How to be the most bangin’ gangster wife

As Goodfellas celebrates 25 years, the actress who plays Karen Hill looks back on her best ensembles

“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” It's been 25 years since these immortal words marked the arrival of Martin Scorsese's sprawling crime epic GoodFellas. Based on a true-crime novel by journalist Nicholas Pileggi, Scorsese's film follows the life of notorious gangster Henry Hill, from his childhood as a mafia errand boy skipping school in the Bronx in the 50s, all the way through his time at the mob's top table in the 60s, pulling off anything from truck hijacks to elaborate heists worth millions, to his coke-addicted decline in the 80s. 

One of the joys of GoodFellas is seeing how fashion changes over time, and who could document this better than the notoriously meticulous Martin Scorsese. To celebrate this, we spoke to lead actress Lorraine Bracco, who starred in the film as Henry Hill's long-suffering wife Karen, about leather jackets, blue jeans, and the importance of family.


“Martin Scorsese, (costume designer) Richard Bruno and myself found the blue dress you first see Karen in, and we liked how youthful it was, which was important for the character. In the next scene, when Karen confronts Henry for standing her up, her dress is a really hot pink. We wanted her to stand out, so her dress had to be as hot as the scene. We went through lots of different looks and, for the later scenes in the early 1980s, I remember really pushing for leather. Karen was dealing drugs and she was into a lot of mischief, and I thought a black leather outfit would make a lot of sense for her character. She wasn't the same lovely little girl anymore.”


“I wore this yellow dress with all these flowers in the scene in the movie when I'm with all those crazy women, and Martin Scorsese's dad was visiting the set when we shot it. He used to be a pattern maker in the Garment District, and he told me that this was the kind of dress he used to make, and that he remembered how difficult it was for people to iron it. I don't know why I remember that, but he was always telling me how much he liked the dress and the colour, and how good he thought it looked on me. He was really very sweet. Marty's parents were very important to him in making his movies, and I found his compliments very moving.”


Before we shot the scene, I remember Marty seeing this Emilo Pucci print dress and saying absolutely that this was the dress he wanted me to wear. I don't know why he chose that one in particular, but Pucci was in fashion at that time and we were very specific about choosing everything that made sense for people in that era. He knew exactly what he wanted. It was a really hard scene to shoot because I wasn't pointing the gun at Ray, but at the camera, and that was difficult. I could see my reflection in the lens, and it made me feel a little self conscious.”


“The only thing Marty wouldn't let me wear was a pair of blue jeans. I could wear white jeans, but not blue. I pleaded with him, but he didn't care. He just would not let me wear blue jeans. He felt that blue jeans represented hippies at that time, and he was making a gangster movie. Martin Scorsese is a man who is incredibly detail-oriented, who knows and sees every little, baby, minute thing on his screen. Maybe that's why GoodFellas has endured for such a long time. He tells a big story that's not just the dialogue or the actors, it's an entire movie in a scene. Everything leads you somewhere else, and it's exactly where he wants to take you.”

Goodfellas celebrates 25 years with a special 2-disc Blu-ray available from today