Family & Companions
A husky-voiced New York native who enjoyed an early career as a popular model in France, Lorraine Bracco went on to build an enviable résumé as an actress in film and television. After having appeared with future husband Harvey Keitel in the Italian crime-drama "Camorra" (1986), Bracco made her U.S. feature debut in Ridley Scott's modern noir, "Someone to Watch Over Me" (1987). A few years later, she delivered a memorable supporting performance in director Martin Scorsese's iconic mob drama, "Goodfellas" (1990), opposite Ray Liotta. She went on to star alongside Sean Connery in the jungle-adventure, "Medicine Man" (1992), followed by a turn as Elijah Wood's mother in the fantasy-drama, "Radio Flyer" (1992). Bracco later played the despairing mother of troubled teen Tom Carroll (Leonardo DiCaprio) in the gritty biopic "The Basketball Diaries" (1995), prior to taking on the most indelible role of her career, that of psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Melfi on the groundbreaking crime family drama "The Sopranos" (HBO, 1999-2007). Following her acclaimed tenure on the revered series, she picked up another regular cast role on the police-procedural, "Rizzoli & Isles" (TNT, 2010-16), as the mother of Detective Jane Rizzoli (Angie Harmon). In role after role as complex, intelligent women, Bracco continued to play against convention and demonstrated a range initially belied by her beauty and defiantly undisguised Brooklyn accent.
Lorraine Bracco was born on Oct. 2, 1954, spending her early years in a Norwegian neighborhood in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, NY. The middle child of three, Bracco's Italian-American father was a fish dealer at Manhattan's Fulton Fish Market and her mother was a nurse and war bride from England. Her atypical New York Italian-American upbringing got more atypical when the family moved to a Jewish neighborhood in Hicksville, Long Island - an experience that Bracco credited with convincing Martin Scorsese to cast her as Henry Hill's Long Island Jewish wife in her breakout role in "Goodfellas." But 25 years before that day, young Bracco still harbored fantasies of becoming a model, despite being labeled an ugly duckling by her schoolmates. When she finally got the nerve to approach modeling agencies in New York, she immediately landed a contract with the prestigious Wilhelmina Agency, appearing in Mademoiselle, Seventeen and Teen magazines.
In 1974 at the age of 19, the bold Brooklynite moved to Paris where she became a favorite model of designer Jean Paul Gaultier and became fluent in French. She also began exploring other entertainment-related avenues, first working as a DJ for Radio Luxembourg before parlaying her music experience into a producer position on the popular variety TV show, "Les Enfants Du Rock." Beginning in 1979, she appeared in a string of French films, mostly comedies, including her debut "Duos sur Canape" (1979) and the comic book adaptation "Fais Gaffe à la Gaffe" (1981).
Bracco returned Stateside in 1984, spending several years focusing on drama at esteemed New York training grounds The Stella Adler Institute and The Actor's Studio. In 1986, she made her American TV debut in a guest spot on the NBC crime drama "Crime Story" before returning to France to shoot Lina Wertmuller's Mafia thriller, "Camorra." The film paired Bracco and Harvey Keitel, who would eventually marry and have a daughter. They co-starred again the same year onstage in a Lincoln Center workshop performance of "Goose and Tomtom," a dark, downtown drama from the playwright of "Hurlyburly." Bracco's American film career began to take off the following year with Ridley Scott's "Someone to Watch Over Me" (1987), in which she delivered an effective upper-cut to philandering husband Tom Berenger and laid the groundwork for a career playing fast-talking, strong-willed women. She picked up supporting roles in comedies "The Pick Up Artist" (1987) and "The Dream Team" (1987) before a diversion back to France to star in Lina Wertmuller's "In una notte di chiaro di luna" (1989).
Bracco was, by now, an acquaintance of director Martin Scorsese. He had her in mind for a role in "Goodfellas," playing mob wife to Ray Liotta in the film adaptation of Nicholas Pileggi's Mafia memoir. A meeting between Bracco and Liotta proved successful, and when Scorsese learned that Bracco's upbringing had been strikingly similar to that of the actual Karen Hill, he gave her the role. The film, which chronicled the life of Mafia associate-turned-FBI informant Henry Hill, was a critic's pick and box office success, consistently cited as one of the best films of all time. Bracco's captivating portrayal of Karen Hill, whose initial attraction to Henry's dangerous, mysterious life eventually gave way to fear of her drug running husband with many mistresses, earned Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress. She took home wins from both the Chicago and Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards.
Bracco's talent was now in demand for increasingly higher caliber work. In 1991, she appeared opposite Edward James Olmos in "Talent for the Game" and in Blake Edwards' dark comedy "Switch." Richard Donner tapped Bracco for "Radio Flyer" (1992) and she starred opposite Robin Williams in 1993's "Being Human." In an odd bit of casting, she was memorable as Dolores del Rio, an exotic Hispanic actress from Hollywood's Golden Age, in Gus Van Sant's "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" (1993). In 1994, she appeared as a female prosecutor in the TV film "Getting Gotti" about the trial of the renowned mob boss. On a seemingly continuous role, she portrayed the mother of p t, basketball star, and junky Jim Carroll in "The Basketball Diaries" (1995) and returned to France to shoot the romantic drama "Le Menteurs" (1996).
Unfortunately, a string of TV movies followed, leaving the career promise of the strong, vibrant actress from "Goodfellas" seemingly curiously unfulfilled. As she would reveal in her own 2006 memoir, On the Couch, the mid and late nineties were a period of great personal upheaval for the actress, who ended up millions of dollars in debt following custody battles with ex-husband Keitel and was struggling with debilitating clinical depression. She had filed for bankruptcy and was working with a therapist herself in 1999 when she was approached by David Chase for a role in his new HBO Mafia drama series "The Sopranos."
Chase initially had Bracco in mind for the role of Tony Soprano's wife Carmela, but Bracco was instantly attracted to the character of psychiatrist Jennifer Melfi, an educated, Italian-American woman the likes of which had not been seen on television before. Following the introduction of new patient Tony Soprano in the show's premiere episode, Melfi's character evolved significantly over the next six seasons. In addition to her crucial role as the sole confidante of a high-ranking mob associate, she faced her own moral dilemmas, alcoholism, violent crime, and emotional counseling. The show's highly anticipated final episode aptly included Melfi breaking off their patient-doctor relationship. For her impressive, stabilizing work, Bracco was nominated for Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2007; as well as Best Actress Golden Globe Awards in 2000, 2001 and 2002. Her work as Dr. Melfi was also recognized with an award from the American Psycho-Analytical Association.
Bracco made several film and TV appearances throughout the "Sopranos" years, with her big screen roles including "Riding in Cars with Boys" (2001) and "My Suicidal Sweetheart" (2005), as well as a guest spot on "Law & Order: Trial By Jury" (NBC, 2005). In 2002, she returned to the stage to play Mrs. Robinson in an adaptation of "The Graduate," performing at The Plymouth Theater in New York and also touring with the production. In 2006, she released an autobiography On the Couch, in which she candidly discussed her own bouts of depression and the truth behind her highly publicized financial woes and splits with Keitel and Olmos. In 2006, she also unveiled Bracco Wines, a wine importing venture which she promoted with several appearances on Bravo's competitive cooking show, "Top Chef" (2006- ). Bracco continued to act, primarily on TV, in roles like that of Christina Milian's mother in the Brooklyn-set holiday fantasy "Snowglobe" (ABC Family, 2007). The following year, she appeared in a pair of episodes of the short-lived "Lipstick Jungle" (NBC, 2008-09), before taking on a regular series role as the over-protective mother of Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli (Angie Harmon) on "Rizzoli & Isles" (TNT, 2010-16), a crime-drama based on the popular novel series by Tess Gerritsen.
Cast (Feature Film)
Began modeling for Wilhelmina Agency at age 16
Moved to Paris at age 19; worked as model and made TV commercials
Film debut (as Bubbles) in "Duos sur Canape"
Produced TV special on fashion and music
Appeared in the Lina Wertmuller film, "A Complex Plot About Women, Alleys and Crimes" starring Harvey Keitel
Starred in Lincoln Center Workshop performance, "Goose and Tom Tom" opposite Keitel
Made her American feature film debut in the Ridley Scott thriller, "Someone to Watch Over Me"
Appeared in "Talent for the Game" opposite Edward James Olmos
Starred opposite Sean Connery in "Medicine Man"
Had lead role as a US prosecutor in the CBS TV-movie "Getting Gotti"
Portrayed Jim Carroll's (Leonardo DiCaprio) mother in "The Basketball Diaries"
Acted in the French-language "Les Menteurs/The Liars"
Played the mother of a missing child in the Lifetime TV-movie "Lifeline"
Co-starred in the HBO acclaimed mob series "The Sopranos," as Dr. Melfi, a psychiatrist treating a mob boss; received Emmy (1999, 2000, 2001), Golden Globe (2000, 2001, 2002) and SAG (2000, 2002, 2003) nominations for Best Actress and a 2007 Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actress
Portrayed a woman who returns to the work force and is then faced with a bitter divorce in "Custody of the Heart" (Lifetime)
Cast as Drew Barrymore's mom in the comedy "Riding in Cars with Boys"
Starred on Broadway as 'Mrs. Robinson' in Terry Johnson's adaptation of "The Graduate"