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 couldn’t 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 I’d never done it before. It was something that was a challenge," Bracco said. "(Mrs. Robinson) is a cultural icon. She’s exciting and challenging and a lot of things I’m not, so it’s 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 London’s West End in March of 2000.

"I just think it’s my being, my spirit (that I’ve brought to the character)," Bracco said. "The director and everybody have been very supportive of my Mrs. Robinson. That’s also a great thing about being in a play with different actors is that everybody brings themselves and it’s always different. It doesn’t make it better, it’s just different."

Based on the 1963 novel by Charles Webb, and adhering closer to the book while retaining the film’s 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 father’s 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. It’s 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.

Bracco’s 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 Actor’s 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 Keaton’s 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 Scorsese’s Goodfellas in 1990.

Bracco continued appearing in interesting films throughout the decade (including Medicine Man, Gus Van Zant’s 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 HBO’s 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 I’m sure every actor would say this, is the immediate gratification," motes Bracco "I particularly love when people laugh. I think it’s 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. "It’s arduous because it’s eight performances a week and that’s no easy feat," Bracco remarks. "Film work is tough for a couple of months— then it’s 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, it’s been a positive experience that Bracco wishes to relive in the future.

"There’s an incredible discipline in being in a play, in fine tuning where you want to take the audience, and that’s something exciting," Bracco said. "When you walk out there and you feel that the audience is like ‘Ah, there she is’—there’s something very charming about it. They’re with you."
As for how well the distinctly New York performer has pulled off the character of Mrs. Robinson, a young theatergoer summed up Bracco’s 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, I’m so glad you’re not my mother." •

from the January-February 2004 issue

"There’s an incredible discipline
in being in a play, in fine tuning
where you want to take
the audience, and that’s
something exciting."