By Tom Gliatto
October 14, 2002 12:00 PM

“I don’t see myself as sexy or a bad girl,” says Drea de Matteo. Oh, yeah? Tell that to her costars on HBO’s The Sopranos, where de Matteo plays tacky but gorgeous gun moll Adriana La Cerva. “She’s always wearing these barely there jeans that go really low,” says Michael Imperioli, who plays Adriana’s fiancé, brash capo-on-the-make Christopher Moltisanti. “She can curse with the best of us,” adds Tony Sirico (the dangerously disgruntled Paulie Walnuts). And, hey, you want bad? Check out those tattoos.

De Matteo, 30, isn’t even sure how many she has, only that she was 18 when she started with a tiny cross on her ankle. “My mom was so mad,” she says, “she threw me out. So I went out and had her name tattooed on my wrist. My dad’s too.”

Thanks to makeup, you can’t see them on Adriana. But this season the character might yet have “stool pigeon” written all over her, after she gets trapped by an undercover FBI agent. “Some people says she’s dumb,” says de Matteo. “I disagree. She’s just an innocent. This year she grows up a little bit.” The actress is a bit more worldly. “You ask her something stupid, and you’ll get a kick in the butt,” says Sirico. “She’s from the street.”

Not quite the street—just a genuine Italian famiglia. “I grew up with two older brothers and three women who were pretty tough broads,” she says, “so I’ve learned to be kind of tough.” Born Andrea Donna de Matteo, she was raised in Queens and Manhattan by Albert, 70, a sofa-bed manufacturer, and his wife, Donna, 61, a playwright, along with her brothers Joe, 40, a lawyer, and Darren, 37, who now runs his father’s business.

The household also included Drea’s nanny Ana Bravo and her grandmother Rae, who could usually be found at the stove. Drea was never taught to cook. “My mom didn’t want that lifestyle for me,” she says. But the actress, a graduate of New York University’s film school, sure learned respect. When Bravo had a heart transplant in 1993, “I sat in the hospital with her for a month,” says de Matteo. Then she took her nanny home: Bravo, 67, today resides in de Matteo’s two-bedroom Manhattan apartment. “She took care of me,” explains de Matteo. “So I take care of her.”

Somehow the place also accommodates two cats, three dogs (two of them Great Danes) and a boyfriend, Michael Sportes, 34. He happens to be her business partner too, designing the jeans ($150) and denim jackets (up to $900) sold in the couple’s five-year-old store Filth Mart. The funky East Village boutique attracts the likes of Liv Tyler and Stella McCartney.

Sportes moved into the apartment nine years ago as a platonic roommate. “I knew we had a lot in common,” says Sportes, who shares de Matteo’s passion for rock music, especially the Rolling Stones. “But I never knew it would be this big romance.” De Matteo says she wants them to have children, if not a stroll down the aisle. “Marriage is just a piece of paper.”

Lately she has been on her own, staying in an L.A. hotel suite while she finishes shooting Prey for Rock & Roll, an indie film in which she, Gina Gershon and Lori Petty play punk rockers. It’s Sunday night, and Petty and other friends begin arriving for de Matteo’s ritual viewing of The Sopranos. “Do you want anything from the minibar?” she asks, sounding like a certain Mafia princess. “We have Cheetos. They’re really classy.

Tom Gliatto

Teena Hammond in Los Angeles