Lorraine Bracco first auditioned for Martin Scorsese when he was casting his comedy gem After Hours in 1985. She didn’t get the part and was quite upset, but Scorsese made a promise that they’d work together one day. That day came a few years later when he cast Bracco in his 1990 Oscar-winning epic Goodfellas as real-life mob wife Karen Hill (nee Friedman), a Jewish girl who becomes intoxicated with the glamorous world to which Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) introduces her. Bracco and Liotta played out two decades in the tumultuous life of the Hills, culminating in Henry becoming an informant and the couple going into witness protection.
Bracco received a much-deserved Academy Award nomination for her grounded yet dizzyingly bold performance. Her career was made. Somewhat. (She lost the Oscar to Whoopi Goldberg for the ridiculously popular Ghost.)
Goodfellas wasn’t Bracco’s first movie, but it was her first major screen role. She started out as a model in France and was cast in a few European films including the great Italian director Lina Wertmüller’s little-seen Camora because she happened to be married to the lead, Harvey Keitel, at the time. She would eventually study with John Strasberg (Lee’s son) and score major roles in Ridley Scott’s Someone to Watch Over Me and Richard J. Baskin’s Sing. Then, along came Goodfellas and the acclaim.
But the flood of offers did not pour in. She would go on to appear in Blake Edwards’ Switch, Medicine Man, Radio Flyers, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (directed by Gus Van Sant), The Basketball Diaries, and Hackers through the ’90s until she was offered another mob wife role on a certain HBO series.
When David Chase met with Bracco for his show, The Sopranos, he wanted her for the part of Carmela, NJ mob boss Tony Soprano’s acerbic wife. Bracco, having read the script, was drawn to another role — Dr. Jennifer Melfi, an intelligent, educated Italian-American who served as the show’s moral compass. She got the role she wanted, but after filming the pilot, Bracco was afraid Melfi would be the show’s weakest link. How wrong she was. Six Sopranos seasons brought her four Emmy nominations (her not winning for the Employee of the Month episode in Season 3 remains a head scratcher) and an introduction to an entirely new audience.
In 2002, she made her Broadway debut replacing Kathleen Turner as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate. She has been working non-stop since appearing in all 105 episodes of TNT’s immensely popular crime series Rissoli and Isles as Angie Harmon’s helicopter mom as well as in a bunch of indie films.
Bracco is a true Italian-American icon, daring to portray strong, kick-ass women who are in charge of their own destinies.
She is currently co-starring in writer-director Waheed AlQawasmi’s debut feature Jacir. The film is a searing, honest look at the extreme divisiveness in our country via an odd relationship between a Syrian refugee, the titular Jacir (Malek Rahbani), and his conservative, racist opiod-addicted next-door-neighbor Meryl (Bracco). AlQawasmi paints a bleak yet authentic picture of the American Dream but gives us hope in the evolution of the bond that forms between these two very different characters. Bracco’s deep dive into the role is simply astounding. She delivers a powerful, heart-wrenching performance onscreen, arguably her best since Goodfellas. And one that deserves to be seen. And considered.