Bankruptcy, a lesson in financial independence for the “Sopranos” star / The actress learns from a humiliating “trauma”

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In 1999, the debut of “The Sopranos” put Lorraine Bracco, the actress who plays Tony Soprano’s psychiatrist, on a path that made her famous. It was also the year she filed for bankruptcy, an experience she said was the highlight of her life.

“I went to rent a car and it became a trauma,” she said, recalling a humiliation that still lingers in her memory. “I said to the car rental people, ‘This is a done deal. And they said, “We’re sorry. We’re big fans, but we’re not going to rent the car from you.” ”

Bracco, 51, was a popular film actress long before “The Sopranos” debuted on HBO. In 1991, she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the movie “Goodfellas”, but she never accumulated much capital. “I was never old enough for this,” she said.

In 1994, she went to court to fight her ex-boyfriend Harvey Keitel for custody of their daughter, Stella. In 1999, she said, legal fees forced her to file for bankruptcy attorney.


Although she was granted custody of Stella, the fight took its toll. Bracco, who plays sultry-voiced psychiatrist Jennifer Melfi in “The Sopranos,” felt completely out of control.

“It was horrible and embarrassing: getting notices of foreclosure, lawyers knocking on your door wanting their money and not finding jobs,” the actress recalled recently. “That was basically, who do you pay at the end of the month? You have to pay the mortgage. You have to pay the taxes, food and electricity and lawyers.”

Since those years, Bracco said, she has steadfastly paid off much of her $ 2 million debt to attorneys in her bankruptcy and custody cases, as well as nearly $ 500,000 in back taxes.

“I owe my last $ 50,000 to bankruptcy lawyers,” she said, looking somewhat relieved. And the growing success of “The Sopranos” has allowed it to accumulate several million dollars in assets.

“The show was a blessing,” she said. “It gives me tremendous financial security. It meant I could think, ‘Oh, my God! I can go to work next year. I don’t really have to worry.’ ”

For the twice-divorced actress, bankruptcy underscored the importance of financial independence. “It made me more determined to put enough money aside so that I never had to worry,” Bracco said.

“The Sopranos” helped her get closer to that goal. Income from the series, as well as earnings from the 2001 film “Riding in Cars With Boys “and the Broadway production of” The Graduate “in 2002 all served to pay for her legal fees, she said. Bracco even took out a loan to help pay off the back taxes she owed. to the government.

One asset she retained throughout it all was her 2 acre waterfront home in Sneden’s Landing, Rockland County, NY. children: me and our house, ”she said. “I was rich in land and poor in money.”

Today she’s almost out of the woods, she says.

“A few more bills and you’re done,” said accountant Bert Padell. HBO’s decision to extend “The Sopranos” until 2007 could earn it around $ 4 million pre-tax, he said. And she immovable the holdings, which include a house in Bridgehampton she bought two years ago, as well as the Sneden’s Landing property, can be worth $ 6 million net.

That’s not a bad nest egg for a woman whose father got up every morning at 2 a.m. to sell fish at the Fulton Fish Market.

Bracco became a moneymaker in her youth in Brooklyn. Although some classmates called her the ugliest girl in sixth grade, Bracco had big dreams and told her high school English teacher that she wanted to be a model. With her encouragement, she called the best agencies, including Wilhelmina Models. Wilhelmina Cooper herself took a look at the 16-year-old and came to the family to sign a model contract that paid her $ 50 an hour. His career brought him to Paris three years later.

“I got off the plane and thought, ‘I belong here,'” Bracco recalls. “It was like déjà vu.” She made enough noise on the French modeling circuit to fall in love with a prince. Prince Jean Poniatowski, member of a prestigious Parisian family, took her to dinner at the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles and wanted to buy her sumptuous gifts. But when he offered to buy her an expensive car, she felt uncomfortable.

“Everyone told me to marry her,” she recalls. “’You will be a princess’,” she recalls, telling her friends.

“I said to Jean, ‘The princesses are not from Brooklyn.’ And he was like, ‘Lorraine, you’re so wrong,’ ”Bracco remembers, with a hoarse, not princess laugh.

Over the years, Bracco has dated other rich men, including entrepreneur Ronald Perelman, but her long-term relationships have not been with super rich men. She says she never had a prenuptial agreement because “I never married someone with money.”

She never had “that Cinderella thing,” she said.

“I never had this vision of being taken care of,” she added. “I don’t know why. I just never wanted to be addicted, ask to buy my underwear.” With rich men, there is, according to Bracco, “an unequal balance”.

In 1978, Bracco married Daniel Guerard, a Frenchman who owned a chain of barber shops in France and Italy. A year later, they had a daughter – whom Bracco named Margaux, after the wine. The couple then divorced.

“The only thing I had in the divorce was Margaux,” she said of her daughter, who returned to the United States with her mother.

When Bracco moved in with Keitel after meeting him in Paris at a movie opening, he was the breadwinner, she said. “It was one of the only times I thought I was not 100 percent self-sufficient,” she added. “After a little while, I got up.”

As their careers took off, the couple pooled their finances and over the years made money in real estate, including a TriBeCa apartment, which was sold during their bankruptcy. After breaking up with Keitel, Bracco married actor Edward James Olmos in 1994 but managed his own finances. “With Eddie it was separated” because his business interests were in California, she said.

She and Olmos divorced several years ago following the legal battle with Keitel for custody of Stella. It ended with Stella in Bracco’s custody and with Olmos banned from seeing Stella alone, Bracco said. An aide said Olmos was traveling and could not be reached for comment.

Currently, Bracco is dating Jason Cipolla, 30, a series driver. “He’s young, but he has an old soul,” Bracco said. As for their finances, “Sometimes he pays and sometimes I pay”.

In his quest for financial independence, Bracco sticks to one investment: real estate.

“I have never bought shares in my life,” she said. “I don’t understand it. For me, it’s like Chinese.”

Real estate, on the other hand, “is like porn to me,” she said. “Look, if I’m going to take a cab home and see a sign for an open house, I’ll come in. I love real estate because I’m the boss.” Bracco considers herself “a real estate entrepreneur”.

The Sneden’s Landing house is for sale, Bracco said, because she decided she wanted to be in Manhattan now that Margaux and Stella are both in their 20s.

Some commentators who follow personal investing strategies say they think Bracco is taking a big risk with such a heavy bet on real estate.

For example, Suze Orman, the bestselling author, says that because real estate is tangible, it makes some women feel like they are “in control.” They can see it and touch it ”. But, she said, it’s not a smart strategy because an investor needs to diversify.

Bracco says she doesn’t care. “I’m branching out, but I’m doing it by zip code,” she said.

Its financial strategy is actually not that simple. “The truth about acting is we’re all hired helpers,” Bracco said. “We are a commodity. There is no difference between being an actor and pork belly. I can’t change that, but I want to be the master of something that I create.”

This Something is a wine business that she undertakes with Vincent Viola, an importer of alcohol introduced to her by her accountant Padell.

Viola and Bracco soon plan to start importing a line of “Bracco wines” from Italy. She owns a stake in the company but does not invest any capital.

“I’m not just another actress selling perfume or a hair product,” Bracco said.

Bracco can count on the next two seasons of “The Sopranos” to keep his name in light and his income afloat.

She says she only has two regrets. “I never had a son,” she said, “and I never had a minivan.”

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