In “Talking Sopranos”, Imperioli asked Bracco if the therapy scenes were shot as a whole with the camera running on both her and Gandolfini or if they shot one actor first and then replayed the scene with the other camera. . Bracco confirmed it was the latter, adding “We will always shoot [Gandolfini] first, because he’s the storyteller. “
This approach makes sense. The meat of therapy scenes often comes from Tony, and not just because he’s the main character of the series. That’s how the process works in real life, too. In therapy, most of the weight falls on the patient. The doctor’s role is to ask them questions, which will hopefully encourage self-reflection and reveal enough that the doctor can recommend treatment. Melfi becomes the viewer’s surrogate, following Tony and learning the most about him when he’s ready to reveal.
According to Bracco, Gandolfini also tried very hard to immerse himself in Tony’s thoughts during these scenes. To limit distractions, the crew placed a black screen behind Bracco so that Gandolfini couldn’t see them or the camera while he was acting. He would also require the camera to be loaded with long reels, so they wouldn’t have to cut any scenes in the middle of his performance.
As Bracco recounts, she sometimes became so mesmerized by his acting that she forgot she was his co-star, not his audience:
“Sometimes, I realize I’m not Dr. Melfi, just Lorraine Bracco looking at the actor in amazement… and then suddenly, ‘oh my god, that’s my part!'”
https://www.slashfilm.com/1013522/james-gandolfini-and-lorraine-bracco-fought-a-secret-war-during-the-sopranos-therapy-scenes/ James Gandolfini and Lorraine Bracco fight a secret fight in Sopranos’ therapy scene