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Mafia Doc A Big Hit

Mafia Doc A Big HitPsychiatrists and Sopranos fans go crazy for actress Lorraine Bracco's alter ego Dr. Jennifer Melfi -- Tony Soprano's Tufts-trained psychiatrist. New York.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [01.07.02] Nobody goes head-to-head with mob boss Tony Soprano and survives -- with one exception. Armed with a Tufts degree and a lot of patience, psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Melfi has proven that she can handle one of the toughest characters in town. And that, says Lorraine Bracco -- the actress who plays Dr. Melfi on the HBO hit series -- is the best part she could have asked for.

"I love the writing, and I love working with [James Gandolfini, who plays Tony Soprano]," Bracco told the Washington Post. "I think I could do it forever."

The draw, says the actress, is the prickly relationship between Dr. Melfi and her tough patient. Over the series' three seasons, the duo regularly battles for the upper hand.

"She's certainly very smart," Bracco told the Post, describing Dr. Melfi. "She went to Tufts University! She has knowledge. It's very powerful to [Tony Soprano]. She's far superior to him intellectually and he's attracted to that."

In reality, Dr. Melfi's Tufts Medical School diploma is just a prop that hangs on the wall of the Soprano's New York-based set -- which is no different from the doctor herself, who exists entirely in the minds of Bracco, the show's writers and its loyal fan base.

But that hasn't stopped the actress from doing her best to bring Dr. Melfi as close to real life as possible.

In an interview with the New York Times, Bracco said she's gone to great lengths to explore Melfi's character.

"I've imagined a life for her," Bracco told the Times, using a journal to piece together everything from her childhood to Melfi's college days at Tufts to her current marriage and career.

The result is a character so realistic that even Bracco's parents occasionally blend the two together.

"After one episode in which Dr. Melfi is raped, Ms. Bracco recalled that her father called her up and pleaded with her 'to tell Tony Soprano what had happened so that he could and whack the rapist,'" reported the Times. "He yelled: 'Tell him! Tell Him!' And she replied: 'My God. It's just a TV show.'"

But TV character or not, Dr. Melfi has taken on a life of her own -- captivating everyone from diehard Soprano's fans to actual psychiatrists.

"The real win," Bracco told the Chicago-Sun Times, "is walking down the streets of the city I love and hearing someone shout, 'Hey Dr. Melfi, do you know the number of a therapist like you?'"

And that's no surprise to real-life psychiatrists, who say the Tufts-educated Melfi is one of the best in their business.

After watching several clips from the Sopranos during a recent meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Dr. Glen Gabbard described Tony Sopranos' doc as the perfect analyst.

"She tiptoes along the brink of the abyss and never falls in," Gabbard told the New York Times.

In a lot of ways, that characterization sums up Bracco as well.

Twice nominated for her industry's highest honors -- an Academy Award and an Emmy Award -- Bracco has come close but never won either of the coveted prizes.

But the actress doesn't mind -- after all, she arguably has one of the most interesting roles on TV.

"I don't feel unrewarded," Bracco told the Post. "I have fulfilled what I wanted in my career -- to become a really good actress."

Dr. Melfi, one might imagine, would approve.

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