de­fence at­tor­ney Les­lie Abram­son in a new look at the Me­nen­dez case.

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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.

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