'Nurse Jackie': Merritt Wever talks Zoey
She’s filled numerous roles on “Nurse Jackie.” She started off as a newbie. The audience got to learn about All Saints Hospital through her cheery eyes. She supplied comic relief when Jackie’s problems got a little too heavy or real. And she also acted as the counter balance. Jackie took us to the edge of darkness with her lying, cheating and addiction, but Zoey remained cheery and optimistic, reveling in her ultimate naughtiness of helping a coworker leave early. It’s like Jacob and the Man in Black. (“Lost” is gone two weeks, and I still can’t stop thinking about it. When’s the seventh season starting?)
Although Zoey fills all these roles, one person fills the role of Zoey: Merritt Wever. I got a chance to speak with Wever in preparation for Monday night’s Season 2 finale of “Nurse Jackie,” and I asked her how Zoey compared with Merritt. “I’m sure there are things I bring to her of me, but I think we’re pretty different. She’s naturally more enthusiastic and energetic than I am,” Wever said. “In Season 2, she’s still very happy to be there, but she’d like to think of herself already as an old pro. She likes to play it cool.”
Though Zoey is still a little fresh-faced, Wever is closer to an old pro, acting in films such as “Into the Wild” and “Greenburg,” as well as the part for which I remember her most, an over-sharing pharmacist in M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs.”
Even with her experience, Wever couldn’t imagine landing the role on “Nurse Jackie.” “I remember getting the script, and it was called ‘The Untitled Edie Falco Project,’ and it was like, ‘Oh, that’s going to be amazing, but I won’t be part of it.’ ”
Luckily, the creative minds behind “Nurse Jackie” thought differently, and Wever joined the cast, which was headed up by Falco, along with Eve Best and Anna Deavere Smith. A trio of incredible female actors. “The ensemble has so many full-grown women in it. It’s not a rarity by any means, but I definitely noticed. Maybe because I came into the show when I was in my 20s.” But Wever disagreed when I referred to the show as female-centric. “I wouldn’t consider it female-centric. We’ve been conditioned to think that the norm is male-centric. It isn’t only about women by any means.”
And Wever dove into the role of Zoey. “I have fun playing her because she’s so weird. It’s quite a treat. The stranger the better.” She says Zoey “goes very non-sequitur. Makes connections that aren’t really connections. I liked this season a lot when Julia Ormond came on the show and asked Zoey to go a little stealth, a little under cover. I loved playing that. She’s absurd a lot of the time, and that’s really, really fun. “
Wever enjoyed her role as a more lighthearted character, especially on set. “One of the best things is when they say cut, and people are laughing. Or when they don’t say cut and people laugh. The worst thing is to laugh when you’re messing up someone else’s scene. It usually means it was so hilarious, and now they can’t use it. I try to bite my lip.
“I don’t try to make people laugh. There was one time when I made Anna Smith laugh, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that made me feel really good. I liked making that really fantastic woman laugh. And Akalitus happens to be a character that cracks me up. Unexpectedly. I didn’t know how hard it would be to keep a straight face with her during scenes. That character scares me, and she’s so funny. “
To play Zoey, Wever also had to learn the lingo of an ER nurse. “I just memorize the lines they give me, and there’s a really great advisor on set who is there whenever we have to do any procedure. She tells us how to do it and make it look like we know what we’re doing. The camera people help out a lot too. They tell us when they can see our hands. We just have to move our elbows back and forth,” Wever joked.
As the show headed into its second season, Zoey’s life expanded. “I didn’t realized until we were already shooting Season 2 how boring it would be for me and the people watching the show if she was playing the same role as she was in the first season. If she was there to just be new and take in the experience and not know anything.”
Wever praised the show’s writers for the development of Zoey, admitting she was new to the experience: “This is the first time I’ve gone back to something for a second season.” (Wever had a reoccurring role on “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” but the show didn’t get picked up.) “I’ve never had the chance to watch myself at length. For half the season, I was doing an imitation of someone I’d seen on TV. Took me a while to get that out of my system.”
Not that I could tell. In my opinion, Zoey grew more than any other character in the second season. Although I’m sure Wever would credit the show’s writers, I say Zoey wouldn’t be as grounded or as real without Wever’s portrayal. You can see for yourself in the season finale of “Nurse Jackie” on Monday night. And don’t forget to check in afterward for my complete wrap-up of the season here on Show Tracker.
-- Andrew Hanson
Photos, from top: Merritt Wever as Zoey and Stephen Wallem as Thor. Wever with Lenny Jacobson as Lenny. Credit: Showtime Television
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