Emmy Award-winner Ray Romano may be most known for his hit sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond,” but since those days when he played a bumbling husband, dad and Newsday sports reporter, he’s been flexing more dramatic muscles.
On subsequent TV series (“Men of a Certain Age,” “Parenthood,” Martin Scorsese’s “Vinyl” on HBO) he’s shown a more serious side. Now comes “Paddleton,” directed by Alex Lehmann, a touching dramedy starring Romano and Mark Duplass as Andy and Michael, two misfit neighbors struggling to cope with Michael’s terminal cancer diagnosis. The film premieres Friday, Feb. 22 on Netflix.
Romano, 61, raised in Forest Hills, Queens, can still bring the funny — his latest stand-up comedy special, “Ray Romano: Right Here, Around the Corner,” debuted on Netflix earlier this month. He recently spoke by phone with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.
I identified with your character. A close friend of mine was recently diagnosed with multiple myeloma. He’s in the hospital right now, recovering from a stem-cell transplant.
Well, hopefully he’s not . . . catches himself.) There’s still hope for him, though, right?
Oh, yes — he’s not in the same situation as Mark Duplass’ character.
Good. Yeah. It’s . . . boy . . . it’s a touchy, heavy situation to be in, you know?
You’ve been challenging yourself more and more with dramatic roles. Did you feel ready for this?
I never feel ready — for any role. For this film [produced and co-written by Duplass], I knew Mark’s work — the script is loosely written, in outline form, and you have a lot of freedom to figure out the scene. So there was a little fear and danger with that. I mean, I have experience improvising comedy, but how do you improvise . . . drama? [Actually, the improvisation gave us] a bit more freedom than a scripted drama, where you have to hit the emotion right here — be crying right there. This was more freedom to just feel it and organically get there. And we did. It was easy to get emotional. Much easier than any role I’ve done.
Wow. That’s great.
Yeah. (He pauses, then yells, half chuckling.) BUT I WAS STILL SCARED!
Are you scared when you —
You don’t have to finish the question — the answer is yes. I seem to get scared before every new movie. You know how I can tell? I just did a small movie with Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney. (The film, “Bad Education,” recounts the real-life exploits of former Roslyn Schools Superintendent Frank Tassone, convicted in 2006 for an $11 million embezzlement scheme involving his school district. It’s written by screenwriter Mike Makowsky, a Roslyn student at the time of the scandal.) Sure enough, like three weeks before shooting started, I break out, I get a rash, eczema, whatever it is, something. My anxiety manifests itself physically somehow. I don’t know if it’s good or a bad thing.
What about stand-up comedy?
Stand-up’s different. I get butterflies before going on, listening to the audience, seeing how they are. It’s more like a guy on a bull. You’re waiting for that gate to open. Like, “Just open the gate!” You don’t want to sit there and anticipate it, you just want to start this up. But that’s a little different — with stand-up, you’re going onstage to do material you’ve done hundreds and hundreds of times. On any given night, anything can happen, but there’s a little more you know going in . . . you know?
Right. Well, playing a caregiver must’ve felt familiar, at least. You went through that in your own life when your wife was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years back. How is she, by the way?
She’s great. Yeah. She’s a hundred percent. Eight years now. But I don’t think [this film] touched too close to home in that sense. It was such a different thing. It’s more a movie about this relationship, this connection these guys have. It’s a movie about how . . . no matter who you are, no matter how isolated you think you are, there’s somebody — there’s a soul mate out there.
What I like is that these guys don’t have any big answers to this tough situation. There’s no intense monologue that sums up the wisdom of the ages. They’re just awkward, regular guys.
They don’t have a lot of words. It’s profound in its simplicity, almost.
Like with this friend of mine, there’s nothing you can really say, and anything you try to say winds up sounding like a cliché. In times like these, it seems the only thing you can do is just be there for the other person.
Yes, yes. How old is he?
My buddy? Fifties.
Still young, still young. Well, I hope it all works out.
Thanks. Just taking it day by day.
Yeah, yeah. You gotta be hopeful.