She explains how she became the shrink -- even though creator David Chase wanted her to play Tony's wife

By Josh Wolk
Updated January 14, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

Things aren’t going well for Dr. Melfi when HBO’s ”The Sopranos” kicks off its second season Sunday night at 9: She’s operating her practice out of a motel room because she’s terrified that Tony’s enemies will find her at her office, and she’s seeing her own shrink (played by director Peter Bogdanovich) about her Mob induced anxieties. In real life, though, the hit show has been great for the mental health of Lorraine Bracco, who earned an Emmy nomination last year and is up for a Golden Globe this month for playing shrink to the angst-ridden (and occasionally bullet-riddled) Tony Soprano.

But if it was up to creator David Chase, she wouldn’t have gotten her TV M.D.: Chase originally wanted Bracco to play Tony’s wife. Having won an Oscar nomination for playing a Mrs. Mobster in ”Goodfellas,” however, Bracco asked for the role of Melfi, making Chase an offer he couldn’t refuse. ”I met David and said, ‘Look, been there, done that,”’ she tells EW. ”Yes, I’m an Italian-American. But I don’t want to play the wife. I’m a big personality, and you don’t want me bored on your set.”

Her anti-Mob-role rule — made after her 1990 ”Goodfellas” role earned her a flood of gangster scripts — was so strict that she didn’t even want to read the ”Sopranos” pilot when it was first sent to her: ”I said, ‘What, do I attract every Mob script ever written in Hollywood?’ It was really annoying.” But after finally reading and loving it, she set to convincing Chase to give her the psychiatrist role.

The funny thing is, even though she avoided playing Tony’s wife, she still couldn’t help becoming the object of his affection as the season progressed. ”Is Tony Soprano attracted to me [Dr. Melfi]? Yes. Is Jimmy Gandolfini attracted to me? Yes,” Bracco says. ”And I always said to David, ‘Y’know, I’m trying so hard not to bring any sexuality to this room. I keep making my skirts longer, I try wearing my hair a certain way, but he’s still very attracted and it’s WEIRD.”’ Spicing up the doctor/patient relationship was obviously part of Chase’s grand plan, though, considering his order to the wardrobe department about Bracco’s skirt length: ”Last season I was screaming, ‘Longer! Longer!’ And David kept going, ‘Shorter! Shorter!”’ says Bracco.

But Dr. Melfi isn’t just winning over her patient, she’s also winning over writers of other TV shows, judging from what Bracco sees as a growing shrink trend on television. ”Now everybody’s got a f—ing therapist, which is really annoying me,” she says. ”The other night on ‘Sports Night’ one guy [Josh Charles] goes to a psychiatrist. I don’t know the show well enough [to comment], but I was really pissed.” Note to Aaron Sorkin: You don’t want to make Lorraine Bracco mad — she’s got some very powerful friends.

(Additional reporting by Steve Daly)