‘The Sopranos’: Why Ariel Kiley Quit Acting Shortly After Playing Ralph’s Girlfriend Tracee

If you started watching The Sopranos midway through season 3 (2001), you probably ranked it among the ugliest, most brutal TV shows of all time. In the span of three episodes, viewers saw the rape of psychiatrist Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco), a man beaten to a pulp with a golf club, and the murder of a young woman who danced at the Bada Bing.

Sopranos writers seemed to be reminding everyone that these colorful characters with nicknames like “Paulie Walnuts” were bludgeoning and/or murdering people in cold blood all the time. As a result, there was a genuine backlash from viewers and critics alike.

Things really came to a head in “University” the sixth episode of season 3. In that installment, viewers watched Ralph Cifaretto (Joe Pantoliano) beat his dancer girlfriend Tracee (Ariel Kiley) to death. Kiley, then working her first acting job, didn’t stay in the business long after that.

Ariel Kiley appeared on screen very few times after playing Tracee on ‘The Sopranos’

Joe Pantoliano as Ralphie on 'The Sopranos'
Joe Pantoliano as Ralph Cifaretto acts in a scene in HBO’s hit television series, “The Sopranos” | HBO via Getty Images

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On the Talking Sopranos podcast, Kiley explained how she got started on TV’s biggest show in season 3. After enrolling at NYU’s Tisch school at 18 to study acting, Kiley dropped out and starting looking for roles. One day, she got a call from an agency about the Sopranos part.

Kilet said she knew immediately she could bring something special to the Tracee part. The Sopranos casting directors agreed. When she auditioned for creator David Chase and other producers, they hired her for the role.

In 2001, the “University” episode aired and attracted a lot of attention. And Kiley started getting calls from producers and casting agents everywhere. “Suddenly, I was in L.A., I was testing for pilots, I was meeting Aaron Spelling,” she recalled.

But Kiley didn’t jump into many new parts. After a year or two and only one recurring series role, she dropped out of the business altogether. Looking back, Kiley said it was a combination of poor roles and the “humiliating” environment she encountered as a young actor.

Kiley quit acting because the parts were bad and the energy from producers was worse

'Sopranos' actor Ariel Kiley
Ariel Kiley in 2006 | Joe Schildhorn/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

While Kiley had attention from major Hollywood agents and producers, she found herself disappointed by the offers she fielded. “After you’re on The Sopranos, where do you go from there?” she said on Talking Sopranos. “I’m 20 years old, I fall into that hot-chick category at that time… The quality of the projects I was going out for was embarrassing.”

But Kiley saw an even bigger problem with Hollywood. “The industry itself was humiliating — what was going on with the energy from producers and stuff,” she recalled. “I thought, ‘I don’t think I can do this.’ So I quit. And I went back to school.”

Kiley eventually found her way as a yoga instructor, speaker, and writer. She did make one screen appearance in the decade after she quit acting, though. You may have caught Kiley playing a yoga teacher on a season 2 episode of Showtime’s The Affair.