Playing Tracee on The Sopranos

#metoo ~ When I was 19 and I read the part of “Tracee” on The Sopranos, I immediately knew I would play her, and I knew I wanted to play her because there was something about her story that I understood so well and wanted to do justice to.

Tracee VIP2

Tracee VIP

I had never seen The Sopranos, but I knew it was a gangster show with plenty of violence and misogyny. Tracee was a young mother, stripping at the Bada Bing, who over the course of the episode happily gets braces (cause she didn’t want fake tits but has messed up teeth), tries to befriend Tony by making him bread, gets groped and sexually used plenty, gets pregnant by the out-of-control Ralphie, gets smacked around by Silvio for not showing up to work, then insults Ralphie and gets beaten to death for it.

In the original draft of the script, at the end when Tracee is dead out behind the Bada Bing, Tony Soprano comes out and says something about how it’s going to ruin another rug to wrap her bloody body up in it. He is totally careless about her death. I loved that.

It showed what I already knew about my worth as a young attractive woman in the eyes of many men – I was an object to be used and thrown away. Even at 19 having grown up in a pretty safe Vermont environment, I still knew what Tracee was going through, I had already experienced it, scaled in a lesser way.

I wanted to play Tracee so innocently – like she didn’t even know the world she was in – like she thought she was a Disney Princess. I wanted the audience to truly feel her innocence, so they would also feel stunned when she was so easily killed, and disgusted at how they had previously admired these gangster characters.

Tracee at BB

When James Gandolfini read the part with me, he put in a request to change the ending of the episode. Instead of responding to Tracee’s death by being angry about the destroyed carpet, he changed it to say, remorsefully, “20 years old, this girl”. I thought it was kind of lame for him to change it, but probably professionally a smart move. He had an instinct about audiences turning against him and wanted to prevent that.

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And apparently the audiences did rage about it. I was absolutely delighted when David Chase and James later told me what “trouble” I had caused HBO – people cancelling their subscriptions in protest to Tracee’s death (funny they said that I caused that trouble… kind of like how the woman often gets blamed for provoking the man after he has violated her… hmmmm). Joey Pantalone who played Ralphie even lost financing on a project he had coming up because of what his character did to Tracee. I got a kick out of that too.

Tracee & Ralphie

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t at all against the show. They created Tracee to show other parts of their characters. It’s a brilliant show and amazing that they loved what I did with Tracee. It’s not that I was against them, it’s just that I was entirely for Tracee – and happy her impact was felt, beyond just shock value and ratings.

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After the show I got lots of other offers. I was offered a spread in Playboy, and other really suggestive parts. But they weren’t what I was about, and I didn’t take any of them.

Instead I kept waitressing to pay the bills. I played Tracee to EXPOSE SOMETHING ABOUT WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO BE A WOMAN IN THIS WORLD, not just to expose myself. I wanted to somehow show the world her humanity, not just that she was an object. I wanted them to feel her from the inside.

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All these women now speaking out… it’s weird. I actually feel very strange about it. Like I’m breaking code by even writing this. Isn’t it just part of the deal of living in a woman’s body that you get groped or harassed sometimes? Isn’t it to be expected that if you drink too much and doze off in the wrong place, someone might be molesting you when you wake up? Is this really news to anyone?

Aren’t powerful men entitled to say or do what they want with me, if they own the building or write the checks? It’s not always sexual either, oftentimes it’s just the assumption that he has the right to silence me and be the only voice in the room – to tell me who I am and how it is… he will always have the final say.

Is it even possible that it could be a different way?

I am grateful to be in the yoga world now, because the culture is much safer feeling than it felt to be an actress. I don’t come across the issues in professional settings that I did back when I lived in Hollywood. I feel very respected and genuinely appreciated.

Plus, I was really quite satisfied after playing Tracee. After getting to do that role, it felt like my work in the entertainment industry was done. James Gandolfini was so happy about this. He knew what the fame game was like, and heavily encouraged me to quit and go back to college. Which I ultimately did.

I went to the series finale party years later, the day after graduating from NYU. When I told James I’d just gotten my diploma, he was thrilled. His broke out into a huge smile and impulsively hugged me. He was a real Buddha.

But I feel for those gals who regularly have to choose between unwanted advances and career advances. I feel for anyone out there who is being exploited or demeaned, and doesn’t have the option speak up or walk away. I hope those options become more and more obvious every day…

And to all you wonderful men who are making the effort to better understand and be considerate of these issues, I just LOVE you! Your support means the world.

xoxo Ariel

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30 thoughts on “Playing Tracee on The Sopranos

  1. Daniel says:

    I just finished watching the “University” episode on the fourth re-watching of The Sopranos that I was currently watching, and Tracee’s story, yet again, moved me deeply. Though I may not be a woman, my experience with sex work allowed your performance in this episode to resonate deeply with me: in this patriarchal world, quite often male sexuality is inexorable from objectification and subjugation.

    After it finished, I googled your name to find out more, and was (pleasantly!) surprised to find your blog and read your account about playing this deeply tragic character, and how it connects with the recent wave of sexual abuse allegations that have arisen from survivors feeling empowered in numbers, and by abuse being finally given more of the urgency it merits within public discourse.

    Tracee lives because we won’t forget her story or the injustice that was done to her, and hopefully one day we can extend that same compassion to other victims of abuse.

    Like

    1. arielkiley says:

      Whoa Daniel, thanks for this thoughtful response. I really appreciate hearing your perspective. It’s an exciting moment to be alive – there’s so much up in our faces to look at. There is so much opportunity to evolve…

      Like

  2. Anthony says:

    Ariel, you did a terrific job. Your portrayal as an innocent young woman just trying to get by in a dirty world and when she finally stood up for herself gets brutally murdered was gut wrenching.

    Best of luck in your current and future endeavors!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Franco Vieira says:

    I´m a brazilian dude watching The Sopranos for the first time in 2018, I just finished watching the “University” episode and end up here. Tracee´s death was a punch in my stomach so i had to search about it.
    In the same episode, they show a young girl terrified to see a homeless woman in a terrible situation, while her friends from NY were completely careless about that. I linked that to the fact that we heard heartbreaking stories like what happened to Tracee everyday, even in 2018, because of this toxic misoginy in the world, in a system that subjugate women everyday, and we (men) just keep moving with our lives.
    You did an amazing job, it was incredible how you made us fell so conected to a character in just one episode, it was sensitive and deep.
    Tracees lives forever, congratulations for your blog and sorry the bad english.

    Like

  4. xtoval says:

    I’ve been watching the Sopranos for the first time ever these past few weeks. The episode you acted in was very intense. Very interesting that they softened the ending, not to risk audience sympathy for Tony Soprano. It was still shocking. It’s very interesting to read about your experience on the show.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A Dad says:

    Wow! Tremendous insight about your role , it’s impact on audiences, and on the challenges of being a young woman.

    Hope you are equally immersed and enriched by all your experiences

    Like

  6. Ovidia says:

    Your portrayal of Tracee was absolutely heartbreakingly vivid. The choices you made as an actor — brilliant. Thank you for writing your experience down. I’ve watched the entire series 7 times and your episodes just wrench my gut every time because your work was so significant.

    I’m so happy for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Bill says:

    Thank you so much for your insight into your character “Tracee”😊! I do believe that inside of each and everyone of us there is a unique and profound purpose. Clearly you shared yours with us. But you have much more to share as do we all. I wish i could have been Tracee’s knight in shining armour to rescue her and take her to a life of safety and happiness and sad, very sad that in the show she was swept away to oblivion. But you made her live in our hearts and minds forever and we will never turn our heads on each other again! Thank you so much Ariel. I love Vermont😊!

    Like

  8. Doc Elliot says:

    Hey, Ariel…
    I’ve been binge-watching a couple of seasons of The Sopranos for the past couple of nights and as I was coming up to your episode, I actually remembered your part in the show before seeing it again and was both looking forward to seeing it because it was such an amazing performance and not wanting to, since it was such an amazing performance as well because it was so brutal and uncomfortable to watch. It makes a person feel something hurtful inside when witnessing such human brutality toward each other, but that was the nature of the world portrayed and what you were trying to accomplish. There are a few scenes/episodes that really stick out and are difficult to watch because they are so realistic and yours is one of those. I hope that you realize that your part was one of the most memorable parts of all of the seasons of The Sopranos. As I watched it again tonight, I was wondering what you had being working on since then and why I hadn’t seen you in more parts. I’m in the film industry out here in L.A. as a producer and stuntman and so I checked your imdb and was surprised to see so few parts, then found this blog that explained why.

    I applaud your courage to not get sucked in to the business of the business here and understand completely why now, but know that any part that can resonate for so many viewers just shows how good of a performance it really was. It felt real and the viewers hated Joe so enthusiastically afterward because of not just his performance, but yours as well to sell the realism of the two of you together and how real the subject is. You brought the right attention to the issue for all of the right reasons, not just as an afterthought that actors just say from another part they played because it’s the right thing to say so they can get more parts. You had a mission and you accomplished it, amazingly. If you would have continued to pursue acting, you would have killed it after seeing you in that roll, but I totally get why you didn’t and I know you’re happier for it. You are a part of TV history and I know that you’re proud of that…you should be. Great job.
    — Doc Elliot

    Like

    1. arielkiley says:

      Thank so very much for this deeply thoughtful reply. I actually got chills when I read it, I don’t know why. It truly means so much to me that you would say such kind things about my performance and the impact of it. I wish you health, happiness, and so much love.
      xo
      Ariel

      Like

      1. Doc Elliot says:

        Hi, Ariel…
        I’m really glad that you appreciated my comments and that you recognized how important your role was. The chills most likely happened because you realized that the words were the truth and you had everything to do with both the memorable performance and the responsibility you own for the way that you took it on and for the decisions you made because of it afterward. Be proud of yourself and who you have become.
        Take Care.
        — Doc Elliot

        Like

  9. The Intrepid Angeleno says:

    I’m watching The Sopranos, start to finish, for the very first time and your episode was the one I watched last night. I was absolutely shocked when Silvio was so abusive to Tracee. I think this is the first episode where we see that side of him, isn’t it? I liked him so much up until then!!

    As horrible as Tracee’s death was, equally horrible was the casual way that life at the club went on. Just bring in a new girl and Tracee is soon forgotten. That’s pretty much how it goes in the world in general. Tragic and sad.

    Like

  10. Hasnan says:

    The death of Tracee was very disturbing moment and it deeply affected me at for a long time. You played the character perfectly. That is very courageous and admirable of you to leave entertainment industry and pursue your education. And it saddens me deeply when I see how difficult the challenges and harassment, women have to suffer in daily life. Unfortunately my own country Pakistan is in dark ages relative to women rights. I hope our generation change it as I see most of my friends share my view of women rights. Wish you the best in all aspect of life. Love from Pakistan.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Anonymous says:

    I just read your piece on portraying Tracee and wanted to say how much I respect you and your take on the role and wanting to play it as an innocent role. Powerful emotions still run through me when I see what happened to the character in this episode and how cheaply women are seen to be in such “Environments” as that and many others. I am happy for you in your yoga world and wish you all success in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Paul Byrne says:

    I have just watched the University episode again. The appalling murder of Tracee is the single worst act of violence portrayed in the entirety of The Sopranos. Your performance is heart breaking. I put your name into Google to see what you were doing these days and came across your blog. I totally agree that the murder of Tracee was a real kick in the gut. It made us feel ashamed for admiring these guys. When they all walk away and just leave her there is sickening to watch. You should be so proud of your performance.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. The Proletarian Express says:

    This episode showed for the first time, with brutal physicality, that all that glitters is not gold. Tracee, a young stripper unaware of what working for mobsters means, tries to innocently befriend Tony. When Ralphie lies about getting a house with her, she actually believes Ralphie for a minute but mobsters and a lot of people for that matter think that certain people aren’t allowed to even have dreams and that they deserve to be walked over by those higher on the class ladder. Tracee is obviously visibly angry after Ralphie shows her his true colors, but he is one of those people I talked about and that’s why he bashes her head in, even as she is probably pregnant with his child. Of all the minor characters, Tracee’s story was definitely the most powerful. Your performance was wonderful.

    Like

  14. Jay says:

    Rewatching The Sopranos for the first time in years. This time around I’m randomly googling some of the characters to see who they are in real life. Glad I clicked on the link, what a great read. Peace and love.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Shawn says:

    I think some people missed the point of Tony killing Ralphie also. I remember a lot of people were wondering why Tony was so upset that Ralphie killed their shared racehorse in an arson fire to collect the insurance. I recently rewatched that scene and the death of Tracee scene and the two of them mimic each other. Tony refers to Tracee as a “thoroughbred” in one scene at the Badabing Club and Ralphie dies in a similar way to how he kills Tracee. In my opinion, the real reason Tony kills Ralphie in a fit of rage is because of how Ralphie killed Tracee, not his horse. Tracee reminds Tony of his own daughter Meadow and reinforces what a piece of crap Ralphie is and how he must be “taken out”. Sopranos writing was top notch and your performance as Tracee was amazing Ariel!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Anonymous says:

    That role was played beautifully. I felt so bad for her.

    I didn’t realize the innocence the character was played with. But come to think of it, it’s a beautiful choice. She really is innocent and kind and it makes her death tragic. It was sad. She stood up for herself, got killed, and nothing ever came of her death.

    I’m actually watching it now for god only knows how many times and I came across your blog while goofing around.

    I value you as an actress, being brave enough to play a role like that, and now reading other things you’ve written I appreciate how awesome you are as a person. You seem like a unique and amazing person.

    Liked by 1 person

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