TV fans fell in love with Merritt Wever from the get-go as adorable newbie nurse Zoey Barkow on Showtime’s Nurse Jackie. In a cast that includes theatrical heavyweights Edie Falco, Eve Best and Anna Deavere Smith, Wever more than holds her own—which isn’t really surprising given the fact that she’s been acting professionally for almost half of her 30 years. Currently, she’s charming audiences as a shrewd and ambitious maid in Tony Kushner’s The Illusion at Signature Theatre Company, and she'll be heading to Williamstown in August to star in Bess Wohl's Touch(ed). In conversation, Wever is both friendly and self-deprecating, with zero interest in self-promotion.
What drew you to The Illusion?
It was a challenge. I’d never worked with this kind of language before, so it was scary, which is a good thing. And I love Tony Kushner—I was a little flabbergasted that I got to be in anything he wrote. I wouldn’t want to try to describe it, but I’ve always liked what he has to say about love and life. His writing is so rich that you can mine him for a very long time as an actor and not come to the end.
Has it been fun to do a period comedy?
That was new, and it was fun. I’m not sure if I should use the word “fun,” because I don’t use the word fun in real life for a lot of things.
What about the costumes? Do you mind wearing those 17th-century corsets?
I was thinking it would be a lot more constraining, but our costume designer [Susan Hilferty] did a lot of work in making things liveable and workable. I love how informing the clothes are to the character.
Season three of Nurse Jackie is coming to an end. Did you expect the show to be this successful?
No, no. First of all, I’m not that kind of optimistic person. I didn’t know what “successful” would mean.
Sounds like you’re pretty different from your character.
Probably! Internally. If Zoey is an optimistic person, we’re very different.
What have you loved most about being part of the show?
In a superficial way, I appreciate the fact that for three months out of the year, I know I have this job to go to that I enjoy. That’s such a rare thing for an actor, to have any kind of job security, so I’m trying to appreciate that while it lasts. I am painfully aware of what the actor’s life really is, and I’m trying to be grateful.
Several of your co-stars came out to support you on opening night. Nurse Jackie must be a nice set to work on.
Oh, it is. That’s the other thing I love. It’s very laid back, and that comes from the top, from Edie [Falco]. She sets a really, really lovely tone for the show. Working with her has been the best part, and also getting to play somebody like Zoey. I like what the writers have done with her. It’s very fun to fulfill every episode, and that’s not how all jobs are.
You’re a graduate of the famous LaGuardia arts high school. When did you decide you wanted to be an actor?
I don’t remember having that kind of realization. It was just something that I was able to do growing up in New York, and I kept doing it. My mother was and is a huge arts lover and takes advantage of New York City as few people do. She had me going here and there, to all kinds of classes. It was a privilege, growing up here and having a passionate and intelligent mother.
Every article about you makes it sound like you’re ambivalent about calling attention to yourself.
I don’t think I would call it ambivalent. I think I am wary. The good that comes from it are things like people being more familiar with your work and maybe hiring you because of it.
What about encounters with fans?
That’s been lovely and not at all a problem. I don’t really know how to say it….
Loss of privacy?
I don’t have that problem. But I would not seek out more attention than I have now. It’s probably not good for you as a person or as an actor.
Finally, we’ve got to ask about this entry in your IMDB.com bio: “She also likes to eat steak, have a little wine, walk in the snow and talk to Canadians.”
I did not write that, but somebody who knows me wrote it. It was a long time ago. But why not? All those things are true.