From Goodfellas to Switch to The Sopranos, Lorraine Bracco has brought sex appeal and smarts to her work. Now she comes to Chicago as Mrs. Robinson in the Broadway tour of The Graduate. While we talked I realized she is a true New Yorker, tough and elusive. (And if you want to hear that voice, just log onto www.windycityradio.com and listen to her on our show that aired Feb. 15.)
AM: Were you aware that lesbians became captivated with you in 1991 when you starred opposite Ellen Barkin in Switch.
LB: (deep laugh) No! I didn't know! But thanks for telling me.
AM: You have a huge lesbian following. As (lesbian) Sheila Faxton you were so hilarious and so hot at the same time. It was the right marriage of both.
LB: Oh well, cool! I appreciate that.
AM: Did you ever discuss with Ellen (Barkin) or Blake (Edwards) that there are not lesbian clubs like the one in that film anywhere in NY?
LB: Well, when I went around in LA to a whole bunch of gay bars, lesbian bars, I was fascinated! It was a lot of fun for me to do a lot of research and find out how I wanted to portray her. ... When I went to the lesbian bars there were beautiful girls drinking, dancing, trying to pick me up. It was a lot of fun! And I would always say, 'Look I am really only here to research a role. I'm an actress.' But it ended up being a lot of fun for me.
AM: No one ever minds being hit on.
LB: No! No! I didn't mind at all.
AM: You were in the indie flick Even Cowgirls Get the Blues based on Tom Robbins book, with Gus Van Sant directing. What do you remember about working on that film with such powerhouse women: Uma Thurman, Angie Dickinson?
LB: I adored making that movie. We filmed it in Redmond, Oregon … over a couple of months. It was great to become a cowgirl lesbian and who can resist playing a character called Delores Del Ruby.
AM: The Sopranos new season starts March 7. In 2000 you won the SAG award and you have been nominated every year for Golden Globes and Emmys as Dr. Jennifer Melfi. But in past seasons your role got smaller and smaller. What can you tell us about Dr. Melfi this season?
LB: Well, I think David (Chase, creator of The Sopranos) wrote more for me this year, which I was happy about, and there is a HUGE, big episode for Tony and Dr. Melfi.
AM: When you say 'HUGE' what do you mean? Because there has always been sexual tension between them and also he is going through a divorce. Will she be consoling Tony (instead of counseling him)?
LB: Well … ummm ... I really can't say. I can just tell you it is a REALLY big episode for Melfi and Tony Soprano.
AM: Well I will be tuned in March 7 for that. What will you miss most about The Sopranos leaving HBO?
LB: I love making it. I love the writing. It's an incredibly smart series. I'll miss the cast. I'll miss the cast most of all and being able to stay in New York and work. I love that.
AM: The Graduate was your Broadway debut. How long have you been playing this role?
LB: I did 10 weeks on Broadway because I had to go back to The Sopranos (and) now (touring) for eight weeks Boston to Chicago to Fort Meyers.
AM: Did you have encouragement to do this? Edie Falco had a run in Frankie and Johnnie last year on Broadway.
LB: Well I had never done it. So it was a great challenge to me as an actor to find her (Mrs. Robinson) every day.
AM: Is that what makes The Graduate different than working on The Sopranos?
LB: Well it's the live audience that is the big thrill ... . It's great! Boston has been very receptive and I am sure Chicago will be. It's a sophisticated play and people are getting it and enjoying themselves and I am happy about that. And people are really receptive to Mrs. Robinson.
AM: Was their any reservation in portraying such an iconic character?
LB: As an actor you bring who you are and what you are and how you are to any role. So it's my version of Mrs. Robinson. I do believe she is an American icon. She is a complicated character. What I think drew me to her was that (she) was really opposite Dr. Melfi. That was fun for me. Where I think Dr. Melfi is very suppressed, Mrs. Robinson is not.
AM: The recent controversy over Janet Jackson's breast at the Superbowl seems mild compared to what you do night after night onstage. Was it a big decision to do a show that requires you to take off all of your clothes every night?
LB: No, I think it is really well done. It is very well woven into the script, this seducement and who she is to Benjamin, the younger man.
AM: Is there a huge difference in doing nudity on stage compared to in a film?
LB: I think it is much more uncomfortable on the big screen or on TV than it is here. Because you're touching and kissing and things like that and that is not what goes on onstage with Mrs. Robinson.
AM: With physical intimacy it is harder to muster (the courage).
AM: Also there are people around with both. The illusion on film is that there are just two people alone but there are all sorts of sound and lighting people.
LB: Absolutely. And also to create that atmosphere of being alone, two people, is a whole different thing, a whole different beast.
AM: Well there is a rumor that Dr. Melfi is going to have a bit of an understanding with what you are doing onstage. That there may be some suggestive (explicit) intimacy for her this year on The Sopranos' (Gossip is that there is some sex in Dr. Melfi's future.)
AM: (laughing) So I'll just entice people that you have already indicated a HUGE Tony Soprano / Dr. Melfi episode at the top of this new season. Tune in March 7 on HBO. So if 2005 is the last season of Sopranos, are you interested in doing another series or film (work), or have you gotten the theatre bug?
LB: I would like to do it (theatre work) again. There is no doubt in my mind that if the right role comes I will jump on it … I have Sopranos coming out this year and then we are going to do one more season in 2005 and I think David Chase, the writer and creator, really did this last season for us, the actors, so we didn't have too much of a withdrawal.
AM: Well thank goodness, neither will we as an audience.
The Graduate, based on the 1967 Oscar-winning film, starring Lorraine Bracco comes to Chicago's Shubert Theatre Feb. 24 thru March 14; (312) 902-1400, www.ticketmaster.com or stop by the Shubert box office.