||Coo Coo Cachoo, Ms. Bracco
by Matt Mulcahey
FOR LORRAINE BRACCO, an actress whose greatest triumphs have come from utilizing her distinctly New York sensibilities, making her stage debut as the embodiment of upper middle class WASP repression was an opportunity that simply couldnt be passed up.
The star of Goodfellas and The Sopranos is the latest in a line of esteemed actress to inhabit the role of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, first on Broadway and now as part of the touring production that will make a stop at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall February 11-15.
"(I wanted to appear on stage) because Id never done it before. It was something that was a challenge," Bracco said. "(Mrs. Robinson) is a cultural icon. Shes exciting and challenging and a lot of things Im not, so its been a thrill for me."
The 49-year old Bracco has vamped into the role of the seductive aging temptress formerly occupied by Anne Bancroft in the 1967 Mike Nichols film and Kathleen Turner, Linda Gray and Jerry Hall, who have all played the part since the stage adaptation first opened in Londons West End in March of 2000.
"I just think its my being, my spirit (that Ive brought to the character)," Bracco said. "The director and everybody have been very supportive of my Mrs. Robinson. Thats also a great thing about being in a play with different actors is that everybody brings themselves and its always different. It doesnt make it better, its just different."
Based on the 1963 novel by Charles Webb, and adhering closer to the book while retaining the films wonderful Simon & Garfunkel score, The Graduate tells the story of Benjamin Braddock, an apathetic, ambitionless young man who enters into an affair with the embittered wife of his fathers business partner.
Though four decades have passed since the novel first appeared and the intervening years have robbed the still-magnificent film version of the shock value that once made it a sensation, The Graduate remains a landmark of American culture. Its a work that captured the malaise and distrust of a generation searching for its place in a world and a story that will continue to resonate as long as the young fail to understand the old.
"I think (The Graduate) is timeless, which is what I think was the genius of the movie," Bracco said.
Born in Brooklyn, Bracco relocated to France at the age of 19 and spent the next decade overseas as a successful fashion model, working for the likes of Jean-Paul Gautier and gracing the pages of magazines such as Elle, Marie Claire and Vogue.
Braccos acting career began in France, where she appeared in a trio of films between 1979 and 1981 before returning to New York in the early 1980s to study at the legendary Actors Studio under the tutelage of Stella Adler.
Despite the extended stay in France, Bracco lost neither her Brooklyn accent nor attitude, both of which helped her land her breakthrough role as wife to New York cop Tom Berenger in the 1987 Ridley Scott film Someone to Watch Over Me.
"I got an audition, though I had no agent at the time, and I went in and I read for Ridley and he gave me the part. I knew I had it right then and there," Bracco said. "I have such affection for the film and Ridley was such an incredible director for me."
The lead in the musical drama Sing and a part in the ensemble comedy The Dream Team as Michael Keatons love interest followed before Bracco landed the role of her career (and an Oscar nomination) in the true story of informant Henry Hill in Martin Scorseses Goodfellas in 1990.
Bracco continued appearing in interesting films throughout the decade (including Medicine Man, Gus Van Zants Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and The Basketball Diaries as mother to junkie poet Leonardo DiCaprio) before another mob-related character again landed her in the spotlight.
This time the role found Bracco on television, playing psychiatrist to crime patriarch Tony Soprano in HBOs cultural phenomenon, The Sopranos. The show, which begins its sixth season on March 7, has earned Bracco three Emmy nominations to date and established her as a star of both the big and small screen. But the one artistic realm Bracco had failed to venture into remained the stage, and it was a challenge she has relished conquering.
"The great thing about being on the stage, and Im sure every actor would say this, is the immediate gratification," motes Bracco "I particularly love when people laugh. I think its a great thing, and (The Graduate) is very funny."
After spending three decades immersed in acting in front of the camera, the rigors of performing for a live audience night after night have surprised Bracco. "Its arduous because its eight performances a week and thats no easy feat," Bracco remarks. "Film work is tough for a couple of months then its over and you get to sit in the dark movie theater and see what the director has put together."
While her first foray onto the stage has required dedication and hard work, its been a positive experience that Bracco wishes to relive in the future.
"Theres an incredible discipline in being in a play, in fine tuning where you want to take the audience, and thats something exciting," Bracco said. "When you walk out there and you feel that the audience is like Ah, there she istheres something very charming about it. Theyre with you."
As for how well the distinctly New York performer has pulled off the character of Mrs. Robinson, a young theatergoer summed up Braccos effectiveness best. Bracco relates, "One of my favorite lines is one time after leaving the theater on Broadway some young girl said Oh my God, Im so glad youre not my mother."
from the January-February 2004 issue