Everybody Loves Raymond star Ray Romano can next be seen starring opposite Gene Hackman in the new 20th Century Fox comedy Welcome to Mooseport. In the Donald Petrie-directed film, Romano plays a plumber who finds himself in a race for Maura Tierney’s affections – and in a race for mayor – with none other than the charismatic former President of the United States (Hackman ).
With the TV show there’s an audience that will react to what the actors say, but that’s something you don’t have on the set of a film. “The difference that I found was that there was no audience there telling me that it was funny. It was very different to be able to be subtle. I’m used to on a TV show, it’s like a play. You’re projecting, your pace and energy.” While he doesn’t need a laugh at the end of his jokes, he says it helps. “There is an energy that the audience brings. When I do the TV show, the audience, they’re so there and they’re so into it that it raises your performance to another level that you didn’t even have in rehearsal. They’re just so juiced. This wasn’t there in the film, but after a while, I got used to the fact that once the director said action, the camera is your audience and I kind of could get into that same frame of mind, that same inspiration that I get from the audience, I got from just being there and turning myself over to the character and what was happening. It took some getting used to. I had also done a film before this one. I did ‘Eulogy,’ which was a dark comedy. So I kind of got my feet wet there. I screwed up on that one. Screwed up a little less on this one.”
Ray says Petrie let him and his writers contribute to the script and the editing process. “[The director] let me bring some of my writers in and do a little punch up and write a couple of things for me. Not only that, just doing it, we had a good relationship that way. We tried to do it this way and that way. Then in the editing too, he was trying to shake me but I was there when he was editing it too. It’s weird because on the TV show, I had total control over everything. I’m in with the writing, I’m in with how it’s done, I’m in with the editing. And here you kind of have to give some of that up. But that’s okay, too, as long as you have good people.”
Working with veteran actor Gene Hackman was also quite an experience. “It upped my game because I used the fear. I channeled the fear. When the person you’re working off is so there and so right and giving you so much, it’s easy. Easier. It was very intimidating to think I’m going to be in a movie with Gene Hackman and it’s going to be me and him in the poster. To his credit, aside from being a great actor, he made me feel right at ease. He gave me a compliment early on, he said something after one scene, he came over and said, ‘That was really good, I really liked that.’ And I had to change my pants after that. But at some point it’s good that once they yell action, I’m lucky that I can just let go of that and just be in the scene, whether it’s Gene Hackman, Marcia Gay Harden, whoever it is, great actors. I may feel a little insecure up to that moment, but then I just fully commit to it and do it. Now when it’s over, I think it’s hard.”
So did he learn anything from Hackman and vice versa? “Oh, I don’t think I taught him anything, that’s for sure. He was very professional. I don’t know what he taught me. If anything I just observed how a little bit goes a long way on film. When he walks into that kitchen and he’s whistling. He’s just whistling that tune, it just cracks me up every time. It wasn’t even in the script. It was just this little thing that he had this character do. If anything I’m watching that and I’m thinking you can always find something for your character. You can always bring something that wasn’t there and make it so much more rich. If anything, I learned that by just watching him. He’s so professional, always there, he just had laminated pages everyday. He was just great.”
With him playing a plumber in the film, we have to wonder if he’s handy in real life. “Handy? No, not handy at all. No I’m not. Not good with tools or words, I don’t do much well. I mean I can put in a light bulb. Turn it on. May take me 40 minutes, but my father is very Mr. Fix it, you know, but you never wanted to ask him because he could also be Mr. Cursed if it wasn’t going well. He’d fix it eventually but you’d hear a lot of new curses during the course of the day. I just know that that’s not my thing.”
We asked Romano what’s going to happen with the popular Everybody Loves Raymond. “We are probably this Friday going to have a super conference pow-wow thing with the writers and just look at everything we have and do we have enough for next year, and will it be as good as we want it to be, and we have to make a decision. There’s a lot of things to factor in so we’re not rushing it. But it will be in about a week.” He says it’s best to go out on top though. “You want to leave when you haven’t overstayed your welcome and you’re on top and you haven’t compromised the quality at all.” While he never gets bored playing the character, it is a little bit tiring. “I mean this is what happens after 196 shows. You play the same thing over and over again, the same situation. You’ve done a version of that. We don’t want to repeat ourselves. I don’t mind being the same character as long as we can get a fresh story and explore some fresh family dynamic.”
Ray adds that they’ve already worked on show’s DVD. “Yeah, we did it. Phil Rosenthal and I did a voice-over on the pilot. We did commentary on the pilot, and then we got interviewed, the cast got interviewed and I think the writers got interviewed. I think they’re putting it together now.” He says he’s ready to try to do more films, but he wouldn’t rule out a TV drama. “That’s the whole thing, you gotta ween the audience off this character they’ve seen for eight years, and even the directors and all that, to take a chance with you, they’re not gonna just jump into a gritty drama with TV funny boy.”
Earlier Ray mentioned that he screwed up in Eulogy, coming to theaters in May, but he meant that more as a self-deprecation. “It’s a dark comedy. Dysfunction, again. A lot of super dysfunction I guess. It’s a family that meets together to eulogize the father. Hank Azaria, Kelly Preston, Debra Winger, it has a nice cast, Zooey Deschanel, Piper Laurie. I play a sleazy, selfish father of these twins. Actually, the twins steal the scene. They’re these kids that have these hormones that are raging, and I’m kind of like that also. But it was fun to be a little out there. I smoked pot in it.”
Romano is also writing a book with his brothers. “I’m writing a kids’ book called “Why I Love and Hate My Brothers.” The first book is about going to an amusement park with my brothers and how it would’ve panned out with my real brothers. I have a brother who’s a year-and-a-half older who’s a police officer. I have a younger brother, seven years younger. They approached me and said somebody suggested it. At first I was like, you know, ehhh, I mean, I know celebrities are doing that now and I don’t want to pretend I’m a children’s book writer, but then I thought my brother is a teacher. He teaches 2nd grade and he would love this. And my other brother is a police officer. If I could collaborate with them on this I’d love to do it. That’s what I told the publisher, ‘I’d like to make it a joint thing with my brothers.’ They loved it, so we all got together and we wrote this nice little kids book and it’s going to come out Christmas. If there’s more down the road, we’ll see. But it was fun to do this with my brothers. We shared the hatred we had for each other when we were younger, we manufactured some love for the sake of the book.”
Welcome to Mooseport hits theaters on Friday, February 20.