Did you want to hear Dr. Melfi of “The Sopranos” speak yesterday? If you weren’t a Berkeleyite, fuggedaboutit.
More than 50 Berkeley students sat in at yesterday’s Berkeley Master’s Tea to hear from actress Lorraine Bracco and executive producer Ilene Landres from the award-winning HBO drama.
Foregoing the customary opening monologues, Bracco and Landres immediately began fielding questions from the audience.
When asked if there was any connection in personality between Bracco and mob psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Melfi, the character she plays on the show, Bracco replied firmly and repeatedly in the negative.
Bracco, who played Karen Hill in Martin Scorsese’s film “Goodfellas,” said she chose to play Melfi instead of Carmela Soprano because she did not want to be typecast into a particular role. She said playing the psychiatrist has been fascinating because Melfi is “the most intimate with [mob boss] Tony Soprano.”
She said she is passionate about her role and finds it very hard to immediately turn off the emotional strains of her character when the work day is over. Explaining that she felt a special responsibility to millions of rape victims when Melfi was raped in one episode, she said she felt it was important to portray the scene accurately and without glorification.
Bracco warned aspiring thespians in the audience that a career in front of the camera can be harsh.
“If you’re interested in anything else in life, don’t take up acting,” she said, adding that acting is “so hard … full of rejection.”
Beginning her career as a model, Bracco lived in Paris for 10 years before moving back to America. She confessed that acting is “pretty much a gypsy life,” one to which her children are forced to adapt.
Landres’s path to producing one of television’s most popular dramas got off to an unorthodox start. With a college degree in biology and a master’s from Columbia — and without having taken a single film course — she deferred medical school for a year to work in film. She was so successful that she abandoned her plan to become a doctor and fulfilled her dream in the film industry.
Landres said her show is significantly different from network television shows. She claimed the main difference lies in format, not content — while “The Sopranos” is filmed like a movie, with rarely any breaks, network television is more about selling products.
She also said “The Sopranos” frequently addresses moral ambiguity, a concept rarely encountered on network television.
“The network shows are black and white, whereas ‘The Sopranos’ deals more with gray areas,” she said.
Throughout the talk, Bracco bantered playfully with Landres, much to the delight of the audience. At one point, Landres admitted she calls the cast her “flock,” and pointing to Bracco, added, “she’s a good sheep.”
Kathleen Tappen ’02 said she found Bracco’s description of “falling into her characters” both fascinating and scary, while Jessica Rivkin ’05 said she relished the behind the scenes look at the show and the personal histories of the actress and producer. Thanh Nguyen ’05 and Yiru Liu ’05 were especially enthusiastic after the talk, promising to attend every Master’s Tea from now on.
At end of the talk, both Bracco and Landres received associate fellowships at Berkeley College in addition to official Berkeley paperweights. The applause was deafening as Bracco promised to put her paperweight on Dr. Melfi’s desk.
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