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Not My Job: We Ask 'Sopranos' Star Edie Falco 3 Questions About Tenors

BILL KURTIS: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME, the NPR news quiz. I'm Bill Kurtis. And here is your host at the Chase Bank Auditorium in Chicago, Peter Sagal.


Thank you, Bill.


SAGAL: As we move into the colder months of the year, we're giving you a chance to warm yourselves in the heat of our favorite recycled clips.

KURTIS: Think of the past hour as a landfill, piled high with slowly decaying limericks and puns.


SAGAL: Back in April, award-winning actor Edie Falco joined us, which gave us the chance to ask someone what it's like to be on a hit show.

KURTIS: Edie joined us in April, along with Helen Hong, Maz Jobrani and Mo Rocca.


EDIE FALCO: Thank you. Thank you very much.

SAGAL: Thank you.


FALCO: Happy to be here.

SAGAL: "The Sopranos" was really, like, in my memory, anyway, the first really cult TV show of the modern era that everybody watched.

FALCO: Yeah, I guess so. I mean, you certainly don't know it at the time. But in retrospect, yeah, I guess it was kind of a thing, you know?

SAGAL: Yeah, it was the first show I remember that everybody had to get together on Monday to talk about what had happened the night before. It was...

FALCO: I love that.

SAGAL: Yeah, it's pretty great. But like a lot of actors, you had a struggling period right at the start, right?

FALCO: Oh, please. Years and years of it, yeah.

SAGAL: Really?

FALCO: I mean, I waitressed for - I don't know - a gazillion years. I ran telephones at various offices and dressed up like Cookie Monster at a wedding.


SAGAL: Hold on.

FALCO: You know?

SAGAL: Well, hold on.

HELEN HONG: That sounds amazing.

SAGAL: Go back a little bit.

FALCO: No, that's all right.

SAGAL: No, wait.


MO ROCCA: I hope you weren't a bridesmaid.

SAGAL: You were the - you were a cookie monster or the Cookie Monster?

FALCO: The very one. The very one.

SAGAL: The very one. You were the Cookie Monster...

FALCO: Yeah.

SAGAL: ...At a wedding?


SAGAL: How would that go?

FALCO: Trying to get people onto the dance floor...

SAGAL: Oh, my God.

FALCO: ...Which was something...

HONG: What?

FALCO: ...I always hated.


SAGAL: I love that. I'm also imagining the Cookie Monster officiating, you know?

FALCO: Yeah.

SAGAL: (Imitating Cookie Monster) Want matrimony?


MAZ JOBRANI: Who hires the Cookie Monster for an adult wedding? Were they...

ROCCA: Big Bird.

JOBRANI: ...Tripping on acid?


SAGAL: I know that "The Sopranos" was far from your first job, but it was - let's just say it was your first prominent job. First, I have to ask, how did you get the job of playing Carmela Soprano, the wife to Tony, the mob boss?

FALCO: It was an audition like any other. And, you know, I popped in. I knew I wouldn't be cast because I - you know, it was an Italian-American woman, which I happen to be. But I guess I never really thought I looked very much like that.

SAGAL: Yeah.

FALCO: And so there was a certain ease that came during the audition. And I got home, and they called me that night...


FALCO: ...To tell me that I had gotten the thing.

SAGAL: That's...

FALCO: Crazy.

SAGAL: ...Amazing.

HONG: Wow.

SAGAL: And did - when you read the script for that first episode, "Guy Walks Into A Psychiatrist's Office"...

FALCO: Yeah.

SAGAL: Did you think, well, this is going to be an enormous cultural phenomenon that'll change the shape of television for decades to come?

FALCO: Oh, my God, verbatim.


SAGAL: So one of the things that we knew - and we actually, back in the day, interviewed some of the actors in the show. And one of the things that everybody would hear about is that every actor in "The Sopranos" was terrified that someday, David Chase or one of the other producers would say, come here, we've got to talk to you.

FALCO: Yeah.

SAGAL: And they'd let you know that you were going to get whacked.

FALCO: That's right.

SAGAL: Or your character. They didn't actually kill any actors, as far as I know.

FALCO: Right. No.


FALCO: One of the guys who got killed - and I will not say. All of a sudden, after that episode, they started getting all these letters from fans saying, oh, why did you kill off so-and-so, blah, blah, blah, which seemed sort of unusual. And after a period of time, it was all traced back to the actor himself.

SAGAL: Really?

HONG: What?

FALCO: Uh-huh.


HONG: Wow.

ROCCA: Got to hand it to him. Got to hand it to him.

FALCO: He tried.

SAGAL: He tried.

FALCO: Got to give him some credit.

SAGAL: So you went right from "The Sopranos," and you did this other - well, I don't know if was right from "The Sopranos." But soon after "The Sopranos," you did this new show on Showtime called "Nurse Jackie."

FALCO: Right.

SAGAL: Which was about a nurse who had, among other things, a drug problem and various other problems.

FALCO: Right.

SAGAL: Have you ever, like, wanted to just play a normal, nice person?

FALCO: Yeah. So much.


FALCO: So, so much. Luckily, I don't spend a lot of time wondering why that rarely comes my way.


SAGAL: Oh, here's an insanely troubled, morally questionable person. Get Falco.

FALCO: I know who can do that. No, I mean, I really am a remarkably, like, regular, stable person. So I'm not quite sure how this whole thing happened.

ROCCA: You should do a musical.



SAGAL: All right, what musical do you think she should do?

ROCCA: No, because they always say it'll light - you know, if you want something lighter. It'll lighten up your image, also.

FALCO: Yes. Yes. You - I would love to - honestly, I would love to do a musical.

ROCCA: Like, Maria - play Maria on "The Sound Of Music."

FALCO: No. Not a...

JOBRANI: How about...


JOBRANI: How about a musical version of "The Sopranos"?


SAGAL: And how about "Auntie Mame," but as Carmela?

FALCO: Oh, my God.

SAGAL: That would be fun.

FALCO: My head is spinning.

ROCCA: How about "Auntie Mame," but as Cookie Monster?


SAGAL: Well, Edie Falco, we've invited you here to play game we're calling...

KURTIS: (Singing) Woke up this morning, got myself an aria.

SAGAL: So...

FALCO: Oh, God.



SAGAL: You saw this coming. You starred in "The Sopranos," as we have discussed. So naturally, we thought we'd ask you about tenors.

FALCO: No, of course.


SAGAL: Makes perfect sense. Get two out of these multiple-choice questions right, you'll win a prize for one of our listeners - the voice of anyone they like on our show on their voicemail. Bill, who is Edie Falco playing for?

KURTIS: Allan Fenney of Melbourne, Australia.

HONG: Wow.

FALCO: Oh, my goodness.

SAGAL: All right. Here we go. First question - the tenor Jose Carreras demonstrated that he was destined to be an opera singer early on in life. How? A, when he sang "Happy Birthday" at a 5-year-old's party, all the other children wept, and the party was canceled; B, he sang so much at home, his family got sick of it and made him sing in the bathroom, where they locked him in; or C, the sound he made when he got his first flu shot reportedly made the doctor give up medicine and become a poet?


FALCO: The answer's B.

SAGAL: The answer, in fact, is, of course, B.


SAGAL: He always singing. His family got sick of it. They locked him in the bathroom.


SAGAL: The acoustics must have been excellent because, of course, he went on...

FALCO: That's it.

SAGAL: ...To a legendary career. All right. Next question - the great tenor Robert White says the greatest high note of his career, as it were, happened in a surprising way - which of these? A, a bug flew in his mouth and right down his throat, possibly loosening him up so he could reach the note; B, he accidentally sat right on the fat lady's Viking helmet and let out the highest note he'd ever hit; or C, he heard a car alarm going off in the opera house's parking lot and was inspired to out-sing it?

FALCO: Uh-huh. I think it's C.

SAGAL: You think it's C, the car alarm. It was actually A. A bug flew down his throat.


HONG: What?

SAGAL: And he says it somehow loosened up his throat, that he was able to hit his finest high note.

FALCO: Oh, my Lord.

SAGAL: I know. All right.

FALCO: All right.

SAGAL: But this is fine, though. You have one more chance.

FALCO: Uh-huh.

SAGAL: Here we go. Though he died in 2007, Luciano Pavarotti - the greatest tenor of all time, some say - will live on thanks to his music, and also thanks to which of these scientific discoveries? A, the Pavarotti Effect in which animals exposed to his voice experience increased libido...


SAGAL: ...B, the Pavarotti syndrome, a psychological condition in which 60-year-old men think they can pass for 25-year-old romantic leads...


SAGAL: ...Or C, the Pavarotti gene found in fruit flies, which causes their cells to become abnormally fat? So...


SAGAL: C? You think C?

FALCO: Yeah.

SAGAL: Yeah, you're right. It's C.


FALCO: I knew it.

SAGAL: You did know it.

FALCO: I knew it.


SAGAL: Bill, how did Edie Falco do on our quiz?

KURTIS: Well, 2 out of 3 is a win, Edie, in our book.


KURTIS: But as you would say on "The Sopranos," it looks like three to me.


SAGAL: We're all going to puzzle that out, Edie.

FALCO: Yeah.

SAGAL: We're all going to figure out what that means. But in the meantime, congratulations. Edie Falco - her new movie is "Outside In." It's in theaters now and available for streaming almost anywhere that things stream. Edie Falco, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.

FALCO: My pleasure.

SAGAL: What a pleasure to talk to you.


SAGAL: Thank you so much.

KURTIS: Bye, Edie.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.