By IVOR DAVIS and ANTHONY HAWARD
Sopranos star Lorraine Bracco thought her five minutes of fame had ended with Goodfellas.
On screen, as psychiatrist Dr Jennifer Melfi in The Sopranos, Lorraine Bracco has finally found lasting happiness and success in her career. Off screen, she has suffered the heartbreak of three broken marriages.
The actress's own assessment of her television character could perhaps apply to herself. "She's a really strong woman, yet part of her personal life is really kind of skewered compared to the success in her professional life," says Bracco. "She's got that together, although her personal life is kind of falling apart - the ex-husband, the son. And she's a lonely woman."
The 49-year-old star was previously best known for her Oscar-nominated role as Mafiosa Ray Liotta's "see no evil, hear no evil" wife who knew how to spend in director Martin Scorsese's 1990 mob movie Goodfellas.
She has been toiling away in films for more than 20 years, most notable recently playing the traditional mother coping with her teenaged daughter's pregnancy in the 1960s drama Riding in Cars with Boys.
But it took the role of Dr Melfi, mob boss Tony Soprano's therapist, to make her an international star. The New Jersey-set drama, which began five years ago, was the brainchild of David Chase, but he initially had Bracco in mind for the part of Tony's long-suffering wife, which was eventually taken by Edie Falco.
"We first spoke about Carmela, but it would have been too much of the same for me if I'd taken it," reveals Bracco. "We both agreed I had done it in Goodfellas and I had done it very well. And to do it again was not the right thing. I told him I loved the script and wanted to play Dr Melfi. And he bought it."
The current, fifth series of The Sopranos has been especially satisfying for Bracco, as her relationship with Tony has become more intense following his marriage break-up - and she promises some explosive action before this run finishes.
While the drama has gone from strength to strength, Bracco reveals that her screen character has posed special problems for creator David Chase.
"To be truthful, I don't think David had any clue where he was going to go with Melfi," she says. "I often talk to him about her and it's the hardest character for him to keep in a really good smart but realistic way. Lots of times, he's told me that Tony would have quit therapy. So we've had lots of negotiations. Melfi is hard for him."
Holding down her role in a long-running series has been a major achievement for Bracco, who must have once pondered whether the lack of good parts that came her way in the wake of Goodfellas meant that she would have to be content with her five minutes of fame.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, to an Italian-American father and an English mother, she was labelled "the ugliest girl in sixth grade" at her Long Island school but went on to become a fashion model in France for designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, appear in European television commercials and work as a disc jockey for Radio Luxembourg.
She married Frenchman Daniel Guerard and gave birth to a daughter, Margaux, but the marriage foundered.
Eventually, Bracco found her way into French films, then Italian director Lina Wertmuller's 1986 crime thriller Un Complicato Intrigo di Donne, Vicoli e Delitti (A Complex Plot About Women, Alleys and Crimes), starring American actor Harvey Keitel. Bracco, who returned to her native New York to train at The Actor's Studio, has a daughter, Stella, from her 10-year marriage to Keitel.
She made her American debut as a hooker in The Pick-up Artist, alongside Keitel, and followed it by playing a Queens' housewife in the thriller Someone to Watch Over Me, directed by Ridley Scott.
But Bracco was turned down for a role by Scorsese before he cast her in Goodfellas. "When I first auditioned for Marty, he didn't give me the part," she recalls. "He said, 'I think you're an incredible actress and I will work with you one day.' And then he gave me Goodfellas.
"It was a hard experience and, coming from somebody like Marty, I hung on to that - and believed in it. And it all came true."
Despite regular work over the following decade, the promise recognized by Scorsese seemed to be ebbing away.
Then along came The Sopranos. But, as professionally she hit the big time with nominations for three Golden Globes and three Emmys, and shared with the cast a Screen Actors Guild award, her private life went downhill.
Two years ago, she divorced her second husband, American actor Edward James Olmos, after eight years of marriage. She now spends as much time as possible with her two daughter, aged 18 and 25, and has appeared in only a handful of films recently, including the independent productions Death of Dynasty and Max and Grace.
"I was very lazy and took a hiatus off to have a good time with my kids," says Bracco, whose New York home overlooks the Hudson River. "There's something really nice about knowing, 'Oh, my God! I don't really have to worry about anything. I've got this job coming up with another season.' That's the bad thing about television - it makes you lazy. I might do a play. I'll see how lazy I am."
The images on this Website are for personal use and entertainment purposes