Before “The Sopranos,” Lorraine Bracco got her big break when she appeared in “Goodfellas.” Portraying Karen Hill, the wife of mobster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), she was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actress in 1991. This success nearly typecasted Bracco, who was offered parts as Mafia wives, mistresses, and daughters following the film’s release, as she recalled in Vanity Fair‘s oral history of “The Sopranos.” As such, she made it a point to avoid any situation where she would be cast in a similar role prior to her meeting with “Sopranos” creator David Chase. “I don’t want Carmela. I want Dr. Melfi,” she supposedly told her agent shortly before that meeting.
However, she was not ready for how challenging the role would be, particularly because of how she and the character differed in terms of personality. Bracco described herself as a loud and outspoken person who doesn’t hesitate to show her emotions — the exact opposite of her character. “I had to suck the life out of myself to play her,” she said. “I mean, I don’t think Dr. Melfi ever smiled.”
Bracco played Dr. Melfi as someone who had to keep herself guarded, an individual who wasn’t allowed to let Tony get any sort of leverage on her. She perfectly emulated that strength — and made Dr. Melfi a person who could go toe-to-toe with the mobster — but admitted that it was quite rough on her personally.