Romano’s Risky Leap to the Big Screen
by Paul Fischer
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Ray Romano seems to have a lot in common with his famous television alter ego. Quietly wry, he remains non-committal as to the future of Everyone Loves Raymond, the nearly10-year old sitcom that turned the laid-back comic into a wealthy TV star. “We think that it’s going to be in the next week, where we sit down and discuss it with the writers and everything,” he said, when discussing a decision on the future of Raymond will be finalised. In the meantime, Romano wants to make it down that there is life outside the TV show, beginning with the film Welcome to Mooseport, in which he plays Handy Harrison, an unwilling political candidate up against a former US president [Gene Hackman], set in a small town. On the surface, when one sees Romano at work at Mooseport, it is clear that the actor was not necessarily trying to complete escape his TV character, yet still wanted to do something that would show off his comedic skills. “I wanted to do something different but it’s a weird transition you’re making here. You’re trying to get the audience to come with you, making sure you can do it, so you don’t want to shock them and do something totally opposite. At the same time, you also want to play a different character and this was kind of a good mix between the two. I mean, he’s not much different than my TV character but I think he’s a different guy.” Different, Romano says, in that “he’s less selfish; a little more earnest maybe, than the guy on TV.” Romano says that he can relate to the commitment-phobic character he plays in Mooseport, “because I know that I’m not very decisive every insecure, so in that sense I can relate to him.”
It is hard to imagine that an actor of Romano’s success would have anything to be insecure about, but the actor begs to differ. “I have the show because I’m insecure. It’s my insecurity that makes me want to be a comic and that makes me need the audience.” Romano agrees that insecurity is what drives him to succeed. “This low self-esteem thing seems to be a common denominator with a lot of comics,” explains Romano. “It’s not a rule but I think it applies a lot that they’re missing something. There was some negligent parent maybe that didn’t give them enough attention. I’ve always said if my father hugged me once I wouldn’t be here or having this discussion,” he adds laughingly. One wonders whether or not Romano has been playing his father in his TV show. “Definitely not. If I was doing that I wouldn’t have pants on.” Like all good New York-raised comics, Romano visits a shrink on a regular basis. But does he think if he were ever able to manage to reconcile his neuroses he would stop being funny? “My shrink tells me no, because I said that to him. I go, ‘I don’t want to get too well’ and he says, ‘that’s not how it works. You’ll still be you.’ “
That’s pure Romano, as he takes a more serious turn when comparing the processes of movie making to the frenetic grind of television. “What appeals to me about doing a film is how you can take a moment, let it play out and allow it to breathe. When you do a TV show, you’re doing a play, and when you’re doing a sitcom, you can only turn three quarters. You’ve got to face the audience and project and everything is pace and energy. I love just being able to be subtle and use that.”
After 8 years as the selfish Raymond on his show, despite its conclusion appearing on the television horizon, Romano is not quite tired of the show. “You don’t get tired of it but there are some shows that are more fun than others and some storylines that are more fun. Every time I think that we’re coming down to the end, it’s time to wrap it up and then we have a table read, where it’s a lot of fun because you don’t have to worry about blocking this and that; it’s just a script in it’s purest form, and then I just say ‘I’m going to miss this. It’s a lot of fun.’ “
So Romano says that he feels a need to try and gradually try different character. Everyone loves Raymond, but the actor wants audiences to love the different sides of Romano the actor. “If I’m really considering doing film from now on then you can either do the same character over and over again and make a different comedy like over and over again or try to do different roles. I don’t know if I can but I would like to try it though. When I’m reading scripts now, I don’t read thinking, ‘well, this is not far enough from Ray Barone’, I just read the material and if I really like it, then I consider it.” Romano will turn down anything that is too similar to his TV persona, films such as Cheaper by the Dozen as an example. “I thought it’s a good movie, going to make a lot of money but that’s kind of the guy with the kids and put upon which was not enough of a departure from the TV character, you know? I get a lot of the Christmas movies, feel good movies, right down the middle ones that probably are smart to do because they make a lot of money and then maybe you could pick and choose what you want to do after it. Once a movie makes money you get a little more leverage.”
Ray is financially successful that he has the luxury of turning things down, he continues. “I don’t need to do them for the money but I want to do them, so I guess there is the same amount of motivation. I have this desire, this need to do it which is not a financial need.” No wonder Romano found it irresistible to join a pedigree ensemble cast in the forthcoming Indie comedy Eulogy. “It was great to do such a small and dark movie with an ensemble cast.” The film screened at Sundance, which Romano briefly attended for its premiere. “They almost didn’t allow me in,” he quips, when it’s suggested that the Sundance Film Festival and Ray Romano hardly go hand in hand.
Yet audiences worldwide still love Raymond, and will be sad to see the passing of this dysfunctional family. As to how Romano would like to see its finale, “we’ve talked about it and it’s not going to be like a life changing thing because that’s not kind of what our show does. So we hope we have like a traditional funny episode that addresses some issues with a little bit of closure at the end, a little bit of poignancy maybe, but nothing super heavy or big.” Raymond fans can look forward to a DVD, which includes the original pilot, and Ray and the cast dryly providing an atypical commentary.
It was fun doing that, a little nostalgic and it’s funny because you remember the frame of mind that you were in when you did it.” For Romano, though, life after Raymond’s demise is slowly evolving into a reality.
Welcome To Mooseport opens on Friday.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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