Ray Romano Gets Deep, Dark And Angsty For Martin Scorsese's 'Vinyl'
Ray Romano became famous in the mid 1990s as the star of the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, which was loosely based on his life as a married man with a daughter and twin boys. After that show ended in 2005, he co-created and co-starred in TNT's Men of a Certain Age, about three friends dealing with middle age, and had a recurring role on NBC's Parenthood.
Now, in the HBO drama Vinyl, Romano plays the head of promotions at a record company that's in financial trouble. He tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that ever since Everybody Loves Raymond ended, his goal has been to try something different. "And when I say different, I mean something a bit dramatic."
Vinyl was co-created by Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger and Terence Winter, and it's set in the 1970s.
On how he got the role in Vinyl
So the luckiest thing in the world happened. ... The casting woman, Ellen Lewis, she's been [Martin Scorsese's] casting partner for everything he does. ... My agent actually went to her after he saw the script and said, "What do you think of Ray Romano?" And she said, "Well, that's an interesting choice, but have him send in a tape." ...
I had to look from the 1970s and I went to my wardrobe — it was actually very easy to find a shirt in there that fit in that era. ... I told my wife, who is constantly trying to throw those things out, I told her it would come in handy one day. I put that on; I did a couple scenes; we sent it. And the feedback we got from Ellen was, "Marty likes what he saw. ... He knows this person," meaning he knows the guy I was playing. "He knows this guy. But also, he's never heard of Ray Romano," and it turned out to be a blessing.
On how his work in Vinyl differs from his previous roles
It's much darker, there's more depth to it, there's more angst, of course. In the very second episode of Vinyl, my character kind of contemplates killing himself — not kind of, he does.
It was very intimidating to me because I did the pilot and almost a year later we got the script for the second episode as we were about to start filming. And in the pilot my character is in a good place — he's happy they're selling the company. And I got to be honest, I didn't even know my character was married in the pilot. Nine months later, I get the second script, and I find he's married, he has children. And here he is sitting in the car in his garage when the sale of the company goes down, and he's contemplating swallowing these pills. ...
The difference between Men of a Certain Age [and Vinyl] is I'm writing Men of a Certain Age, so I know what's coming and I know why it's coming. And here it's all having to process it and figure out and get myself to that place, so it's different but it's very exhilarating.
On having to cry on camera in an episode of Vinyl
Just from an acting standpoint, that was frightening to me and scary. And I was talking to my agent, like, "This is such a test for me. It's the second episode and I want to make sure I can deliver what they think they're writing for this character." My agent was very sensitive — he was like, "Well, you better. You better." ...
By the way, I do in real life. I'm at an age where crying is easier for me now. I like it. I can cry at a poignant commercial; I can cry at a — this is a running joke in my house, but ... a good "Star-Spangled Banner" can make me cry. I'm not kidding. I look them up on YouTube and I find the most emotional ones. And I like a good cry — it's cathartic; it's a release. But I've never been able to be so free to do that on camera the way some actors can.
On the story behind the title Everybody Loves Raymond
My brother is a New York police officer, or was then at that time. He actually coined ... the title Everybody Loves Raymond. ... In real life, he would come over and he'd see I got an award or I got something for stand-up comedy and he would jokingly, kind of tongue-in-cheek, he'd say, "Well, look at Raymond! Raymond gets awards when he goes to work. When I go to work, people shoot at me, people spit at me. But when Raymond goes, everybody loves Raymond."
So I told this story to [Everybody Loves Raymond executive producer Phil Rosenthal]. Phil said, "We have to use that ... as the title." And I said, "Please don't." He said, "Well, let's just use it as the working title, and then we'll change it when it comes time to go to pilot." And of course Les Moonves, the head of CBS, fell in love with the title and he would not — I tried desperately to change that title. ... It's just asking for trouble. ... Even if they don't take it at face value, to this day someone will start an article with, "Well, not everybody loves Raymond!"
On Everybody Loves Raymond ending and figuring out what to do next
The show was ending and it was a bit of a cool feeling in the beginning because now, all of a sudden, you've got all this time, you've got this money and this fame now. But it was like coming out of a submarine — it was like, "What is this now? My kids are teenagers and I live here? I live in L.A?" It was kind of an odd new feeling.
At first I liked it. I kind of said, "Let's see what's next!" I was going to a therapist — I've been going to a therapist forever — but my therapist then said, when the show was ending, he says, "You want to start coming twice a week?" And I said, "No, I'm running out of things to talk about now, I'm not going to come twice a week." Sure enough, in three months after the show ended, I was going twice a week. It was really a hard adjustment all of a sudden because I'm not really doing stand-up now. Before the show, I was doing stand-up every night, writing new material. It was this void. It was this big, big void. And I realized I need to do stuff, I need to continue. ... I went through a little rough patch there.
I finally talked with my buddy Mike Royce, who was also a writer on Raymond and he said he's got the same feeling. It's kind of this weird, "Where am I? What am I doing now? Where's my next passion and purpose? I'm at a time in my life where I accomplished what I wanted to." We said, "Let's write about it. That's what Raymond was — Raymond was about writing what you know. Let's do that. We're not going to do a sitcom, of course, we want to do it real and keep it funny. But let's do a single-camera and write about it." And that's where Men of a Certain Age came out of. We won a Peabody Award and then they canceled us.
On how fame has changed his life
When Everybody Loves Raymond started, I remember the first person [who recognized me]. We had gone back to Queens, [New York]. It was during a hiatus week and I went to a gas station, and I was pumping my gas and a woman said, "Hey, aren't you on that show?" I said, "Yeah, I am. Thank you." And that was it. It was still a long ways off before I ever had to worry about being somewhere — not that I have to worry, I mean I'm not Justin Bieber. I can outrun my fans, I'll put it that way. ...
It doesn't really affect my life too much, really. Yes, it does in some sense. Here's what I say: Before I thought my cab driver hated me; now I think my limo driver hates me. I think it's all the same. ... I'm just as neurotic. If I had never gotten famous or rich, I think I'd be equally neurotic.