Lorraine Bracco: Portraying the Educated Italian Woman

Lorraine Bracco is probably best known for her role of Dr. Jennifer Melfi in The Sopranos as well as mobster-wife Karen Hill in Goodfellas – a role for which she was recognized with award nominations.

Portraying an educated Italian woman isn’t such a stretch for this intelligent New York actress. Born in Brooklyn to an Italian American father and an English mother, Bracco fluently speaks French and Italian.

Bracco had dreams of becoming a model and soon signed on with the Wilhelmina Agency in New York. She appeared in Mademoiselle, Seventeen and Teen magazines. The young and brave Brooklynite soon set her sights higher: she moved to Parish at the age of 19 and began modeling for designer Jean Paul Gaultier.

While in Paris, the bright Bracco began her film career. She started out as a DJ for Radio Luxembourg which soon garnered her a position as a producer on a variety television show, “Les Enfants Du Rock.” This lead to appearances in several French comedy films.

After returning to the United States, film roles began to pick up for Bracco. She appeared in Ridley Scott’s “Someone to Watch Over Me” quickly followed by “The Pick Up Artist” and “The Dream Team.”

Martin Scorsese had Bracco in mind for the role of Ray Liotta’s mob wife in “Goodfellas.” This role earned Bracco notice as well as Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress. It earned her the Chicago and Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards.

After that, roles began pouring in for the multi-talented Bracco. She appeared in “Radio Flyer,” “Being Human” and “The Basketball Diaries.”

As fortune would have it, it was about this time that Bracco’s career hit a slump. While dealing with clinical depression, she also ended up millions of dollars in debt from a lengthy custody battle with Harvey Keitel with whom she had had a long relationship.

She was undergoing therapy when she was approached by David Chase for the role of Tony Soprano’s wife Carmela. But Bracco liked the character of psychiatrist Jennifer Melfi better. The portrayal of a strong, well-educated Italian woman earned Bracco four Emmy nominations and three Golden Globe Award nominations.

No doubt her portrayal of strong Italian women is what lead to her current role as the mother of Jane Rizzoli.


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