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Why Hollywood Won't Cast Lorraine Bracco Anymore

Starring James Gandolfini and Lorraine Bracco, The Sopranos revolutionized television. The show marked the rise of long-form, prestige TV, paving the way for series like Game of Thrones. As for the actual plot, the series focused on Tony Soprano (Gandolfini), a mobster who reveals his human side in sessions with his psychiatrist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi, a woman who knows secrets about him that he won't reveal to anyone else.

And that's where Bracco comes in. The actress had an Academy Award nomination under her belt for the role of Karen Hill in Goodfellas, but she's still best known for playing Dr. Melfi, an intriguing character who gets a certain thrill out of working with a man like Tony. But despite her performance on this groundbreaking show (a performance that scored her both Emmy and Golden Globe nominations), Bracco hasn't worked on any films or TV shows that have had a similar cultural impact since. Here's why she hasn't had a real career upswing since The Sopranos.

Her reputation took a hit

Bracco's personal life has been quite tumultuous, and the ups and downs have been highly publicized. Bracco dated fellow actor Harvey Keitel for over a decade, and the couple had a daughter, Stella. After the break up, Bracco was taking care of Stella, and she married actor Edward James Olmos. But when Keitel got wind of some unsavory accusations against Olmos, he worried about his daughter's safety, and he took Bracco to family court. Additionally, members of a California prison gang had threatened Olmos, which Keitel felt put Stella in danger.

It's no surprise that Bracco didn't land many roles during this time. Marrying a controversial figure like Olmos with a checkered past tarnished her reputation. Directors were simply wary of working with her while she was in the midst of so much legal drama. Yes, this all happened back in the 1990s, but it was hard for her to put that scandal behind her.

Bracco lost her momentum

Every actor puts out a dud once in a while. It's basically unavoidable. Unfortunately, even one bad film can be a setback. If an actor scores a role in a better movie afterwards and gets back on track, it might not matter much, but if they appear in a string of box office bombs, it's not going to bode well for their career in the long run.

There were rumors that Bracco was basically on some sort of "blacklist" because of her problems with Keitel, but none of that gossip was backed up by any evidence. It's much more likely that directors just weren't seeing evidence she could keep any real momentum going in her career. In 1991, she was showered with praise for Goodfellas and earned Academy Award and Golden Globes nominations, but by 1993, she was up for two Razzie Awards for Medicine Man and Traces of Red. Hiring her was a gamble—would she turn in another Oscar-worthy performance, or would she drag the production down? With Bracco, it was impossible to predict.

She struggles with depression

Several years ago, Bracco opened up about her struggles with depression. She acknowledges that her mental health made it difficult for her to just get through the day sometimes. Celebrities certainly aren't immune to mental health conditions, and life in the spotlight can definitely exacerbate issues like depression and anxiety. "Depression is a vortex," Bracco told Fox News. "You don't have it, it has you....I'm not afraid to talk about it. It made me stronger, it made me a better person."

Yes, many creative people deal with depression or anxiety at some point, and the pressures of fame only seem to compound that. But it's a myth that artists produce their best work when their perspective is clouded by depression. If anything, it just makes it harder to be reliable and have the energy to put your best effort in each day. Bracco also has dyslexia, which certainly doesn't make things any easier. She says that going to therapy and getting on medication was one of the best choices she's ever made.

Drama on set?

It's not enough for an actor to be talented. Their behavior on set is nearly as important. No matter how skilled someone is, raw talent can't make up for a bad attitude. Eventually, no one will want to put up with it. After all, there are plenty of hard-working people in the industry who are always looking for their big breaks, so unless you're a once-in-a-generation talent, no director wants to deal with a diva for too long.

Unfortunately for Bracco, she's rumored to have exhibited some pretty brash behavior on set. She's been described as "unprofessional" and "unduly difficult." In fact, some crew members who worked with her on the film Medicine Man jokingly began calling the production "Who'll Stop Lorraine?" She's never been shy about her bold nature—in fact, she's quite proud of her personality—but it seems like it may have gotten her into some trouble.

Bracco's had hit or miss performances

Any Sopranos fan will probably agree that Bracco is a skilled actress. After all, she played a complex and conflicted character on the show, and she was nominated for several Emmys for her efforts. But in spite of her performance on The Sopranos (and that Academy Award-nomination for Goodfellas), her particular approach to acting has proven divisive, and she's drawn her fair share of critics.

Her former acting teacher, Ernie Martin, described her as an "intense method actress," but the same intensity that some directors embrace can be a turn-off for others. Bracco says that she can't stand being directed against her instincts, which inevitably means she's going to get involved in some clashes on set. She doesn't hesitate to give her opinion, even if it doesn't fall quite in line with the script. "I know what works and what doesn't," Bracco told the Los Angeles Times, "and I know I'm right if I follow my instincts."

Luck played a role in Bracco's success

Everyone knows that acting is a tough business, and sometimes, you need a little bit of luck to get your foot in the door. In the beginning, being in the right place at the right time is crucial. In a way, that's kind of how Bracco landed her breakthrough role in Goodfellas. She actually never auditioned for the film.

Years earlier, she had lost out on a part in another Martin Scorsese film, After Hours, but she still managed to make a great impression on the director. When he was ready to start casting for Goodfellas, he invited Bracco to have a drink with himself and Ray Liotta, who would be playing her on-screen husband Henry Hill, and that was that.

It was the same story in the early days of her career, long before she even made her way to Hollywood. She was working as a model in France, and she says she basically "stumbled into" a few movies. She wasn't always proactive about auditioning, but she happened to connect with a few of the right people when she needed it most.

Losing loved ones changed her

In 2010, Bracco lost both of her parents within nine days of each other. Naturally, grief hit her hard. Losing one parent is difficult enough, but losing both at the same time is absolutely heartbreaking. Bracco knew it was coming—her mother and father had been very sick—but that didn't make it any easier to process. Knowing that her parents couldn't enjoy their twilight years in peace because of their ill health was painful for the actress.

But Bracco's final wake-up call came in 2013, when James Gandolfini died of a heart attack at 51. The entire cast of The Sopranos, millions of fans, and the entire state of New Jersey mourned the loss of the actor. For Bracco, his death was a sign that she had to turn her own life around. At this point, she had been through plenty of personal and professional struggles, but she needed to figure out what was really important to her and change her lifestyle.

She's been focused on her health

After reeling from the loss of her parents and friend, Bracco realized that she needed to take her health into her own hands. When her parents were sick, Bracco began using food as a coping mechanism to deal with her emotions. But once she had made it through the worst of the grieving process, she knew it was time to rethink her diet.

Bracco became very passionate about healthy eating and exercise. As a proud Italian-American, this meant limiting some of her old favorite dishes, but she insists that enjoying everything in moderation is key. "I love meatballs and lasagna, but do I eat it? Yes, in small portions," she told Huffington Post.

But finding balance and joy in life was just as important as what ended up on her plate. Perhaps for Bracco, this meant more time focusing on herself and her family than working. Sometimes, work needs to take a backseat to well-being, and celebrities like Bracco typically have the luxury of taking a little more time off.

Bracco wrote a book

Bracco's journey to adopting a healthier lifestyle inspired her to write about the positive changes she made. Her self-help book, To the Fullest, was published in 2015. Bracco details her own struggles, sharing how her health fell into decline while she was taking care of her parents. She also opens up about her initial strict detox plan—goodbye coffee, sugar, gluten, and other treats—and how she finally got into exercising.

Bracco may not be a dietitian or a personal trainer, but she's honest and real with her readers, which is always appreciated. And really, we'd expect nothing less of Bracco. It's clear that her motivations for writing To the Fullest were pure. Anyone who has seen a loved one pass away due to preventable illness would be able to relate. Writing a book is a time-consuming task (to put it mildly), so Bracco had quite the to-do list. Balancing acting and being a first-time author is a challenge.

She's spending more time giving back

Bracco may not be especially famous for philanthropy, but over the past few years, she's definitely put more effort into giving back. Of course, one cause near and dear to her heart is easing the stigma of mental illness. She knows what it's like to spend day after day feeling depressed, and after losing her parents and Gandolfini, she realized that she could be doing more to help others in the same position.

Bracco has worked with organizations like the Child Mind Institute to share her experiences of growing up and navigating her career with depression and dyslexia. She remembers feeling like she was falling behind her peers when she was in school, and she wanted other kids dealing with the same issues to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It's unlikely that mental health advocacy will ever replace her acting career, but this is definitely another passion of hers, and she'll probably continue to speak up about it.

Bracco didn't want to be typecast

Despite making a name for herself playing a mob wife in Goodfellas, Bracco has always been wary about being typecast. In fact, she was originally up for the role of Tony's wife, Carmela, in The Sopranos, but she pushed for Melfi instead, specifically because she didn't want to play the same character over and over again.

But here's the thing—Bracco really shines in the Mafia genre. She can bring a bit of her real personality to these characters, and she's always going to be associated with The Sopranos and Goodfellas, no matter what else she does.

Bracco seems to pride herself on being picky about her roles, but she may have passed over a few that would have actually been perfect for her. Some actors hate the idea of being typecast, while others embrace it and lean into their specific strengths. Maybe Bracco will return to her roots in future roles.

New roles on the horizon for Lorraine Bracco

It's true that Lorraine Bracco hasn't been acting as much in recent years, but she does have a few projects lined up. For example, she's got a supporting role as the protagonist's mother in the new BBC series Jerk. She also appeared in the short film Master Maggie, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2019. She's also starring the holiday film, A Ring for Christmas.

Clearly, Bracco is keeping herself busy, and hopefully, she will have even more interesting roles in the future. Despite mixed opinions on some of Bracco's performances over the years, there's no doubt that she's a genuinely talented actress. There's no reason she can't enjoy another string of career successes in the coming years, if she isn't planning to officially retire soon. Sopranos fans would certainly be happy to see her make a grand comeback.