If Ray Romano wanted to direct, he could have done so ages ago on Everybody Loves Raymond. The thing is, he never wanted to be a director. The sitcom, which Romano starred on, wrote for, and executive produced, ran for nine seasons and produced 210 episodes, any number of which he could have cut his teeth on if he had asked. He didn't even need to ask! "I know my manager said, 'Do you want to direct any?'" Romano remembers. "I didn't want to. I really didn't see the need for it, and I was not confident enough to want to tell Peter Boyle what to do. Even though, by the way, he was the sweetest man ever."
So, how did Romano end up directing his new movie, Somewhere in Queens? He was dragged into it, if not kicking and screaming, then at least determinedly opposed to the idea. "My agent suggested it, and I immediately said no. I didn't even think about it," Romano tells A.frame. "I just said, 'No, no, no, we're going to get a good director.'"
Like Everybody Loves Raymond before it, Somewhere in Queens is inspired by the comedian's own life. (He wrote the script with Mark Stegemann.) Set in the titular New York neighborhood Romano also calls home, he plays Leo Russo, an Italian-American everyman whose wife (Laurie Metcalf) is a cancer survivor and son, nicknamed "Sticks," is a high school basketball star. That all comes directly from Romano's actual experiences. His agent, Eddy Yablans, knew that. "He goes, 'You should just do it. It's too close. It's too personal. Why give it to somebody?'"
Still, Romano balked. He didn't know anything about camera lenses, he protested, or how to run a movie set. And still, Yablans insisted. "Chris Rock is also his client, and he said, 'Chris Rock has done it three times! You get a cinematographer you love, and you get an AD you love, and then you worry about the story and getting the truth out of it.' Finally, I realized he was right. It still scared the hell out of me!"
"All the way up to day one, I was stressed out about the fact that I'm going to direct this movie, that there's going to be a crew, there's going to be me yelling, 'Action!' to these veteran actors," Romano says now. "I really stressed myself out for nothing, because the actors were great. The crew was great. And I had a good time!"
Whether Romano will actually direct again, well, he might just have to get dragged into it again. He is currently at work on the biopic of basketball coach Jim Valvano. "My agent is now saying, 'You should direct that one, too!'" Romano chuckles. "I will not direct that one," he adds matter-of-factly. "Because as passionate as I am about this role and this guy, I have to just be consumed with the role."
He might feel differently after Somewhere in Queens opens in theaters, who knows? The lead-up to its release has Romano feeling more vulnerable than would normally be the case. "I directed, I wrote it, and I starred in it. So, there's nobody to blame but me," he says. "It's nerve-racking."
"But it's exciting because, luckily, I don't make decisions financially now," continues Romano. "I really want it to do well and to make money for everybody else involved. But the payoff for me is to sit in a theater with a room full of strangers, and have this communal feeling, and bond over laughing at things together and identifying with things. That's the payoff for me. I know people are going to watch it on streaming, and I know they're going to watch it in their living rooms. If you tell me it's the highest watched thing on whatever, that's going to feel good. But not as good as being in the theater and hearing people enjoy it."
"There's something about strangers identifying with the same thing and laughing at the same thing that makes you all feel connected more. That's why I'm so hoping theaters don't become obsolete because you got to have that. You've got to have that experience — that's what makes the movie experience great to me."
That doesn't sound like someone who has directed their last film.
"Well," he shrugs. "Let's see what happens in the next few weeks."
By John Boone