Since she uttered the very first line on The Sopranos, — "Mr. Soprano? Have a seat," — actress Lorraine Bracco has captivated the country, and the critics, as Dr. Jennifer Melfi, the brains behind the cable TV show's crime boss, Tony Soprano.
Bracco is a three-time Emmy nominee for her role as Tony Soprano's psychologist in HBO's The Sopranos, and some critics think this might be the year for her to win. She was nominated in 1990 for an Oscar for her role in Martin Scorsese's mob movie, Goodfellas.
The 46-year-old actress said she's never expected the Emmy nomination, and each one has been a surprise.
The actress has been nominated twice for Best Actress against co-star Edie Falco, who plays Tony Soprano's wife. Bracco said she would like to win, but she supports Falco, and is glad when a cast member of the show wins.
Bracco was originally approached to play Carmela, Tony's wife, but instead she chose the role of Dr. Melfi, his psychiatrist. She and Chase, the show's creator, agreed that she had already played the mob wife role in the film Goodfellas, so she really wanted a role that was more of a stretch.
"Jennifer [Dr. Melfi] was a much more contained personality, something very different than playing a mafia wife which I played in Goodfellas with Martin Scorsese," Bracco said on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America.
A Startling Rape Scene
In the past season, Bracco's character — who everyone is so used to as a fixture in her office, talking to Tony Soprano — was raped in a dramatic departure from her usual scenes. Viewers saw Bracco kicking and screaming as she was attacked in a stairwell.
Though furious that the rapist went free, her character, Dr. Melfi, was careful not to tell Tony Soprano about the rape. Personally, she wouldn't have hesitated to have Tony bump the attacker off, Bracco said with a laugh.
The rape was show creator David Chase's idea, and the show writers decided to do it. She didn't suggest it, Bracco said. In fact she was surprised at the story line, because Melfi was always the "caretaker and the moral character," and it didn't seem like she was someone who would be hurt on the show.
Gandolfini Full of Gags on the Set
Most of Bracco's scenes on The Sopranos involve close-ups with James Gandolfini, who plays Tony Soprano. And when she's on camera, and he isn't Gandolfini stands just off set, trying to make Bracco laugh.
He acts very silly, making it difficult for her to keep a straight face while she gives her serious shrink talk, Bracco says.
Real psychologists give Bracco a thumbs-up for her portrayal on the show, and often approach her to express admiration. She wants to keep her character real and ethical on the show, which is why her character and Tony Soprano will never sleep together, Bracco said.
She couldn't say much about the next episodes of The Sopranos. Shooting begins in October, and desperate fans will have to wait until next June or even next September to see the next season. On the big screen, Bracco will next be seen as Drew Barrymore's mother in the Penny Marshall directed movie, Riding in Cars with Boys.