The Sopranos Made A Clever Break From Convention When It Came To Casting Their Female Leads

"The Sopranos" is known for its groundbreaking storytelling, but so many other facets of the series were equally untraditional. Edie Falco gave an award-winning performance as Carmela, but she was the last person to expect she would be cast as a mob wife. Lorraine Bracco, who plays Dr. Melfi, wanted to break free of her typecast. In another universe, the two actresses might have swapped roles. Instead, creator David Chase took a different route. It was an unexpected choice, but "The Sopranos" was definitely all the better for it.

The hit HBO series tells the story of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), a powerful Mafioso living in the suburbs of New Jersey with his wife (Falco) and their two children (Robert Iler and Jamie-Lynn Sigler). When he begins to suffer from debilitating panic attacks, his wife insists he see a psychiatrist (Bracco). Tony has always been told to suppress his thoughts and emotions, but his panic attacks make him appear more vulnerable than ever. Battling these competing forces, the therapy creates an ideological conflict in him.

Falco's performance as Carmela earned her three Primetime Emmy Awards, but the actress didn't expect to get cast in the first place. Falco actually thought the show was "about singers" at first, the actress told the Television Academy Foundation. She had earned a number of recurring roles in television series like "Oz," most often playing a cop. When she got her hands on the script, she read it and thought, "I know I'll never get this part because I know who gets cast in these Italian-American woman roles, and it's not me." Had Falco been the one calling the shots, she "would have cast [herself] as Dr. Melfi," she admitted to Vanity Fair. "But, luckily, I was not in charge," she quipped.

Bracco was tired of being pigeonholed

Lorraine Bracco's casting was unexpected for everyone but her. She had earned an Academy Award nomination for playing Karen Hill, a mob wife, in Martin Scorsese's modern classic "Goodfellas." With "The Sopranos," she wanted to continue to challenge herself as an actress. She told Vanity Fair:

"After doing 'GoodFellas,' I was offered every Mafia gal, girl, wife, mistress, daughter available. And I said to them, 'No, I don't want to do that. I did it. Can't do it better.' I called up my agent the day before I'm going in to meet David, and I go,'I don't want Carmela — I want Dr. Melfi.'"

Chase agreed that Bracco as Carmela "wasn't really incredible creative casting," the actress recalled to Huffington Post. With his first choice for Carmela cast in a different role, this left Chase clear to make another unconventional choice in casting Edie Falco.

Although Falco didn't see the role coming, she still felt a deep connection to her character. "Carmela was very easy to be. I immediately knew how she felt about things, the way she wanted to look," the actress explained to Vanity Fair. She inevitably gave life to a character she never imagined anyone would see in her — a huge testament to her talents as a performer.

Carmela didn't want Tony in danger, but the blood money supported her lifestyle. Melfi had good intentions but could never get close enough to help him. They were both his lifeline to humanity and sources of conflict, two sides of the same coin. With that in mind, it's incredible to imagine their casting swapped. Bracco and Falco both have Dr. Melfi and Carmela well within their range, but it was much more interesting to see them embody characters they didn't normally play.