Merritt Wever weathers the storm of Nurse Jackie
Nurse Jackie has proven to be one of Showtime's biggest and most popular hit series. The original drama debuted in June of 2009 to huge ratings, becoming one of their most successful shows to date. Edie Falco stars as Jackie Peyton, an emergency room nurse working at All Saints' Hospital in New York City. It's a rough, gritty, darkly hilarious ride. And a definite must see. The Season One DVD and Blu-ray sets were released a few weeks ago, and Season Two is set to kick off on March 22nd with the brand new Episode 2.01: "Comfort Food". Which picks up a few months after Jackie's final confrontation with Eddie in the season one finale. To celebrate both the DVD release and the series' imminent return, we caught up with Merritt Wever, who plays the ever-popular nurse-in-training Zoey Barkow. Here's what she had to say for herself and this excellent comedy of terrors:
Looking back at Season One, which moment shocked and surprised you the most?
Merritt Wever: Oh, geez. I knew this was going to be hard. I knew this was going to be about season one. But we just finished shooting season two a couple of months ago. It's hard to revisit that far back. Tackling that guy! I wouldn't say I was shocked and surprised, but I was mightily pleased when I read that in the script. I loved the part where I tackled that half naked guy. I haven't thought about season one in a while. It's about refocusing the mind. Tackling the naked guy was a lot of fun. I was very impressed with the writers. I thought that was a really good idea.
You bring up an interesting notion. Did you feel compelled to go back to season one to look at the work you did? So that there was some continuity between seasons? Did you have to refresh yourself a bit?
Merritt Wever: No. If anything, I tried to put what I saw of season one out of my mind. And I saw it all. I find it a little confusing. I never found the opportunity to watch myself that much before. Especially when I am expected to return to playing a character. I found it a bit weird. It took me a couple of episodes into season two to stop feeling the sensation that I was playing someone I'd seen on TV. I felt like I was doing an imitation of somebody. It's hard, because I want to watch season two. But it's a bit worrisome. Because if we do go back for a third season, we might shoot pretty close to when season two is airing. I am worried that I might have the same wonky experience in going back to play the character after watching her in these twelve new episodes.
I don't think I've ever heard an actor express that concern before.
Merritt Wever: I am watching myself play the character. That's why it's so strange to go back to playing her again. I get it stuck in my head, and it's hard to go back freshly. The best way I can put it is that I feel like I am now imitating someone I saw on TV. Its hard. I really want to see season two. But I am a little worried about how it will mess with my head. I think that happens when you watch yourself. Its one thing to watch a movie that you've done. Because you're not expected to revisit that character. But to be expected to go back to being that person after you've watched them? It's strange. I think it is.
When you were shooting season one, did you feel like you might not be coming back for a second season?
Merritt Wever: No. It's not that at all. I had never been a regular on a TV show. It never occurred to me how strange it might be to go back for a second season after watching myself play a person. It might just be me not being used to watching myself. Maybe that's the kind of thing that I will get used to over time. Maybe it won't be that much of a problem. There's a lot more than just me in an episode. And I definitely want to see what happens on the show. I want to know how things play out. It would be a shame to not be able to watch the show.
How are you guys continuing to push the envelope this season?
Merritt Wever: We are pushing forward in all kinds of way. I don't think anyone considers it pushing the envelope. We are not trying to be shocking or cutting edge. We got to go back for season two with a really great foundation. The writers did an excellent job of opening everyone up. They really found the pace and tone at which to present these characters. At the end of season one, all of the characters had many different places that they could possibly go. The writers really branched out in season two. They did a good job of taking advantage. They gave everyone room to grow. Which is vital and necessary for a series. It might as well be a film if people aren't going to change. If you don't watch it and see growth. And new experiences.
How do you feel Zoey has changed and transformed throughout season one, and where is the character headed at this point?
Merritt Wever: At the end of season one, she has made a really big mistake. Season one was all about her being the newbie. She was enthusiastic, determined, and focused. But she was green. In season two, the writers give her a new chance. We pick up a few months after season one ends. I believe. The whole season isn't about her being brand spanking new anymore. She is a little more comfortable in the hospital and in her place. Its not all about her doing things for the first time anymore. Which I appreciated. In retrospect, I don't know how many seasons we could have kept that going?
Are you a little more comfortable on-set with the nurse terminology? And what you guys are doing in the emergency room. It seems like you'd have a lot of training to do. And you're learning this at the same time your character is.
Merritt Wever: We have an on-set advisor. A nurse. For any time that we are doing scenes that requite that knowledge. We were just faking it. We were being told what to do. And when. We were mimicking the movements and learning the lines. We never really understood too much about what we were saying. We just had to get used to the movements. I never felt like I was being asked to do something really complicated. The procedures weren't crazy. Its not like I was doing surgery.
Did you at least learn how to give shots and draw blood from people?
Merritt Wever: Nope. I just learned how to fake it. I didn't learn how to do anything for real. I just learned how to make it look good for the TV.
Speaking of your actions in the finale. You administered the wrong drug to a movie critic and put him in a coma. Was that jab at some of the criticism towards the show?
Merritt Wever: Oh! I don't think so at all. This didn't even occur to me. I didn't ask, since it didn't cross my mind. But I don't think that's at all the intension behind it. You're safe!
I don't talk shit about Nurse Jackie. I don't even review TV shows. I just talk to the actors, like you. I thought maybe that was the idea though. This critic comes out of his coma, and his mind is completely altered. I thought maybe that was a way for the writers to say, "Look out, we're about to slap you into a coma, and when you come out of it, you're not going to believe season two!" But that's not the case?
Merritt Wever: (Laughs) I don't want to say that I am just an actor. I purposely try not to look at the big picture. I just try to keep up with what scene we are shooting. I want to serve what we are doing on that particular day. It's hard. The writers have to look at the big picture. They know what is coming. We're only getting it script to script. It becomes an exercise in taking what you have that week, or that day, and doing it the best you can. Just knowing that things are going to change And you will be given some new information. You have to take it, internalize it, and roll with it.
Are you able to voice your opinion when it comes to Zoey? Or do you just roll with the punches and do what they tell you to do?
Merritt Wever: I haven't been uncomfortable with anything yet. There are little tweaks on set. But the writers are there for rehearsals and during shooting. Usually, they will come to you before you even shoot a scene to tweak little problems and fix anything that seems weir or off. They are very open. I can say, "I don't understand this." If they see me struggling with a line, and they think its something they can help me with, they'll step in. It's not that other type of atmosphere, which I understand and have been a part of. This is justified, valid, and fine. A word is a word, and you memorize it. It is what it is. Its different styles. Different shows.
Season one revolves around this mentorship between Jackie and Zoey. There is a real teacher-student relationship there. How will that relationship continue to evolve throughout season two?
Merritt Wever: It's still that relationship. It's not as formal in season two. Zoey has been around for a couple of months. She is still very much the student. She still thinks that Jackie is very much the bee's knees. She is the person she goes to with any problem or any questions.
And what about her relationship with Dr. O'Hara. How is that set to change over the course of these next twelve episodes?
Merritt Wever: Zooey and O'Hara get to spend a little more time together and have interactions. I am looking forward to seeing what happens between them if there is a season three. Zoey is probably still intimidated by O'Hara. She thinks as highly of her as she thinks of Jackie. But I think she holds Jackie closer to her heart.
The creators behind every successful drama on television today claim they are working towards an arch. And that their series are set for a limited amount of seasons. Is that true for Nurse Jackie? Is there going to be an inevitable conclusion?
Merritt Wever: I don't think it's week-by-week, or season by season for the writers. Obviously, our show doesn't really compare to some of the other dramas out there. It is character driven, and it's not really the same genre. There's a mystery element to a lot of those shows. It's not as necessary to be involved as an actor with that kind of stuff. I have talked with the writers. They have ideas and directions for storylines. They sit in that writers' room for months before the actors even show up. They hash out where they want things to go. I know that everything is planned. There are directions. They are building towards certain arcs and storylines. This is all in place before we even step on set. The first season is the first season. Season two, you get to see how they take what they've created and run with it. I trust that they will continue to do the same thing in season three if we get there.
The Nurse Jackie Season One DVD and Blu-ray is in stores now. The second season premiere is set to debut March 22nd only on Showtime.